Funny how things have come full circle.
Heading into his 10th season, with three of the school's seven all-time bowl appearances and the second-most wins ever by an ISU head coach on his resume, it doesn't seem like most of Cyclone Nation is asking Mac for all that much on the eve of a new campaign.
Sure, there's always the malcontents you can find on any message board community for any school, seemingly unsatisfied if their favorite team isn't undefeated and unscored upon each week. You'll find those exist within the cardinal-and-gold realm as well, if you look hard enough. Although they're few and far between for a program with a .462 winning percentage.
Nope, around here it seems the natives aren't restless despite last season's record that must not be named; nor the fact the Cyclones have lost 16 of their last 19 games going back to October 19th, 2002. The average margin of defeat in those contests was a rather lopsided 28.5 points per game.
To be honest with you, I'm not sure how I feel about that.
Now, I'm as firm a McCarney supporter in the state of Iowa media as you will find. And for months now I've been warning all of you not expect a night-and-day turnaround a year after such a debacle. As far as I am concerned, McCarney's previous success affords him a mulligan this fall to fix what happened during the last one.
However, I'm hearing from my peers in the fourth estate that you're likely looking at a 3-8/2-9 season this fall with the possibility of "attaining" – if you can call it that – the six-win plateau and a bowl bid in 2005. What's interesting about that is those same media folks believe Cyclone Nation would be just giddy, or at least non-chalant, about that.
Say it isn't so. Are the scribes right in assuming you'll take that lying down, or just out of touch with the Iowa State fanbase?
Heck, word is that Northern Iowa players were even running smack at their media day last Thursday, going so far as to predict a win over ISU off-the-record if Bret Meyer starts at quarterback. Has it really come to this? I know last year's game was close, but I-AA teams are now running smack?
I'm not saying it's time to pattern yourselves after the Jihadic wing of the Hawkeye Nation, which has no problem booing its own team—when they're winning. On the other hand, a little passion considering the circumstances certainly doesn't make you a turncoat.
I think it's a compliment to Mac to be ticked off about what transpired a year ago. I think Mac would be just fine if the fanbase had the same sized chip on its shoulder as he does heading into autumn. After all, those expectations only exist because he created them.
Then again, maybe the passion is there, but it's just simmering below the surface. By all accounts, season ticket sales are fairly close to last year's breakneck pace. Our preseason sales for the website and magazine are actually running ahead of last year's pace, and we're on pace to have one of our biggest months ever.
Maybe my well-meaning media cohorts don't have it right. I know, big surprise, right? Maybe Mac has built up enough personal capital with Cyclone Nation that they're willing to take a wait-and-see approach about whether last season was a fluke or a setback. Mac has earned the right to that benefit of the doubt. Maybe ISU fans realize winning with a roster replete with freshmen and sophomores, plus as many as six junior college transfers on the two-deep, is tough enough in the Sun Belt Conference let alone the Big 12.
But as much as I personally love and respect Mac and the program he and his coaches have established, there's no way – barring a German Measles outbreak, that you folks should accept 3-8 as satisfactory progress for this season. I'll guarantee you that right now Mac and his coaches aren't rallying the players to reach to break the coveted three-win barrier.
So what is a worthy goal in my mind? I think anything less than doubling last season's win total is insufficient, given the schedule. Anything short of that and I suspect we'll start to see detractors emerge to describe 2005 as a make-or-break season, especially with the possibility of top-level administrative change looming.
That brings us back to the core question of this column: what is the fans' win expectation for this season, or is there even a win expectation for this season?
I see the season unfolding in one of three ways:
- The Good— Enough swing games against Northern Illinois, Texas A&M, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri go the Cyclones' way. They forge a winning record to mark a stark turnaround and return to the postseason. Odds of happening: 33%
- The Bad— Too much youth leads to inconsistent play, ISU plays well in several of those swing games but doesn't yet have what it takes to seal the deal at winning time. This primarily occurs because (a) Barney Cotton isn't a miracle worker with the offensive line and needs another year to re-establish that unit; (b) the potential loss of Jason Berryman is never accounted for on defense; (c) neither Bret Meyer or Austin Flynn establishes himself as the clear starter under center. ISU finishes with two or three wins. Odds of happening: 33%
- The Wait until Next Year— The young Cyclones play tougher, smarter, and more together. However, too much youth makes going from penthouse to outhouse unrealistic in just one year. Towards the end of the season, either Meyer or Flynn assert themselves as the distinct choice at quarterback, the offensive line leads Stevie Hicks to a 1,000-yard rushing season, but the new players on defense aren't yet ready for primetime. ISU wins four or five games but provides enough enticement for a breakout 2005. Odds of happening: 33%
Each of those scenarios is just as likely as the rest of them, which is why I think each of them is even money to occur. Ultimately, beauty lies in the beholder, which is you. As a fan, you're the determining factor to what is acceptable.
So feel free to let us know on our message boards. I'm curious to find out what the expectations are for Cyclone football in 2004.
Free – That's Right I Said FREE – Football Season Tickets
Just another reminder that there are still weeks left to take advantage of our football season ticket giveaway at Des Moines Mitsubishi.
Now through September 1st, if you live in Central Iowa or just driving through, you can stop by Des Moines Mitsubishi at 9060 Hickman Road in Clive and register for a drawing to win a free pair of Iowa State football season tickets courtesy of CN. This is just our way of saying thank you for your tremendous support on the eve of our third season.
On September 2nd at 4:30 p.m., we'll draw the winner live during Deace in the Afternoon on 1460-KXNO. If you're name is drawn, you'll be eligible to pick up your Iowa State football season tickets in person the very next day at Des Moines Mitsubishi.
Employees, or their family members, of CN and Des Moines Mitsubishi are not eligible to win. No purchase necessary to enter the contest. Must register in person to win and only one entry per person please.
And no, you don't have to be a subscriber to win. Heck, you don't even have to like me to win. J
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network)