"There are a lot of good players on the field," said McCarney. "They had some close losses – three points, 10, and 10. They had some heartbreaking losses. Everyone is aware of the Colorado game. But I don't see it being a lot different. They've got one of the top kickers in college football. They're very physical on both sides of the ball, and have many seniors on offense.
"Defensively, they're giving up more points than they normally do, but there are still a lot of very good snaps. But it doesn't look to me like there is a bid dropoff from a talent standpoint when you watch them play. They've always had good players since Bill took over."
K-State's tradition and success during Snyder's tenure is getting much more attention than this fall's slump to 4-6 overall and 2-5 in Big 12 play. Iowa State has turned the corner against Big 12 North counterpart Nebraska by winning twice in three seasons, but it has come nowhere close to doing the same against the Wildcats.
Just how bad has it been? K-State has outscored the Cyclones by a combined score of 201-20 in the last four meetings. Their recent jaunts to Manhattan have been over before almost before they started. Turnovers and costly mental errors are mostly to blame for the score discrepancy.
"It's ridiculous how many times Kansas State took them away," McCarney said. "We threw interceptions or had fumbles. Some of the games got out of hand fast with early turnovers and takeaways. We just can't do that. We have no chance to win this game going down there and turning the ball over a number of times against Kansas State. We're going to get a real test Saturday against Bobby Elliott's defense."
A fast start will also be important, considering what the Wildcats' mindset figures to be after last weekend's final-minute meltdown in Boulder. The Cyclones will need to do what their opponent has done in nearly every contest in the last several years.
"Early success, and especially in this game in this environment, is going to be really important," McCarney said. "We've got to execute, whether we're on offense or defense on the field first. We need to protect the football, and don't give them easy scoring opportunities and short fields. Hopefully we can execute and make some plays.
"It's going to be two weeks since we last played a football game, and hopefully we'll look like a team that handled the open week the right way. I think we have, but the measure is in a football game."
A different offensive mindset
Freshman walk-on Bret Culbertson's emergence as the Cyclones' placekicker has been well chronicled in recent weeks. The former Des Moines Lincoln product is perfect in all 12 kicks he has attempted this season, and has booted four field goals.
McCarney said the increased confidence in Culbertson and the kicking game has made it easier for all involved with the offense.
"It's completely different," ISU's head coach said. "It was a circus, trying to go out and kick PATs and field goals for a while. There is nothing automatic and we don't take anything for granted, but Bret is 12-for-12 in the games he's kicked in. It does give you some real confidence that we're going to get things done.
"But I still don't go in arrogant in any games about our kicking game, and whether we're going to make them all. But it does give you some semblance of confidence when you start making some of those kicks. I hope it will continue. He's had a good open week kicking the ball."
Despite the fact he didn't hit the field until the Colorado game, Culbertson enters Manhattan as the Cyclones' second-leading scorer with 20 points. He booted field goals of 37, 34, 28, and 22 yards in contests against Kansas and Nebraska.
Addressing inside linebackers
The loss of veteran senior starter Brandon Brown to a season-ending ankle injury has forced ISU to do some shuffling in its linebacking corps.
The result of that was evident in the release of the depth chart for Saturday's game. Jamarr Buchanan will get his first career start at WILL linebacker, Brown's old position. Boyd Viers is now listed as a second-teamer at both WILL and SAM. Matt Robertson remains the backup to Tim Dobbins at MIKE linebacker, and barring any further injuries to the group, will likely remain there.
"We took all of last week to evaluate the young guys and gave them a chance," McCarney said. "We practiced, scrimmaged, went ones-ones and twos-twos, and took a 35-play scrimmage one day. That's the way it came out. We're not going to roll Matt Robertson over to WILL. He is strictly a MIKE backer. Viers will help us at WILL and back up at SAM, too."