Monday Musings

This week, our publisher does a post-operative diagnosis on ISU football following the disappointing loss to Iowa by asking one key question: where do the Cyclones go from here?

A big challenge awaits Dan McCarney and his coaching staff between now and the September 27th visit to Northern Illinois.

For the first time under Mac's watch, a Cyclone football team with expectations must overcome the disappointment of a loss to the University of Iowa and rebound successfully. Mac lost every matchup against his alma mater from 1995-97, but those ISU teams were rebuilding and never had any realistic hope for postseason play.

This current ISU senior class will also have their leadership tested in the coming days. They've never faced the specter of a winter at home without any football. To avoid that, their task is to keep the team confident and together following a double-digit loss at home in a game they openly admit they put more emotion into than any other.

It won't be easy.

As much as some you won't want to hear it, the blueprint for success in this endeavor was actually written a year ago by Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. After blowing a 24-7 halftime – from their perspective – and losing to ISU a fifth straight time, Hawkeye Nation was gnashing its collective teeth and venting anti-Ferentz vitriol on message boards and call-in shows last September.

Nonetheless, Ferentz and his charges pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and catapulted themselves to a special season. Now, they had two advantages over the current Cyclones in doing so.

  1. Iowa's next game a year ago was against lowly Utah State at home. Talk about a confidence-builder! ISU next faces Mid-American Conference favorite Northern Illinois on the road. Uh-oh.
  2. It's easier to take that "next step" and rebound in the Big Ten than it is the Big 12. Now, I grew up in Big Ten country and on the radio I am a birthright shill for the granddaddy of all college football leagues. But there are more lay-ups and toss-ups in that league than a Big 12 that features traditional powers like Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, Texas A&M, Kansas State, and Colorado. These schools rarely suffer the type of downswing a supposed Big Ten power like Penn State has been experiencing over the last four years.

Of course, the Cyclones still have to play Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Colorado. Also on the docket are road games against a Texas Tech program that has been bowl-eligible for eight straight years and an improving Missouri squad.

ISU certainly has its work cut out for it.

To follow the 2002 Iowa blueprint, and rebound from the sting of this loss and qualify for a fourth straight bowl game, the Cyclones absolutely have to win at Northern Illinois. That is the swing game of the season, in my opinion. ISU is aided by the fact it has a bye week to lick its wounds and maybe get Tony Yelk and Bob Montgomery back from injury. Meanwhile, the Huskies play at Alabama, so the Cyclones could be facing a beat-up football team on the 27th.

But winning at Dekalb doesn't solve all of ISU's worries, although it does provide a kick-start. The other factor in Iowa's rebound last season was it followed up the Utah State victory by winning a game early it wasn't supposed to when it upset Penn State at home in overtime in its Big Ten opener.

The odds are heavily against the Cyclones duplicating that feat in its conference-opener, since it faces top-ranked Oklahoma. However, the next game against Texas Tech in Lubbock would suffice, and "stealing" that game is certainly possible.

Therefore, I think if the Cyclones are to salvage the season, not to mention their psyche, it would behoove them to win two of their next three games. That would put ISU at 4-2 at the halfway point, and in much better shape to face the gauntlet that is the second half of their schedule.

Some Ominous Signs = Some Emerging Fan Discontent

Going back to the second half of 2002, the Cyclones are 3-7 in their last 10 games and have been outscored, 345-211. That, coupled with a loss to the team they hate the most on Saturday, has some in Cyclone Nation actually e-mailing me wanting Dan McCarney's scalp and wondering if the program is in disarray.

Are you kidding me with that?

Now, I'm not saying you should be satisfied with the results as of late, because you shouldn't be and I know nobody inside the Jacobson Building is either. But the whispering that Mac has taken this program as far as it can go is a little shortsighted.

Folks, a program of ISU's stature doesn't overcome the loss of four preseason starters due to injury and ineligibility and not skip a beat. Plus, you know those Hawkeyes are pretty good, too. From field level, Iowa's defense was quick and smothering. I know it's just the Big Ten, but these guys weren't 11-2 last year for nothing.

However, there are three problem areas that have been the chief culprits leading to ISU's struggles: turnovers, special teams and offensive line play. The Cyclones are averaging just 133.8 yards per game rushing over the last 10 games. That's not going to produce enough of a balance on offense to keep the kind of teams ISU is facing honest. Against Iowa, there were barely creases for the running backs to get through let alone holes. This offensive line is clearly still a work in progress.

In the turnover department, the Cyclones are a hideous minus-13 in their last 10 games. As Lee Corso would say on ESPN, "Yo!" Frankly, with that kind of turnover margin in their last 10 games it's a miracle ISU has even won thrice. It's tough enough for the Cyclones to match up against their current caliber of competition without them beating themselves.

Finally, special teams have been an Achilles Heel for ISU for years now. But after the first two games of this season, it looked as if that was finally turning around. Then Tony Yelk got hurt, and then Iowa's best in the nation special teams came to town. I can't recall a rivalry game being so decidedly one-sided because of special teams play, but it looked as if the Hawkeyes exposed and exploited every weakness ISU has in that area in just one afternoon.

