Alright, so it's officially season preview time in Blogfrica. Which means that I'm supposed to write an article about how great we're going to be or something. But we all know the score here. We are the Iowa State Cyclones, we're about to play the nation's 2nd hardest schedule, and we may not even have a conference to call home next year. We seem to be the perpetual punchline to the sad joke that is the Big XII's death rattles.
But you know what? I'm not worried about all that. We'll get to that in due time. I'm here to tell you why you should have faith in this team. Why it just might be okay to get a little excited about the Cardinal and Gold again. Why Iowa State might just be able to surprise the hell out of a lot of people this year.
This is a link to a play from last year's Texas game. Iowa State had just jumped out to a 14-3 lead in Austin against a stunned and demoralized Longhorn team fresh off of a loss to UCLA. Heresy was being committed in front of a Burnt Orange crowd 100,000 strong, deep in the heart of Texas. And Paul Rhoads calls an onside kick.
I want you to appreciate the complete absurdity of that statement. Iowa State, up 14-3, at Texas, called an Onside Kick and Recovered it. And then I want you to look at the how Rhoads reacts after the play. No joy, no sign that he thought that his batshit ridiculous play call wasn't ever going to work. He noticed the kick team's front four had been lazily running back on kickoffs and took advantage of it. All business. Paul Rhoads is a badass, and don't you forget it. He doesn't understand that he's not supposed to be up 15 on Texas with the ball heading into the 4th quarter. Or maybe he just doesn't care.
And yes, sometimes it goes bad. Sometimes, we come we lose big games and bowl eligibility in gut wrenching and soul crushing ways. But such is the curse of being Iowa State. We don't have a roster full of 5-star recruits. Hell, we don't have any 4 star recruits. We've got a team full of 2 and 3-star misfits from Florida and Texas who decided that they would rather deal with freezing cold winters in Middle of Nowhere, Iowa and start rather than ride the bench in South Beach or Tuscaloosa or Fort Worth. We have absolutely no reason to realistically expect more than one or two wins out of this team.
But we've got a coach who doesn't know any better. Who gets these kids to play on raw emotion and pride and all that shit that's good about college football. Some crazy son of a bitch who doesn't blink in the face of impossible odds. Someone who doesn't understand: that it's not done this way, that Iowa State shouldn't go to a bowl game in the newer, harder Big XII. That in this new world of billion dollar investments and impending superconferences, we should dare to rise above our position as title run fodder for the OUs and Texas's of the college football world. And that is why I think we have a very, very small chance to sneak our way to six wins and a bowl game this year.
But it's not going to be easy.
Yes, by all means lets talk about the schedule. Last year, we played the hardest schedule in the nation and came within a failed fake field goal of a second straight bowl game. This year, we play the second hardest. So much for small miracles. Here it is, big and ugly:
Sept. 3rd - Northern Iowa
Sept. 10th - Iowa
Sept 16th - @ UConn (ESPN2)
Oct. 1 - Texas
Oct 8 - @ Baylor
Oct 15 - @ #21 Missouri
Oct 22 - #8 Texas A&M
Oct 29 - @ Texas Tech
Nov 5 - Kansas
Nov 18 - #9 Oklahoma State
Nov 26 - #1 Oklahoma
Dec 3 - @ Kansas State
But break it down into it's components. The Non-conference schedule involves a very winnable game over #7 ranked FCS team Northern Iowa, the now infamous Cy-Hawk Trophy game in which the Cyclonesare about due for one of their inexplicable wins, and a road game on ESPN2 against defending Big East champion UConn. The experts seem to think that we'll be 1-2 coming out of this stretch, but would it really surprise you to see the Cyclones 2-1?
So Bowl Eligibility then becomes a game of going 4-5 through the new brutal big XII schedule. But you know what? Kansas is still in the Big XII, and they might just be worse than us. So is Texas Tech, who we pasted last year. Sure, Oklahoma will probably throw for 50 points on us, but does it seem so far fetched that Rhoads could get a crazy batshit insane win over Texas A&M or Missouri? That a Texas team coming off a road trip to UCLA might overlook the Cyclones while looking ahead to Oklahoma the next week? There may not be six wins in this schedule, but if they're out there, Rhoads will find them. If it's not meant to be? It's still going to be a fun ride.
It's almost expected this year, isn't it? That one, season-defining win over a team we have no business beating that shows this program is still moving in the right direction? I hate to tell you this, but it may not happen. Two data points do not make a trend, after all. And it's hard to compare Nebraska inexplicably fumbling 8 times to a legitimate win over a shellshocked Texas team.
But if we're going to extrapolate a pattern from all of this, let's look at what those two wins had in common. Turnovers. The Nebraska win was built on the luck of eight fumbles (including multiple fumbles that prevented scores) and very little offense out of backup QB Jerome Tiller. The Texas win, however, was built on forcing Garret Gilbert into three interceptions, and then capitalizing as much as possible on those interceptions.
Both games were on the road in places we hadn't won at since before the Big XII had formed. Both were against teams in the midst of a slide down/out of the top 25. Both were against teams who failed to respect the opponent they were taking the field against.
If it has to be a road win, I'd say stealing a win at Mizzou and the Telephone Trophy would be most likely. But I think this is the year that the big win comes home. This year, the yearly upset comes home to Jack Trice, against an old Big 8 foe who used to be as bad as we were in the Walden era. Iowa State catches a top ten 9-1 Oklahoma State team looking ahead to a de facto conference championship game against Oklahoma, and exploits two interceptions and a goalline fumble to do the unthinkable on ESPN2 on Friday night in front of a national audience. Oklahoma thanks us by running up 50 on us the next week.
The Cast of Characters
Steele Jantz, the California QB transfer with a cocky attitude and a mysterious past looking for a second chance. Shontrelle Robinson, the way too-fast RB who was told he would never be big enough to play division 1 football. Kelichi Osemele, the Nigerian feel-good story who will probably be going in the first round of the NFL draft next year. Paul Rhoads, the inspirational hometown coach who seems to inspire more out of his kids than anyone ever should in a "How the hell are these guys .500" type way. That's right, the Iowa State Cyclones are their very own Disney Football Movie Cast, and there's nothing you can do about it.
The Case for Iowa State
While the rest of the college world offers signing bonuses and hookers and yachts and Nike fashion shows, Iowa State dares to do things the right way: With hard work and determination and flat out wanting it more than the other team. You don't have to like this team, but it's almost impossible not to feel good about them. There will be times when it will be incredibly painful, and there will be times when it will be incredibly sweet. Welcome to the 2011 Iowa State Cyclones. I promise that regardless of the outcome, you will have fun watching this team.
This year, the SBNation team previews are sponsored by the Marines, so it will end with this video. Almost fitting though, because if Iowa State is successful this year, it will be because of those few who lead.