DES MOINES -- Iowa State's football team entered the 2011 season picked to finish next-to-last in a league that many thought might soon dissolve.
Two months later, the Cyclones were celebrating the biggest win in school history, one that had a major impact on the BCS national title and topped The Associated Press' list of sports stories to remember in Iowa this year.
Iowa State's 37-31 double-overtime win over then-No. 2 Oklahoma State on Nov. 18 was the program's first over a top-5 team, clinching a bowl bid for the Cyclones and knocking the Cowboys out of the national title picture.
Iowa State was able to breathe much easier when the Big 12's schools reaffirmed their commitment to each other and lured powers TCU and West Virginia to join the league.
The program further solidified its future earlier this month when it signed coach Paul Rhoads to a 10-year contract worth roughly $20 million.
Though the Cyclones finished just 6-6 in the regular season, that win over Oklahoma State earned them a trip to face Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 30.
The other top stories:
2. WRESTLING CONTROVERSY
Cedar Falls freshman Cassy Herkelman made local headlines last winter as one of two girls to reach the iconic Iowa state wrestling tournament for the first time.
The decision by Herkelman's opponent not to compete against her thrust her into the national spotlight.
Linn-Mar's Joel Northup, citing religious beliefs, defaulted his match to Herkelman because of her gender. The move quickly became a hot-button topic around the country, but Bill Herkelman, Cassy's father, defended Northup for sticking to his beliefs.
Herkelman was eliminated after losing her next two matches.
3. RHABDO SCARE
The medical term "rhabdomyolysis" became a buzz word in Iowa for all the wrong reasons.
Thirteen Iowa football players were hospitalized in January with an unusual muscle disorder following offseason workouts. A University of Iowa investigative committee couldn't pinpoint a cause of the incident, but the program scrapped the grueling workouts at the root of the problem.
The incident ultimately had little effect on the program, as the affected players were medically cleared for spring ball. But coach Kirk Ferentz was skewered nationally for his handling of the incident, as he waited a week before speaking with reporters.
4. A CY-HAWK TO REMEMBER
About the only blemish Rhoads had on his brief resume at Iowa State was a lack of success against rival Iowa.
That all changed in September, when the Cyclones won the most exciting game in the long history of the rivalry.
Iowa State, led by a career day from quarterback Steele Jantz, beat the Hawkeyes in Ames 44-41 in triple overtime to snap a three-game losing streak in the series. Though Jantz soon found himself on the bench in favor of promising freshman Jared Barnett, he'll always be remembered fondly by Cyclones fans for his four-touchdown afternoon against the Hawkeyes.
5. CRASH ENDING
Teammates Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Carl Edwards had been at each other's throats all night in a NASCAR Nationwide race at the Iowa Speedway.
Stenhouse got in the last word after one of the craziest finishes in recent NASCAR history.
Stenhouse was in the lead with the checkered flag in sight when he blew his engine, sending smoke billowing across the track. Edwards, who was trailing Stenhouse but couldn't see anything through the haze, slammed into the back of Stenhouse and inadvertently pushed him across the start/finish line - albeit sideways.
Stenhouse swept both Nationwide races at Iowa this year, solidifying his place as one of the sport's brightest young stars.
The annual IndyCar series race in Iowa was nearly as thrilling, as Marco Andretti held off a late charge from Tony Kanaan to win just his second career race. It was the first IndyCar race at Iowa held at night, and the response was positive enough to convince officials to hold it under the lights in 2012 as well.
6. IOWA'S GREATEST COMEBACK
The Hawkeyes suffered through another relatively disappointing regular season, finishing 7-5 and 4-4 in the Big Ten.
But on one afternoon, they pulled off the greatest rally in school history.
Iowa scrambled back from a 27-10 deficit to Pittsburgh behind quarterback James Vandenberg, who threw three touchdowns in the final 12 minutes, and stunned the Panthers 31-27.
Iowa assistant Norm Parker, whose charming persona and sharp mind for defense made him a staff and fan favorite, finally called it quits after 13 successful seasons at Iowa.
Parker, who returned for his final season after losing a foot to diabetes, was the mastermind behind some of the nation's top defenses in his tenure in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes produced a ton of NFL players under Parker's leadership, and he was widely revered for his relatively simple yet successful approach to defense.
8. DIAMOND KINGS
Prep baseball team Martensdale-St Marys, a small school from rural central Iowa, beat Twin Cedars-Bussey High 10-0 in six innings in July to set the national high school record for consecutive wins at 84. The Blue Devils went on to win its second straight state title and finish unbeaten for the second year in a row.
Former Iowa prep stars made a splash in the big leagues as well. Des Moines native Jeremy Hellickson won the American League's Rookie of the Year for Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh's Joel Hanrahan, a former star at Norwalk High, saved 40 games and made his first All-Star team.
9. DRAKE'S AFRICA ADVENTURE
he Drake football team made history in May by playing the first organized American football game in Africa.
The Bulldogs beat Mexico's CONADEIP All-Stars, 17-7, in the Global Kilimanjaro Bowl - an event spearheaded by coach Chris Creighton and Global Football, a company that's been taking U.S. college football teams around the world for over a decade.
Roughly 12,000 spectators took in the game in Arusha, Tanzania, and they seemed to enjoy themselves even if they didn't understand much of the game they were watching.
10: AGGIES' TRIPLE-DOUBLE
Texas A&M became the first school in NCAA history to have both its men's and women's track and field teams win three straight titles at the same time.
The Aggies pulled the feat off in Drake Stadium in June in dramatic fashion.
The women's 1,600-meter relay beat Oregon in the finals and passed the Ducks for the team title. The men's 1,600 squad closed the meet with the breathtaking victory they needed for the crown, relegating powerhouse Florida to second - also for the third year running.
The star of the meet, though, was Florida State's Ngonidzashe Makusha. He set a new NCAA record in the 100 at 9.89 seconds, just one day after winning the long jump with the best mark at the national meet in 18 years.