"We are honored obviously to be selected to play in the Eddie Robinson Classic against a tremendous Florida State team," McCarney said Monday during the Big 12 coaches teleconference.
"We broke camp last night (Sunday) and we are in game week now. I think we made a lot of progress during two-a-days and we are very, very excited about this opportunity. You only get so many chances in life to coach against one of the best (FSU coach Bobby Bowden) and play against one of the best programs in the history of college football."
Asked what his biggest concern was heading into game week, McCarney said and laughed, "Yeah, Florida State.
"Seventeen starters back. Absolutely a phenomenal football program and a majority of that team that just blew out Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl last year and they are just an outstanding team. Their entire offensive line is back intact, their entire defensive line is back intact. We all would like to start our seasons with that being that case with your football team. They are in everybody's top five and a number of people of picked them preseason No. 1 and deservedly so with the team they have coming back."
The Cyclones, meanwhile, return 18 starters (6 offense, 7 defense, 5 specialists) from last year's team that went 7-5 and lost 14-13 to Alabama in the Independence Bowl. Of course, Iowa State's top player is quarterback Seneca Wallace. He was the Big 12 Conference's offensive newcomer of the year after arriving from Sacramento (Calif.) City College and is the object of a school-sponsored Heisman Trophy campaign this fall Wallace (pictured) accounted for 2,811 yards -- 2,328 while completing 61.7 percent of his passes, and 483 yards on 121 rushes for an average of 3.9 yards per carry.
In his first Big 12 game, Wallace set league records with 18 straight completions and single game completion percentage (91.7 on 22 of 24 passing) against Baylor. Wallace also had a 60-yard run against Northern Iowa, a 35-yarder against Missouri and a 29-yarder against Nebraska.
"I've been coaching 27 years and I've seen very few players with the kind of ability he possesses," McCarney said. "I couldn't be more proud of him. He has picked up right where he left off in the bowl game, right where he left off in spring football. He hasn't missed a beat. He's a leader, he's one of our captains. He has been efficient. He has been productive. Rarely, rarely makes mistakes. Unlike this time last year, when he hadn't played one down of Division I football, he has 12 starts under his belt now and just has a great grasp of our offense. He has had a tremendous camp."
Added Kansas State co-defensive coordinator Bret Bielema, who coached Iowa's linebackers last season: "The thing about Seneca is you can have him (contained), but you really don't. The thing that always concerns you about Seneca is that he's good enough to throw your option rules out the window. You think he's a runner, an athlete, which he is. But also, he's one of the most accurate passers in the Big 12. He's one of the most amazing quarterbacks I've seen."
Thanks to Wallace's strong arm and solid depth at wide receiver, don't look for the Cyclones to run many formations without a receiver on the field. In fact, McCarney has said, "We're going to be out there a lot with three and four because those guys can make plays."
The Cyclones' spring game was proof, as six different receivers had receptions. And one of McCarney's best, Jack Whitver, missed the game because of a broken collarbone. Lane Danielsen, the leading receiver last season, irritated a hamstring problem and played less than a half. Danielsen caught two passes and scored on a 58-yard reverse.
Defensively, the Cyclones are paced by linebacker Matt Word. Word, of Miami Southridge High School, led Iowa State in tackles last season with 108. His season included 16 tackles in a 48-14 loss at Nebraska, two solo tackles for loss in a 14-13 loss to Alabama in the Independence Bowl, and a 36-yard touchdown romp after an interception against Kansas.
"He's a real impact player and can be one of the best linebackers in the best league in college football," McCarney said of Word, whose brother played at Jacksonville State and now is a member of the Cleveland Browns.
The Cyclones' linebacking unit just might be its best strength overall. Strongside linebacker Jeremy Loyd, the team's co-defensive MVP with Word, had 68 tackles last season, including seven for loss. He also chipped in two interceptions and had 10 tackles against Alabama in the Independence Bowl. The Cyclones also have Chris Whitaker back and healthy. Whitaker missed two games in the 2000 season because of a stress fracture in his left leg, then broke his right leg in spring practice in 2001. He returned last fall but tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee after one game and missed the rest of the season.
If the oddsmakers are correct and the 'Noles emerge victorious, Bowden will move into second place on the all-time Division I career win list at 324, in front of Paul "Bear" Bryant and behind Joe Paterno (327). McCarney said coaches such as Bowden and Eddie Robinson, the all-time winningest coach at any level, serve as inspirations to the coaching profession.
"It's no question he's an inspiration to all of us," McCarney said of Bowden. "He really is. I saw him this spring, when he came to Des Moines and spoke at a FCA banquet and I got a chance to visit with him. He looks great. His energy level and enthusiasm seems to be running as good as it has ever been. And I know he's very excited about his football team this year. It's hard to imagine that many coaches in the future can ever accomplish the things that Eddie Robinson and Bobby Bowden have done. They've really been in a class by themselves."