The bye week was a productive one for the Cyclones. The teams they needed to win did, and the teams they needed to lose did that also. The only thing better would've been Bret Culbertson being in the game to make those chip-shot field goals in Boulder four weeks ago. Yes, I am having a hard time letting that one go. J
All that essentially separates Iowa State from history, its first league championship in football of any kind since 1912, is a road win at Kansas State. Oh, is that all? Manhattan – the one in Kansas – isn't the Big Apple. For the Cyclones it's more like Armageddon than a tourist trip.
In 2002, ISU ventured into the hairy armpit with Seneca Wallace controlling its own destiny in the Big 12 North. The 21st-ranked Cyclones were routed by No. 12 K-State, 58-7. Fresh off a 39-20 victory at home that clinched bowl-eligibility in 2000, ISU faced the 19th-ranked Wildcats on the road, and were taken behind the woodshed, 56-10. Bad ISU teams in 1998 (52-7) and 1996 (35-20) were also manhandled in Manhattan.
Dan McCarney knows Waterloo, and it is Wagner Field. Despite all the gains ISU football has made under his watch the last 10 years, ISU's all-time winningest head coach is 0-4 in Manhattan by a combined score of 201-44. The man that has masterminded this mastery of the Cyclones is Coach Bill Snyder, who was the offensive coordinator at Iowa for several seasons while McCarney was its defensive line coach. Coordinating the Wildcat defense is Bobby Elliott, another former McCarney chum and coaching cohort.
In many respects K-State is the program Iowa State wants to be, minus the scorched earth recruiting tactics and embarrassingly soft non-conference schedule.
If there was a weaker sister in the old Big 8 than the Cyclones, it was K-State. Hayden Fry didn't recommend Dan McCarney take the job in Ames, and I'm guessing he wasn't too eager to see his mad scientist take over a program that had won just three of its previous 42 games before Snyder was hired. To put in perspective how bad K-State was before Snyder, the school still only has a .313 conference winning percentage despite the fact Snyder's career conference coaching record is 73-46-1. Snyder will retire as the first coach with a winning record at K-State since 1933.
Nonetheless, Snyder's obsessive-compulsive, take-no-prisoners style – while certainly not endearing him to his Big 12 brethren – has made him the architect of the greatest Lazarus job since Capernaum could still be found on a map. Three times he has led the Wildcats to the Big 12 Championship game, including last year's stunning domination of top-ranked Oklahoma for the title. He's 7-4 in bowl games, including two victories in January. This will be just the second season since 1993 that K-State hasn't won at least nine games under his watch, and just the third in the last 10 that it hasn't posted double-digit victories.
On the other hand, we chronicled last week all of the precedents McCarney have set at ISU. However, he's never been able to shatter the Oklahoma-Texas glass ceiling as Snyder has. In fact, one could make the argument that K-State has the second-best Big 12 program this century, next to the Sooners. McCarney has never guided ISU to a conference title game, or a major bowl appearance. Yet if he were to lead the Cyclones to Kansas City just 12 months after finishing 2-10, with a roster featuring 65 freshmen and sophomores, it would rival anything accomplished by his spectacled nemesis.
Hence, it's only fitting then that ISU must go to Manhattan to escape the outer fringes of college football respectability. Isn't funny how these things have a way of coming full circle? Iowa State is a young team, competing for a championship a year ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, the defending Big 12 champions have already clinched their first losing season since 1992, and the prospects for the immediate future aren't exactly bright.
Could it be the up-and-comer versus the declining power? Or is this year just an aberration and the Cyclones the best of a bad lot in the North Division?
Three weeks ago we wrote in this space that the division race would come down to the team with the best quarterback play. Well, right now would you rather have Bret Meyer or the combo of Dylan Meier and Alan Webb? In terms of intangibles, would you rather be the fading former champion playing out the string the week before Thanksgiving, or would you rather be the young, hungry squad yearning for a championship?
This would be a signature win for ISU. The Cyclones fired their first shot across the bow of college football on September 12th, 1998. That was the day a 28-point underdog ended a 15-year losing streak to its hated, instate rival, 27-9. And they did it on the road. Even though that Hawkeye squad would finish as Fry's worst, that was the bedrock win of the quest for respect in Ames.
This is hardly Snyder's finest K-State team. And the odds makers, despite their dour record, have still made them double-digit favorites for Saturday. Plus, CollegeFootballnews.com still doesn't have the first-place Cyclones in their bowl projections, meaning the online concordance of the greatest sport in America still doesn't believe in ISU and projects the Cyclones losing these last two games.
The circumstantial similarities leading up to that first win over Iowa seven seasons ago and this game at K-State are eerie. Could history repeat itself?
It usually does.
Remember this: K-State's first appearance in the Big 12 title game was as a big favorite in 1998. The Wildcats would have a spot in the first BCS national championship game sewn up if they just defeated an underdog Texas A&M team. Instead, the Aggies pulled a stunning upset. Isn't that essentially the same story line, in reverse, that K-State used to beat the #1 Sooners for the conference crown last December?
The time has come to shed the K-State curse.
