3 Chances to Build Momentum for '04

Coach Dan McCarney said that he doesn't want to say "the heck with this season" and start playing strictly for next fall. That's fine. The Cyclone seniors on this roster deserve every opportunity to win in each of ISU's final three games this year. The Cyclones' overall record stands at 2-7 with an 0-5 mark in the Big 12.

A victory—or two—at the end of this season would do wonders for the Cyclones who will remain in the program after the final game on November 29 at Missouri.

This team needs a boost. It needs a shot of confidence…something…ANYTHING…to give it some positive energy to build on this spring and into the fall of 2004.

After a second consecutive shutout, 45-0, at the hands of Kansas State on Saturday, you can hear the comments already by disgruntled Iowa State fans:

* McCarney needs to fire this assistant and that assistant.
* Iowa State needs to double its football budget to be successful.
* The Cyclones need to leave the Big 12 and join the Big West.
* Iowa State needs to jump from Division 1-A in football to Division 1-AA…or perhaps Division II.

And on and on it goes. Lots of ideas from people who are extremely disappointed in the 2003 season. While you can disagree with the concepts they might throw out there, it's hard to argue with the disappointment they're feeling.

The mood can't be that great in the Iowa State lockerroom, either. These guys have put in an incredible amount of time for the sole purpose of succeeding on the football field this fall. Can you imagine how frustrating that has to be? Not that anyone is giving up or slinging arrows, but any time that you lose seven games in a row, you can't help but question things. It's human nature.

Keeping everyone on the same page for the remainder of the season becomes one of Coach McCarney's biggest challenges of the year. He must get these guys to keep their chins up, stay together and believe that they can WIN again.

Again, this whole program NEEDS a boost. Something to build on. Perhaps the senior class, which has played in three straight bowl games, can help next year's team get back on the right track by producing a victory (or two) in the final three games of their ISU careers.

What are the chances?

Well, when you're talking about a team that hasn't scored a point since October 18 (in a 40-19 loss to Texas), clearly the chances aren't all that great. But, let's put the anger, disappointment, negativity and frustration aside for a moment and try to imagine something positive coming out of the final month of this season. After all, the Cyclones' next three opponents have a combined record of 6-11 in the Big 12.

Colorado (November 15): The final home game for seniors like Lane Danielsen, Michael Wagner, Jack Whitver, Jamaul Montgomery, Lance Young, Bob Montgomery, Casey Shelton, Jordan Carstens, Chris Whitaker, Joe Woodley and JaMaine Billups should not be lacking in emotion or motivation. These guys will want to make a statement in their final game in Ames.

The Buffaloes have only won two of their last eight games. They have allowed over 40 points five times in 10 games this season. Colorado is LAST in the Big 12 in scoring defense, yielding 36 points per game in the conference. The Cyclones' offense should be able to "get well" against the Buffs.

At Kansas (November 22): After looking good early in the season, the Jayhawks have lost four of five. During that stretch, they have allowed an average of 36 points per game. Kansas just gave up 290 yards of rushing to Nebraska in a 24-3 loss on Saturday.

Again, this appears to be another team that the Iowa State offense should be able to move the ball against.

In addition, the Jayhawks' senior quarterback, Bill Whittemore, has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury and is not expected to return this season. Whittemore had thrown for 15 TDs and only three interceptions this fall.

At Missouri (November 29): The Tigers are 2-3 in the Big 12 and have lost games to both Colorado and Kansas this fall. They have given up 29 points per game in conference play.

While Missouri has one of the most exciting players in the Big 12 in sophomore quarterback Brad Smith, this team is otherwise pretty average. However, the Tigers have not lost at home yet this season, so this will obviously be a pretty difficult test for the Cyclones.

I'm not trying to belittle Colorado, Kansas or Missouri. All three of these teams have a pair of wins in the Big 12 this fall, which is something that Iowa State can't say right now. But, this is hardly a "murderer's row" of Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas State. These games SHOULD be competitive.

There should be an opportunity for a victory. Or two.

If Coach McCarney can keep this Cyclone team together and make some improvements in the final three weeks of the 2003 season, it would sure bring a much-needed lift for the group that will return in 2004.

And who knows? It just might get some fans to forget about the Big West and get fired up about competing in the Big 12 again.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)

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