Who knows what the future holds this season? It's going to be very challenging for the Cyclone coaching staff to overcome these obstacles given the lack of depth and youth ISU has in certain spots this season. As I said after the narrow escape against Northern Iowa, If ISU does indeed get to a fourth straight bowl game than Mac will deserve to win the Big 12 Coach of the Year Award.

Nonetheless, the future is bright in Ames. Trust me on this. Bill Seals and I have seen up close what they've recruited and the talent level is getting better and better. Instead of raiding the junior colleges, ISU has taken a long-term view in recruiting. It will take some seasoning for those dividends to pay off, but the 2005 season could be special. Players like Flynn, Stevie Hicks, Seth Zehr, Bastian Schober, John Tjaden, DeAndre Jackson, Caleb Berg, Domonique Flower, Matt Scherbring, Brent Curvey, Jason Berryman, Aaron Brant, Milan Moses, Matthew Robertson, Kyle/Korey Smith, and Todd Blythe will be poised to lead this program to new heights.

The schedule that season is favorable, too. Iowa must come to Ames, as will Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Colorado. There's also no Texas and no Oklahoma. With proper player development, that group should be better equipped to challenge those type of teams, and maybe even challenge for a Big 12 North Division title for the first time ever.

In the meantime, Mac has his hands full. This is, after all, the Church of What's Happening Now. Even after waiting a generation to win again, success begets expectations. After a record-setting year in terms of National Cyclone Club memberships and season-ticket sales, grumbling within the Cyclone Nation is likely to increase if Iowa State struggles in the interim. That's a compliment to the enthusiasm Mac has re-instilled in ISU football. However, once you create that monster you're also responsible for continually feeding it.

My Top 25

The following would've been the ballot I would have submitted this week if I had a vote in the Associated Press Poll:

1. USC (3-0)

Last week: 1

This week: beat Hawaii, 61-32

Next week: idle

2. Michigan (3-0)

Last week: 3

This week: beat Notre Dame, 38-0

Next week: at #21 Oregon (3-0)

3. Oklahoma (3-0)

Last week: 4

This week: beat Fresno State, 53-28

Next week: UCLA (1-1)

4. Ohio State (3-0)

Last week: 5

This week: beat N.C. State, 44-38 (3OT)

Next week: #23 Bowling Green (3-0)

5. LSU (3-0)

Last week: 6

This week: beat Western Illinois, 35-7

Next week: #8 Georgia (3-0)

6. Pittsburgh (2-0)

Last week: 7

This week: beat Ball State, 44-21

Next week: at Toledo (2-1)

7. Miami, Fla. (3-0)

Last week: 8

This week: beat East Carolina, 38-3

Next week: at Boston College (2-1)

8. Georgia (3-0)

Last week: 11

This week: beat South Carolina, 31-7

Next week: at #5 LSU (3-0)

9. Kansas State (4-0)

Last week: 9

This week: beat Massachusetts, 38-7

Next week: Marshall (1-2)

10. Florida State (3-0)

Last week: 9

This week: beat Georgia Tech, 14-13

Next week: Colorado (2-1)

11. Virginia Tech (2-0)

Last week: 12

This week: idle

Next week: Texas A&M (2-0)

12. Tennessee (2-0)

Last week: 14

This week: idle

Next week: at #15 Florida (2-1)

13. Nebraska (3-0)

Last week: 15

This week: beat Penn State, 18-10

Next week: idle

14. Arkansas (2-0)

Last week: NR

This week: beat Texas, 38-28

Next week: North Texas (1-2)

15. Florida (2-1)

Last week: 18

This week: beat Florida A&M, 63-3

Next week: #12 Tennessee (2-0)

16. Arizona State (2-0)

Last week: 19

This week: beat Utah State, 26-16

Next week: at #17 Iowa (3-0)

17. Iowa (3-0)

Last week: 22

This week: beat Iowa State, 40-21

Next week: #16 Arizona State (2-0)

18. Texas (1-1)

Last week: 1

This week: lost to Arkansas, 38-28

Next week: at Rice (0-2)

19. Minnesota (3-0)

Last week: 21

This week: beat Ohio, 42-20

Next week: Louisiana-Lafayette (0-3)

20. Alabama (2-1)

Last week: NR

This week: beat Kentucky, 27-17

Next week: Northern Illinois (2-0)

21. Oregon (3-0)

Last week: NR

This week: beat Arizona, 48-10

Next week: #2 Michigan (3-0)

22. TCU (2-0)

Last week: 24

This week: idle

Next week: Vanderbilt (1-2)

23. Bowling Green (3-0)

Last week: NR

This week: beat Liberty, 62-3

Next week: at #4 Ohio State (3-0)

24. Purdue (1-1)

Last week: NR

This week: beat Wake Forest, 16-10

Next week: Arizona (1-2)

25. Wake Forest (2-1)

Last week: 17

This week: lost to Purdue, 16-10

Next week: East Carolina (0-3)

Out: #13 Notre Dame (1-1); #16 Colorado (2-1); #20 Wisconsin (2-1); #23 N.C. State (1-2); #25 South Carolina (2-1).

Honorable Mention: #26 Notre Dame (1-1); #27 Washington State (2-1); #28 Colorado (2-1); #29 Louisville (3-0); #30 Boston College (2-1).

(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio each Monday-Friday from 4-7 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network)











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