Preview: Iowa State

Iowa State coach Dan McCarney is credited with transforming a dormant collegiate football program to one that actually permeates a winning spirit. The Cyclones feature a do-it-all QB in Seneca Wallace (pictured left) and a stingy defense. McCarney was pleased with his team's spring progress, saying, "We learned that we have a good football team with better playmakers than we've had in the past. I was impressed with the team's effort."

Iowa State proved it wasn't a one-hit wonder last season by winning seven games and earning an invite to the Independence Bowl, marking just the second time in 23 years the Cyclones have appeared in consecutive bowl games.

Obviously, Iowa State coach Dan McCarney is credited with transforming a dormant collegiate football program to one that actually permeates a winning spirit. Additionally, recruiting has improved, fans are interested in football Saturdays in Ames and opponents no longer look at Iowa State as an easy mark.

To wit:

* Iowa State's 16 wins in its last 24 games is the program's best record over that span since Iowa State was 16-8 from Sept. 24, 1977, to Sept. 22, 1979.

* McCarney's 2000 Cyclones were the first Iowa State team in 94 years to win nine games. The win over Pittsburgh in the Insight.com Bowl was ISU's first-ever bowl victory and the Cyclones' first bowl appearance since 1978.

*Iowa State has won seven of its last 10 road games, the school's best 10-game road total since the Cyclones won seven of 10 away games from 1977-79. The success comes in a program that was 6-43-1 on the road during the 1990s.

*Iowa State averaged 45,172 fans at six home games last season, the best overall mark in 17 years. Additionally, Iowa State's 17-14 win over Iowa last year was the Cyclones' fourth-straight against the Hawkeyes, a series first. It also marked ISU's 12th-consecutive nonconference victory.

Of course, ISU will put that streak on the line Aug. 24 against Florida State in the Eddie Robinson Classic in Kansas City. The two teams last met in 1975, with the Cyclones upending the Seminoles, coached by Darrell Mudra, in Tallahassee 10-6. Naturally, this is a different era for both programs, and ISU views its date with the Seminoles as a golden opportunity to take its program to another level.

"When you talk about playing a program like Florida State that is coached by a legend like Bobby Bowden, you know that you will have to be ready and that every snap, every pay in practice is something you need to get better," McCarney said. "We have to be ready"

TOUGH ROAD

The Cyclones really don't have any other choice, especially tackling a schedule that features eight bowl opponents -- six on the road. But the return of do-it-all quarterback Seneca Wallace and eight starters from a defense that posted the program's stingiest numbers in a decade has Cyclone fans excited.

"We are looking to build momentum after consecutive bowl game seasons," McCarney said. "Even with what we've done there is a lot of room for improvement. Our guys know that, our coaching staff knows that. We have a feeling of pride after winning 16 games the past two seasons and want to build on that for the future."

The Cyclones' immediate future is in the hands of Wallace, a 5-10, 193-pound senior who was the Big 12 Conference's offensive newcomer of the year last season after finishing second in the league in total offense (219 yards per game). His completion percentage of 62.1 percent led the league. Overall, Wallace threw for 2,044 yards (167-for-269) with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 475 yards with seven touchdowns.

Wallace has certainly left a lasting impression on opponents.

"...in terms of athletic ability and being a threat, Wallace might be the best quarterback (in the Big 12)," Texas A&M coach R.C. slocum said. Added Kansas State head coach Billy Snyder: "When Wallace gets out in the open field, he really runs like an elusive running back. I've seen him make some very, very good players miss him. Also, he's completing 66 percent of his passes. Most people don't do that in warm-ups."

Wallace is originally from Sacramento and played two years ago at Sac City Junior College, where he passed for 3,675 yards with 22 touchdowns. He also rushed for 550 yards on 49 tries and nine touchdowns. His two junior college teams finished 9-2. Wallace's deadly passing accuracy led to just 14 ISU turnovers last season -- the fewest by a Cyclone team since 1958 and the lowest figure since World War II.

"He's not a rah-rah leader but leads by example and there is not one guy on this football team who doesn't respect him as a player and as a person. Not one," McCarney said. "Not a lot of people knew about him a year ago but they know about him now. On the field he can tuck it and run, he can run the option and is an incredibly accurate passer. He never panics back there and can stay in the pocket. He gives you a lot of options."

