Northern Iowa—The Panthers put a major scare into Iowa State a season ago in a 17-10 loss that went down to the wire and foreshadowed the foreboding season to come. UNI returns the bulk of that team that made the quarterfinals of the Division I-AA playoffs, and are a preseason top 10 squad. Can they do it again at Jack Trice Stadium? We think they'll play tough, but the Cyclones will be too determined to start things off on the right foot. Look for a hefty dosage of Stevie Hicks, who starts the season off with 150 yards rushing behind a revitalized offensive line. Austin Flynn starts the game at quarterback, but Bret Meyer takes just as many snaps under center. Neither player distinguishes himself from the other, but Meyer does connect with Todd Blythe for the first of what should be many touchdown hookups in their careers. ISU cruises to a 24-10 victory.
At Iowa—Flynn starts his second consecutive game, but the Iowa State offense struggles mightily to sustain a drive against Iowa's terrific defense. After opening up holes for Hicks the previous week, the offensive line gets a reality check against the Hawkeyes' stout front seven. However, ISU's defense is also up to the task, and frustrates sophomore starter Drew Tate all afternoon while ganging up on Jermelle Lewis. Unfortunately, key turnovers by Flynn and Meyer, who split time at quarterback again this week, lead to two Iowa touchdowns. Those are the difference in the game, and Kirk Ferentz finally beats the Cyclones at home, 17-3.
Northern Illinois—For the first time this season, Dan McCarney settles on one quarterback and announces the end of the platoon just in time to take on the Huskies. Flynn starts and plays the whole game, running and passing for touchdowns in a 21-10 win. Stevie Hicks gets back over the 100-yard rushing mark, but it's up to the defense and the other Hicks to preserve the victory in the fourth quarter. LaMarcus Hicks intercepts a Josh Haldi pass deep in ISU territory and returns it for a touchdown to clinch it.
At Oklahoma State—Iowa State stuns the Cowboys with a quick 10-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks to a long touchdown run on a quarterback keeper from Flynn and an Ellis Hobbs interception, which leads to a Tony Yelk field goal. After another Yelk three-pointer extends the lead before halftime, a young Cyclone team that is unable to sustain that success on the road unravels in the second half. The defense keeps it close, and gets the ball back to the offense with a chance to win it late in the contest. On Flynn's first pass of the drive, the ball deflects off of Jon Davis and into the waiting hands of OSU cornerback Darrent Williams. A garbage time touchdown run from Vernand Morency sends ISU home with a 27-17 defeat.
Texas A&M—With a 2-2 record, this Homecoming game at Jack Trice Stadium becomes the swing game of Iowa State's schedule. The Aggies are winners of three straight after defeating nationally ranked Clemson and Kansas State at home. But they're 0-1 on the road thus far with a season-opening loss at Utah. Wet weather in Ames keeps the score down, and minimizes the effectiveness of both offenses. A Nick Leaders fumble recovery sets up a one-yard scoring plunge from Ryan Kock. Reggie McNeal hits Terrance Murphy for a long touchdown pass to tie the score at 7-7 before halftime. The third quarter belongs to ISU and Stevie Hicks. However, two impressive drives stall in the red zone and only yield two Yelk field goals. The Aggies retake the lead when Courtney Lewis breaks free for a 50-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The Cyclones then twice move the ball into A&M territory, but Yelk misses two long field goals in the rain that could've won it. ISU loses a heartbreaker, 14-13.
At Colorado—The injury bug finally strikes the Cyclones. Flynn suffers a high ankle sprain in practice, meaning Meyer will make his first career start in Boulder. That forces Barney Cotton to scale back the offense. Even worse, for the first time all season the defense breaks down. The passing of Joel Klatt and the running of Bobby Purify keep Iowa State on its heels all afternoon. The result is forgettable 28-7 loss that drops the Cyclones to 2-4.
At Baylor—With Flynn still not fully recovered, Meyer is the starting quarterback for the second consecutive week. But this time the redshirt freshman is far more prepared, and for the first time all season the passing game becomes the linchpin of the offense. With the Bears geared up to stop Stevie Hicks, Meyer connects with three different receivers for touchdowns. He also avoids making the big mistake. Jason Berryman plays easily his best game of the season with three sacks and Iowa State rebounds for a 24-13 victory.
Kansas—Having already surpassed last season's win total, Iowa State looks to get back to .500 for a realistic shot a bowl game. The Jayhawks have other ideas, and jump all over the Cyclones and to lead at halftime, 21-7. McCarney then decides to reinsert a gimpy Flynn into the lineup for a spark, and the move ignites ISU's offense. Flynn hits James Wright for a 25-yard touchdown pass, and then a career long 65-yard touchdown run by Stevie Hicks ties the game. The two teams trade field goals before ending regulation at 24 apiece. Kansas opens overtime with a field goal. The Cyclones lose Hicks to leg cramps. Enter freshman Jason Scales, who scores his first career touchdown on a draw play on third-and-long to lift ISU to a dramatic 30-27 triumph.
Nebraska—At 4-4, Iowa State has legitimate bowl aspirations. However, the Huskers have loftier goals and are looking to win the Big 12 North. Bitterly cold temperatures and strong wind gusts make passing virtually impossible for whichever offense is working against them. ISU's only first half points come on a 52-yard field goal with the wind by Yelk. Nebraska dominates in total yardage, but two turnovers in ISU territory limit the Huskers to just one touchdown. Two interceptions by Nebraska's stingy secondary set up two more field goals. After Yelk connects on another field goal to draw within six, a Stevie Hicks fumble is recovered and ran back for a touchdown by Barrett Ruud. Those three turnovers sentence the Cyclones to a 20-6 defeat.
At Kansas State—It's senior day for K-State, and senior stud Darren Sproles celebrates in grand style during the Wildcats annual woodshed beating of Iowa State. After facing a succession of eight and nine-man defensive fronts that stymied his Heisman candidacy all season long, Sproles faces a Cyclone defense much more to his liking. He explodes for 245 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the 45-14 rout. The loss officially eliminates ISU from bowl-eligibility. For the second straight year the Cyclones are home for the Holidays.
Missouri—In front of a nationwide television audience on Thanksgiving weekend, the Cyclones end the season in fine fashion by upsetting the visiting Tigers. Nationally-ranked and needing a win to clinch the North Division crown, Missouri has no answer for Stevie Hicks, who becomes the first Iowa State rusher since Ennis Haywood in 2001 to gain over 200 yards in a game and rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. Hobbs and Tyson Smith each nab interceptions in their final home games, two of four turnovers forced by an ISU defense that knocks Brad Smith out of the game early on a wicked hit from Brandon Brown. A rousing 28-14 win raises ISU's final record to 5-6 and provides valuable momentum for a team poised for a breakout season in 2005.
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio each weekday in Iowa from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network.)