Everybody back on the bandwagon and in an orderly fashion please. We wouldn't want anybody getting hurt hopping back on.
That's right, that giant sucking sound you're hearing is not Ross Perot's crazy aunt in the basement. It's really just a bunch of previously undecided voters, unsure if the program was on the right track, now all of a sudden realizing there's actually some big game hype returning to Ames.
Last week, The Des Moines Register reported that nearly 7,000 seats were still unsold for this week's Big Game against the Big Red. Apparently Cyclone Nation needed some further convincing; can't say I blame them. So, Iowa State went out and did its job by winning its second straight Big 12 game over Kansas. The Cyclones are 4-4 and control their own destiny in the North Division race to the bottom with three games left to play.
Now it's up to you to do your job. There is simply no reason whatsoever for there to be a single empty seat this Saturday against Nebraska, not with first place on the line. This is the most meaningful November home game the Cyclones have played since the Thanksgiving weekend clash with Iowa on November 24th. 2001.
And make no mistake, although this is hardly a vintage Huskers squad – unless you consider pre-Bob Devaney era vintage – it will take ISU's most complete game of the season to win. Sure, Nebraska has all but abandoned its West Coast offense and gone back to the running game. Sure, coordinator Kevin Cosgrove has done a decent job dumbing down the defense he inherited. Sure, Bill Callahan hasn't won over Trev Alberts yet.
But this is still Nebraska, a school with a tradition matched by few. Programs of this stature win games like this as much with that tradition as they do with superior talent. Forget about that foul smell emanating from Lincoln this season. The Huskers are coming over here for a November game with a championship in mind. Their players will have a legacy to uphold. They will give ISU their best shot and this will be the most physical game ISU has played this season.
With that said, this is a game that ISU can win.
I think ISU has more overall talent than it had when it last beat Nebraska at home two years ago, it just lacks a true playmaker like Seneca Wallace. I also don't think this Nebraska team is as good as that one was. These are two teams with relatively equal talent, youth at the quarterback position, and a questionable kicking game.
Here's the difference: Nebraska is Nebraska, and Iowa State is Iowa State. The Huskers will come in here with a swagger, particularly coming off their 24-3 win over an overrated Missouri team. This matchup will be fought between the temples, it's what Lee Corso calls a "helmet game." There's power in having that "N" on your helmet, it tells you that you're supposed to beat teams like Iowa State. It simply comes down to confidence for the Cyclones.
Do they honestly believe they can win this game? Can they execute at a consistent enough level? Will they stand up to Nebraska at the line of scrimmage? Will they make the plays?
Can they play defense they way they did against Iowa and Kansas? Can they move the football the way they did against Colorado? Can they make the big plays like they did against Northern Illinois and Baylor? We've seen bits and pieces of what this young team is capable of throughout the season. This is the time to make the pieces of the puzzle finally fit together.
I know I'm usually Mr. Pessimist around here, but I've just got a funny feeling this is going to be a very interesting November. That's not a bold prediction one way or another, it's just some renewed confidence that this program is on the right track and what happened last season is dead and buried henceforth.
I still think 2005 is going to be ISU's breakout year, but that doesn't mean that ISU can't take advantage of this target of opportunity.
It Comes Down to this…
So that begs the question: can Iowa State actually become bowl eligible and even win the Big 12 North Division?
Yes, if the offense becomes more balanced and consistent.
We're slowly but surely seeing the running game come together. Now it's time to see some more consistency in the passing game. ISU has a good defense, but it doesn't have a championship defense. That means you need a playmaker at the quarterback position. That means it's up to Bret Meyer.
I don't relish putting that much pressure on a redshirt freshman, but that's the nature of the position. However, I'm guessing the winner of the Big 12 North will be the team that gets the most efficient play at the quarterback position these final four weeks of the season. If that's Bret Meyer than that team will be ISU.
He certainly has the physical tools. He certainly has a nice weapon on the perimeter in Todd Blythe. Now he needs to channel whatever he found in leading that game-winning drive at Baylor. Some more faith from the coaches calling the plays would aid that effort the rest of the season as well.
This team is probably a year away from being a certifiable contender, just like Bret Meyer is probably a year away from being a certifiable Big 12 quarterback. Yet next year's team may not get a shot to win the Big 12 North. How many times does Iowa State football get a shot to win a championship?
Bret, if you're reading this (and you shouldn't be), forget about your class distinction. Forget you're just an unknown recruit from Atlantic. Forget your last two starts at home. You were a championship quarterback in high school, and now you could be a championship quarterback in college.
At a school like Iowa State, those opportunities don't come around in the Big 12 too often.
Tale of the Tape
Here's how the Huskers and Cyclones stack up statistically (source www.Big12sports.com).
Scoring offense—Advantage Nebraska.
Scoring defense—Advantage Iowa State.
Rushing offense—Advantage Nebraska.
Pass defense—Advantage Iowa State.
Rushing defense—Advantage Nebraska.
Total defense—Advantage Iowa State.
Turnover margin—Advantage Iowa State.
Red Zone offense—Advantage Nebraska.
Third down conversions—Advantage Iowa State.
Opponent third down conversions—Advantage Nebraska.
Overall special teams—Even.
See how close these teams are according to the numbers? Nebraska has the edge in five categories, Iowa State in five, and the other four are even.
Now look at how the two teams did against common opponents:
- Nebraska won, 14-8. Iowa State won, 13-7.
- Nebraska allowed 305 yards of total offense. Iowa State allowed 210. Of course, the injury to Adam Barmann was a factor in the Cyclones' favor.
- Nebraska surrendered 105 yards rushing. Iowa State gave up 106.