GRIND IT OUT

Even so, Iowa State's success rushing the football under McCarney is profound. ISU is one of three schools nationally to have produced a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last seven seasons (Wisconsin 9 times, Texas 7 times). A trio of juniors is expected to share the load this season, including Bradenton's Hiawatha Rutland. Additionally, ISU running backs have lost just four fumbles in a 57-game span.

The Cyclones return two starters on the offensive line -- left guard Bob Montgomery and center Zach Butler -- and their top receiver in Lane Danielsen, who had 49 catches for 694 yards and four touchdowns, with a pair of 100-yard receiving games last season. McCarney was pleased with the offensive unit's progress during spring drills.

"We learned that we have a good football team with better playmakers than we've had in the past," McCarney said. "I was impressed with the team's effort. I thought the running backs ran hard, the wide receivers showed that they are a real good group of guys that can make plays."

DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENTS

Defensively, the Cyclones led the Big 12 in turnover margin last season, forcing 26 opponent mistakes. They also registered 18 interceptions, the program's best mark since 1976. ISU also has been able to keep opponents off the scoreboard with better consistency. IN 1997, a 1-10 Cyclone team allowed an average of 44.8 points per game. That number dropped to 21 points a game last season, its best effort since 1982.

"I think that our program's talent base is best demonstrated defensively, where we have come a long way in team speed," said McCarney, a former defensive coordinator.

Senior linebacker Matt Word, from Miami, was the team's leading tackler last season with 108 stops, including 11 tackles for loss and three sacks. Word is expected to be 100 percent following offseason shoulder surgery. Senior defensive back Atif Austin, a converted running back from Tarpon Springs, had 55 tackles and broke up 10 passes last season.

Tony Yelk, meanwhile, dropped 15 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line last season, averaged 47.3 yards per punt in the Independence Bowl and converted 38-of-39 extra points. However, Yelk was hot-and-cold in field goals, converting just 8-of-18. He just missed the game-winner from 47 yards in the final seconds against Alabama in the Independence Bowl.

Despite imposing obstacles this season, including FSU out of the gate, McCarney is eager to prove ISU is not a fluke.

"It will be a challenge but we are trying to have fun with it and looking at it as an opportunity to measure ourselves against the toughest yardstick," McCarney said.

QUICK FACTS

2001 Record: 7-5. Lost to Alabama 14-13 in the Independence Bowl

2001 Conference record: Big Twelve North 4-4 (Third)

Letterwinners Returning: 12

Letterwinners Lost: 18

Starters Returing: 18 (6 offense, 7 defense, 5 specialists)

Offensive starters returning: C Zach Butler, Sr.; LG Bob Montgomery, Jr.: WR Lane Danielsen, Jr.; WB Jack Whitver, Jr. QB Seneca Wallace, Sr; FB Joe Woodley, Jr.

Defensive starters returning: RE Tyson Smith, Jr.; DT Jordan Carstens, Jr.: OLB Jeremy Loyd, Sr.; MLB Matt Word, Sr; FS Marc Timmons, Jr: LCB Harold Clewis, Jr. RCB Atif Austin, Sr.

Specialists returning: P & PK Tony Yelk, So.; DS Matt Bockes, Jr.; PR Michael Wagner, Jr.; KR JaMaine Billups, Jr; HO Casey Baldwin, Jr.

Players from the Sunshine State: Brian Thompson (Plantation), Matt Word (Miami Southridge), Johnny Smith (Bradenton), Hiawatha Rutland (Bradenton), Marc Timmons (Bradenton), Atif Austin (Tarpon Springs), Cephus Johnson (Palm Beach Gardens).

Bowl Seasons: 1971-72, 1977-78, 2000-01.

MEET HEAD COACH DAN McCARNEY

Seasons at Iowa State:Seven

Record at Iowa State:29-50

All-time coaching record: 29-50

Playing & coaching career: University of Iowa (1972-74), free agent with Denver Broncos (1975-75), Assistant coach Iowa (1977-89), defensive coordinator Wisconsin (1990-94), Head coach Iowa State (1994-present).


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