My Top 25
There was a lot of fluctuation and this was difficult ranking to put together this week. Nonetheless, if I had a vote in the Associated Press college football poll this would have been it:
7. Texas (9-1)…Last week—8…This week—beat Kansas, 27-23…Next week—idle.
11. Georgia (8-2)…Last week—8…This week—lost to Auburn, 24-6…Next week—idle.
18. Iowa (8-2)…Last week—20…This week—beat Minnesota, 29-27…Next week—#8 Wisconsin (9-1).
19. LSU (7-2)…Last week—18…This week—beat Alabama, 26-10…Next week—Mississippi (3-6).
20. Virginia (7-2)…Last week—10…This week—lost to Miami (Fla.), 31-21…Next week—at Georgia Tech (6-3).
21. West Virginia (8-2)…Last week—11…This week—lost to Boston College, 36-17…This week—idle.
22. Texas A&M (7-3)…Last week—22…This week—beat Texas Tech, 32-25 (OT)…Next week—idle.
23. Oklahoma State (7-3)…Last week—23…This week—beat Baylor (49-21)…Next week—at Texas Tech (6-4).
Dropped out: #24 Notre Dame (6-4).
Handicapping the Heisman
Who can we jinx this week? Yo Adrian…I'm sorry.
1. Jason White (QB-Oklahoma)…Archie Griffin is about to have company. Just like in the presidential election, voters are willing to change but unsure about the challengers. Thus, the incumbent continues to soar at the ballot box.
2. Alex Smith (QB-Utah)…Has the best numbers of any player on our ballot, but the least amount of exposure. Could he win the award as almost a consolation prize from voters sympathetic to the Utes' plight in the BCS?
3. Matt Leinart (QB-USC)…Usually the undefeated quarterback of the nation's #1 team is the Heisman favorite. Why is that not that case this year? Well, put the Trojans' talent around Alex Smith and see what kind of results you get.
4. Adrian Peterson (RB-Oklahoma)…Voters looking for an excuse not to vote for a precocious freshman finally got one with his 58-yard performance against Nebraska. Looks like we Dan Rathered last week's projection he'd win it.
Waiting List: Cedric Benson (RB-Texas)
Auburn's big win over Georgia is enough to shake up the polls, but not the BCS quite yet. Still, it's getting interesting.
Orange (BCS #1 vs. BCS #2)…Oklahoma (12-0) vs. USC (12-0)
Rose (Big Ten #1 vs. BCS)…Michigan (10-1) vs. California (10-1)
Sugar (SEC #1 vs. ACC #1)…Auburn (12-0) vs. Miami, Fla. (9-2)
Fiesta (BCS vs. Big East #1)…Utah (11-0) vs. Boston College (9-2)
Capitol One (Big Ten #2 vs. SEC #2)…Iowa (9-2) vs. Tennessee (9-3)
Cotton (Big 12 #2 vs. SEC #3)…Texas (10-1) vs. Georgia (9-2)
Gator (ACC #2 vs. Big East #2)…Florida State (9-2) vs. West Virginia (8-3)
Outback (SEC #4 vs. Big Ten #3)…LSU (9-2) vs. Wisconsin (9-2)
Liberty (C-USA #1 vs. MWC #1)…Louisville (10-1) vs. Memphis (8-3).
Music City (Big Ten #6 vs. SEC)…Northwestern (7-5) vs. South Carolina (6-5)
Peach (ACC #3 vs. SEC #5)…Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. Florida (6-5)
Sun (Big Ten #5 vs. Pac-10 #3)…Michigan State (7-5) vs. Oregon State (6-5)
Continental Tire (Big East #4 vs. ACC #4)…UCONN (7-4) vs. Virginia (7-4)
Holiday (Big 12 #3 vs. Pac-10 #2)…Texas A&M (7-4) vs. Arizona State (9-2)
#Houston (Big 12 vs. At-large)…Nebraska (6-5) vs. Minnesota (6-5)
Alamo (Big Ten #4 vs. Big 12 #4)…Purdue (7-4) vs. Texas Tech (7-4)
*Silicon Valley (WAC #2 vs. At-Large)…UTEP (8-3) vs. Clemson (6-5)
Independence (Big 12 #5 vs. SEC)…Oklahoma State (7-4) vs. Alabama (6-5)
Insight (Big East #3 vs. Pac-10 #4)…Pittsburgh (8-3) vs. UCLA (6-5)
Motor City (MAC #2 vs. Big Ten #7)…Ohio St. (6-5) vs. Bowling Green (10-2)
MPC Computers (WAC #1 vs. ACC #6)…Boise St. (11-0) vs. N. Carolina (6-5)
Fort Worth (Big 12 vs. C-USA)…Colorado (6-5) vs. Southern Miss. (6-5)
*Las Vegas (MWC #2 vs. At-large)…Wyoming (6-5) vs. Navy (8-3)
GMAC (MAC #1 vs. C-USA #2)…Miami, Ohio (8-4) vs. UAB (7-4)
Tangerine (ACC #5 vs. Big 12)…Georgia Tech (7-4) vs. Iowa State (7-5)
New Orleans (Sun Belt #1 vs. C-USA #4)…North Texas (7-4) vs. TCU (6-5)
*—No bowl-eligible Pac-10 team
#—No bowl-eligible SEC 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.)