- Nebraska had 322 yards of total offense, 139 of it on the ground. Iowa State had 194, 150 of which came on the ground.
- Nebraska was minus-3 in the turnover ratio. Iowa State was plus-3.
- Nebraska won, 59-27. Iowa State won, 26-25.
- Nebraska allowed 400 yards of total offense. Iowa State allowed 450.
- Nebraska surrendered 100 yards rushing. Iowa State yielded 140.
- Nebraska had 511 yards of total offense, 169 of which came via the run. Iowa State had 257 yards, 109 of those coming on the ground.
- Nebraska was minus-2 in the turnover margin. Iowa State was plus-4.
Therefore, looking at these numbers it looks like ISU needs to do three things to beat the Huskers on Saturday, in no certain order:
- Force turnovers
- Protect the quarterback
- Get at least a stalemate in the running game
My Top 25
If I had a vote in the Associated Press college football poll, this would have been my ballot this week:
3. Auburn (9-0)…Last week—3…This week—beat Mississippi, 28-14…Next week—idle.
10. Texas (7-1)…Last week—13…This week—beat Colorado, 31-7…Next week—#17 Oklahoma State (6-2).
17. Oklahoma State (6-2)…Last week—14…This week—lost to Oklahoma, 38-35…Next week—at #10 Texas (7-1).
20. Texas A&M (6-2)…Last week—13…This week—lost to Baylor, 35-34 (OT)…Next week—#2 Oklahoma (8-0).
23. Southern Mississippi (5-1)…Last week—25…This week—idle…Next week—Cincinnati (4-4).
25. Purdue (5-3)…Last week—17…This week—lost to Northwestern, 13-10…Next week—at #22 Iowa (6-2).
Dropped out: #24 South Carolina (5-3).
Handicapping the Heisman
This race is trending red – or should we be more specific and say Sooner crimson – which is the dominant uniform color of all of our finalists this week.
1. Adrian Peterson (RB-Oklahoma)…Is it true? Could we really see a true freshman win the award for the first time ever? If the voting ended today the answer to those questions would be yes.
2. Jason White (QB-Oklahoma)…Hard to believe, but the better he plays the more he seems to be getting overshadowed by his teammate in the backfield. Since it's unlikely both Sooners will be finalists, which one is the spoiler?
3. Matt Leinart (QB-USC)…Had another efficient and proficient performance against the Cougars, but he needs more television appearances east of the Mississippi to win the award.
4. Alex Smith (QB-Utah)…The best dual-threat quarterback in the country stays here because of a lack of exposure. Just getting an invite to the ceremony in New York would be quite an accomplishment for him.
Now that the calendar has turned towards November, let's take a look at how I foresee the final stretch of the season unfolding with an eye towards the postseason. And yes, we're a tad optimistic. J
Orange (BCS #1 vs. BCS #2)…Auburn (12-0) vs. USC (12-0)
Rose (Big Ten #1 vs. Pac-10 #1/BCS)…Michigan (10-1) vs. California (10-1)
Sugar (SEC #1/BCS vs. BCS)…Miami, Fla. (10-1) vs. Texas (10-1)
Fiesta (Big 12#1/BCS vs. BCS)…Oklahoma (11-1) vs. West Virginia (9-2)
Capitol One (Big Ten #2 vs. SEC #2)…Tennessee (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (9-2)
Cotton (Big 12 #2 vs. SEC #3)…Texas A&M (8-3) vs. Georgia (9-2)
Gator (ACC #2 vs. Big East #2)…Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. Boston College (8-3)
Outback (SEC #4 vs. Big Ten #3)…LSU (8-3) vs. Purdue (8-3)
Liberty (C-USA #1 vs. MWC #1)…Louisville (9-2) vs. Utah (10-1)
Music City (Big Ten #6 vs. SEC)…Michigan State (7-5) vs. Florida (6-5)
Peach (ACC #3 vs. SEC #5)…Florida State (8-3) vs. Alabama (6-5)
Sun (Big Ten #5 vs. Pac-10 #3)…Iowa (7-4) vs. UCLA (6-5)
Continental Tire (Big East #4 vs. ACC #4)…UCONN (7-4) vs. N.C. State (7-4)
Holiday (Big 12 #3 vs. Pac-10 #2)…Oklahoma St. (8-3) vs. Arizona St. (9-2)
#Houston (Big 12 vs. At-large)…Nebraska (6-5) vs. Notre Dame (6-5)
*Silicon Valley (WAC #2 vs. At-Large)…UTEP (8-3) vs. New Mexico (6-5)
Independence (Big 12 #5 vs. SEC)…Iowa State (6-5) vs. South Carolina (6-5)
Insight (Big East #3 vs. Pac-10 #4)…Pittsburgh (6-5) vs. Oregon (6-5)
Motor City (MAC #2 vs. Big Ten #7)…Northern Illinois (9-3) vs. Minnesota (7-4)
MPC Computers (WAC #1 vs. ACC #6)…Boise State (11-0) vs. Clemson (6-5)
Hawaii (C-USA vs. WAC)…Memphis (9-2) vs. Fresno State (8-3)
Fort Worth (Big 12 #7 vs. C-USA)…Missouri (6-6) vs. Southern Miss. (7-4)
GMAC (MAC #1 vs. C-USA #2)…Marshall (8-4) vs. Louisville (9-2)
$Tangerine (ACC #5 vs. At-large)…Virginia (8-3) vs. Syracuse (6-5)
*—No bowl-eligible Pac-10 team
#—No bowl-eligible SEC team
$—No bowl-eligible Big 12 team
(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.)