I've got a handful of magazines that preview the 2003 season sitting on my desk and none of them thinks much of what the Cyclones have to offer this season. Or maybe they believe the Big 12 North is simply THAT good. Either way, these publications agree that ISU will be better than Kansas this fall…but they won't give the Cyclones much more credit than that.
Here are a few excerpts…
Athlon Sports College Football 2003: "With another difficult schedule to deal with this year—although most of the toughies are at home—it won't be easy for Iowa State to make it four postseasons in a row…Iowa State has just one win over a team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 under McCarney, a 36-14 victory over No. 20 Nebraska last season." Athlon picked ISU to finish fifth in the Big 12 North (ahead of Kansas).
Phil Steele's College Football Preview: "They are 13-11 in Big 12 play the last three years but I will call for them to have a losing conference record, although they still could get to their third straight bowl game due to a soft non-conference schedule." Steele picked ISU to finish fifth in the Big 12 North (ahead of Kansas).
Street & Smith's 2003 College Football Preview: "Iowa State was crushed by the way last season ended, with a loss to Connecticut followed by a bowl loss at Boise State. The final record of 7-7 was excellent by the program's historical standards but far below what the coaches and players dreamed for themselves through the end of October." Street & Smith's picked ISU to finish fourth in the Big 12 North (ahead of Missouri and Kansas).
Sports Illustrated's College Football Preview: "Senior WR Lane Danielsen led Cyclones with 63 catches for 1,073 yards." (That's all they had to say.) SI picked ISU to finish fifth in the Big 12 North (ahead of…you guessed it…Kansas). It also tabbed Iowa State as the 64th-best team in the country.
It looks like it's unanimous. You can take it to the bank that the Jayhawks will be in the basement of the Big 12 North in 2003.
However, I would not be shocked to see the Cyclones surprise the "experts" again this season with some unexpected success. Here are several reasons why…
If the 2002 team could make it to a bowl game with THAT schedule, then anything should be possible for ISU. This year's schedule is certainly not easy, but it's not quite as treacherous as the 2002 version.
Coach McCarney feeds off of the "lack of respect" that outsiders show his program. And he gets his team to believe in that "prove 'em wrong" mentality. It may be the oldest motivational trick in the book, but it still works.
I feel good about ISU's chances to knock off one or two of the "big dogs" in Ames this fall. I think the Cyclones will beat Colorado at home, but I'm also looking for an upset of either Texas or Kansas State. If ISU can get two of those three games, fifth place is NOT a reality…and a fourth consecutive bowl trip is in the works.
In my opinion, Colorado and Missouri are both a little over-rated by the preseason magazines. The Buffaloes return only nine starters and their schedule isn't exactly a cakewalk. The Tigers have an exciting playmaker in QB Brad Smith, but what if he gets hurt?
Overall, I think Iowa State has a very good chance to be a BETTER football team than it was a year ago. Outside of the quarterback position, I think the Cyclones might be as good or better across the board than they were in 2002. And if Waye Terry—or Austin Flynn—can produce some big plays, I think this will be a very good football team.
Of course, the proof is in the pudding. If the Cyclones falter at home against Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas State…and on the road against Texas Tech, Nebraska and Missouri…the preseason publications will be right. Kansas will be the only team in the Big 12 looking up at ISU.
I just don't see that happening.
With a couple of upsets in Ames (Texas and Colorado, perhaps), the Cyclones might be able to grab a third-place spot in the Big 12 North and make plans for a fourth straight postseason appearance. If that happens, you can bet the magazines will give ISU a little more recognition next fall.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. His columns for CN online are published each Tuesday and Friday. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)