Don't call your friendly neighborhood travel agent just yet.
After a solid, three-game performance during the non-conference, and given the relative manageability of the remaining schedule compared to what was once thought to be too difficult, many of us were cautiously wondering if a bowl game could be in the offing.
It's tempting to look at the numbers and wonder if the Ghosts of Christmas past – see that as most of last season – came back to haunt the Cardinal-and-Gold. It was ugly; U-G-L-Y you ain't got no alibi ugly.
The way ISU lost looked all too familiar for those who remember the record that must not be spoken of. Defense gives valiant effort but doesn't get any help and ends up tiring as the game wears on. Special teams are an outright abomination. The offensive line is downright offensive. Only 59 yards rushing. Eight sacks allowed. Converting just 28 percent of third downs into first downs. A minus-3 turnover margin for the game.
Even loquacious team captain Ellis Hobbs was talking afterwards to the print media about not letting dissention creep in on the team after a disheartening loss like that.
Yet I'm not ready to play the 2003 card, because I've seen too much from this team in the previous three games to believe this squad bears any resemblance to that one in character, camaraderie, or athleticism. Besides, I just refuse to believe Dan McCarney is going to allow this loss to begin another downward spiral into gridiron oblivion.
However, that doesn't mean some old, bad habits aren't wreaking havoc again. That's particularly true of the offensive line, which is beginning to remind me a lot of last season's debacle, and the second half of the season before that.
I'm sure there's improvement going on in practice, and if I were more learned on offensive line technique I could probably pinpoint some positives from the games themselves. Nonetheless, the numbers bear out that so far this season against Division I-A competition the offensive line has failed to establish any consistent credibility up front.
I believe Barney Cotton will have this group turned around. Unfortunately, it appears getting to that point is going to take longer than we had originally thought. So all of us should sober up and realize that until that happens you needn't worry about choosing between your Christmas shopping fund and following the Cyclones somewhere warm for the postseason.
Publisher's note: I reserve the right to completely change my mind if the Cyclones upset Texas A&M this weekend. J
The real concern about Saturday's loss
Did you happen to hear the halftime "interview" Coach Mac gave Ben Bruns on the Cyclone Radio Network?
Mac was obviously livid with the way his team was playing, and even went so far as to point out the game wasn't a physical mismatch, despite the fact the Cyclones are young and the Cowboys are a nationally-ranked, emerging Big 12 power. Without the benefit of having seen the game live – thank you Big 12 TV package! – I'll take Mac's word for it on that.
Therefore, what's really worrisome is the fact ISU committed so many mental errors coming off of a bye week. Even for a young team, that was a lot of self-inflicted wounds with two weeks to prepare for an opponent. Sure, give a quality opponent credit for some of those, but I don't think this week's film study at the Jacobson Building is going to be fun for anybody.
Here's hoping a valuable lesson was learned by the Cyclones, because Texas A&M is a much-improved team from what it showed in its season-opening loss at Utah. They're beatable, but the Aggies are probably going to have the better athletes overall on the field Saturday night, so better execution is going to be key.
Time is running out to get your men's basketball preview issue
Friday is the deadline to subscribe to CN Magazine in time to receive your men's basketball preview issue conveniently in the mail.
We'll devote all 32 pages of the November issue to Wayne Morgan's second season at the helm of Cyclone basketball, which I suspect is going to be better than the preseason pundits think. ISU will be quicker, deeper, and more athletic than it was a year ago, and the schedule is dressed for success as well.
As an added bonus, TheInsiders has decided to include its basketball-recruiting annual with the November issue as well. So, you'll actually get 100 pages hoops info with the next issue of CN Magazine!
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My Top 25
If I had a vote in the Associated Press college football poll, this would have been my ballot:
6. Texas (4-0)…Last week—5…This week—beat Baylor, 44-14…Next week—#2 Oklahoma (4-0).
7. Utah (5-0)…Last week—10…This week—beat New Mexico, 28-7…Next week—idle.
10. California (3-0)…Last week—17…This week—beat Oregon State, 49-7…Next week—at #1 USC (4-0).
14. Michigan (4-1)…Last week—19…This week—beat Indiana, 35-14…Next week—#13 Minnesota (5-0).
15. Tennessee (3-1)…Last week—6…This week—lost to Auburn, 34-10…Next week—at #3 Georgia (4-0).
20. Oklahoma State (4-0)…Last week—24…This week—beat Iowa State, 36-7…Next week—at Colorado (3-1).
21. Ohio State (3-1)…Last week—14…This week—lost to Northwestern, 33-27 (OT)…Next week—#18 Wisconsin (5-0).
23. Maryland (3-1)…Last week—25…This week—idle…Next week—Georgia Tech (2-2).
Dropped out: #12 LSU (3-2), #18 Notre Dame (3-2).
Honorable mention—#26 Southern Mississippi (3-0), #27 N.C. State (3-1), #28 Navy (5-0), #29 LSU (3-2), #30 Virginia Tech (3-2).
Handicapping the Heisman
Just one big change on my ballot this week:
1. Jason White (QB-Oklahoma)…Until somebody beats the Sooners the reigning Heisman winner, who continues to post solid numbers, deserves to remain here.
2. Kyle Orton (QB-Purdue)…We believe! A senior quarterback who knows the Purdue system and has a cannon arm is unstoppable, and that certainly describes the Altoona native thus far this season.
3. Matt Leinart (QB-USC)…Gets a chance to impress a network TV audience this week in the Pac-10's showdown Game of the Year against resurgent California in a sold-out Coliseum.
4. Cedric Benson (RB-Texas)…Piling up huge numbers against also-rans, but will have his manhood – and Heisman candidacy – means-tested thoroughly this week against that team from Norman.
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in Iowa each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network)