I hope you had the VCR or the TIVO recording the game on Saturday, because its likely you could watch another 114 years of Iowa State football and still never see a comeback from the team in cardinal-and-gold like the one the nation witnessed against Kansas State.
After so many maulings and manhandlings in Manhattan, Cyclone Nation was overdue for a miracle in Manhattan. And with less than 11 minutes left, in what seemed like yet another wasted road trip to the Little Apple, the Cyclones turned Wagner Field into Lake Placid.
Trailing, 23-9, all hope seemed lost. At least it did for those of us watching in frustration in our living rooms. It wasn't as if ISU didn't have chances, but in typical fashion red-zone trips turned into field goal attempts instead of touchdowns.
Then something happened. Something inexplicable and unbelievable unless you watched it unfold with your very own eyes. All season long we wondered when the Cyclones would manage to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit together at the same time. Then it happened, at the most unexpected yet opportune time. After suffering through so many one-quarter blitzkriegings in that stadium over the years, ISU finally turned the tables in spectacular fashion, scoring 28 unanswered points to pull off a 37-23 shocker.
It was ISU's first win at Kansas State since 1988. It was the most points ISU has scored in the fourth quarter since 1983. It was the first time ISU won four straight conference games since 1978. And it may have all but clinched ISU's first conference title of any kind since 1912. To win the Big 12 North Division, a team that was finishing a dreary 2-10 campaign just 12 months ago needs either a Colorado loss at Nebraska or a win over Missouri at home next week.
Beating the freefalling Tigers next week would also give ISU five straight conference victories for the first time in school history. There is simply no reason for there to be a single empty seat at Jack Trice Stadium next Saturday, even though the game is on ABC-TV.
The final 11 minutes against the Wildcats were the season in a nutshell. Just as they did in September, the Cyclones started off reasonably well and gave their fans reason for optimism. Just like they did in October, the Cyclones faltered midway through – thanks mainly to the heroics of Darren Sproles – and left you with the impression they weren't quite ready for primetime. Just as they've done over the last five weeks, the Cyclones stunningly bounced back just when you were about to write them off.
Five weeks ago this program was mired in a historic 13-game conference losing streak. Five weeks ago many of us who consider ourselves either loyal Cyclones or loyal McCarney backers (or both), myself included, were openly wondering what it would take to keep his job. Five weeks ago this team needed an 80-yard drive in the closing moments to beat lowly Baylor.
Five weeks later these Cyclones are poised to boldly go where no Cyclones have gone before. And their head coach is poised to be the first honcho from Ames to win Conference Coach of the Year since Earle Bruce in 1977.
Yet they went about it the wrong way. They played without two of their best defensive players, Tyson Smith and Brandon Brown, who were out with injuries. They gave up 170 yards rushing to Sproles, K-State's lone offensive weapon, and 262 yards on the ground total. They had to punt six times. They committed seven penalties. They only scored one touchdown in their first four trips to the red zone.
However, good teams – nay, make that championship teams – find a way to win when it doesn't look like there is one. Championship teams find a way to hang around when things aren't going their way, waiting to change momentum by pouncing on their first break. Championship teams forget about history and worship at the altar of the Church of What's Happening Now. Championship teams never give up no matter what the score.
That's just what the Cyclones did.
Successful Dan McCarney teams over the years beat their opponents by out-toughing them and getting big plays from players few other schools coveted during the recruiting process. How fitting was it then to see tiny Todd Miller catch the touchdown pass that tied the score and an offensive line maligned for the last three years gash K-State's defensive front to give Stevie Hicks an open passage to the endzone for the winning points?
So many heroes, so little time. The aforementioned offensive line probably played its best game since the 2002 victory over Nebraska. Bret Meyer, inconsistent early, delivered in the clutch—again. Todd Blythe provided a big play or two—again. Stevie Hicks went over 100 yards—again. Ellis Hobbs had a key interception—again. The Cyclones blocked a kick—again. The defense scored a touchdown—again. Bret Culbertson was money, except for one miss from a tough angle, on his place kicks—again.
Then there were the unsung heroes. Subbing for Brown was Jamarr Buchanan, and he finished with a team-high eight tackles. Subbing for Smith again was Cephus Johnson, and he had a sack for the second straight game. Tim Dobbins recovered the fumble forced by Nick Leaders that led to Hicks' winning touchdown. Milan Moses, who has been coming on as of late, had two key receptions.
More so than any other team coached by McCarney, this team is getting better as the season progresses. And here's the real fun part: the development is just beginning. Almost everyone one of the players discussed in the above two paragraphs will be back next season. And most of them will be back for the season after that as well.
Saturday's big win at K-State reminded me of one of my favorite McCarney moments.
It was during a commercial break on our live radio program from Media Day in 2001. The Cyclones were coming off a 9-3 season and a national ranking, yet were ranked anywhere from 65th-80th in the various preseason magazines. I remember discussing that with Coach Mac off the air, and pointing out that The Sporting News College Football Preview ranked Missouri's coaching staff ahead of ISU's, despite the fact Gary Pinkel had not yet coached a game in the Big 12.
I could tell that frosted Mac, but coaches usually don't discuss that stuff publicly. Nonetheless, when we came back from commercial, Mac grabbed the magazine from me and proceeded to discuss his "thoughts" on the publication's ranking of coaches in the Big 12.
I think about that now as a coach that was left for dead five weeks ago prepares to play for a conference title. And this week he matches wits with a man all of the intelligentsia thought was the next "it" coach, yet Pinkel's Missouri squad comes into the game just 4-6 and probably the biggest disappointment in the country.
Big 12 Championship Game Trip
Would you like to follow the Cyclones to Kansas City and the Big 12 Championship Game in two weeks against Oklahoma?
If so, stay tuned to this site and my radio program on KXNO this week. We're working on putting together a bus-charter to Arrowhead Stadium with Scout.com, our parent network. We hope to have more details very soon. I can tell you that it will be a same-day trip.
Today is the deadline to get Des Moines Mitsubishi and register for our season-ticket giveaway for men's basketball. You must do so by Noon. Des Moines Mitsubishi is located at 9060 Hickman Road in Clive.
We'll draw a name live this afternoon during the 4 p.m. hour on 1460-KXNO during Deace in the Afternoon. If your name is called, you can pick up your pair of season tickets Tuesday morning at Des Moines Mitsubishi just in time for the season-opener against Drake on Tuesday night.
My Top 25
Still haven't seen enough to force me to make a change at that second slot. Here is my ballot this week.
1. Southern California (11-0)…Last week—1…This week—idle…Next week—Notre Dame (6-4).
2. Oklahoma (11-0)…Last week—2…This week—beat Baylor, 35-3…Next week—idle.
5. California (9-1)…Last week—5…This week—beat Stanford, 41-6…Next week—idle.
6. Texas (9-1)…Last week—7…This week—idle…Next week—#22 Texas A&M (7-3).
14. Iowa (9-2)…Last week—18…This week—beat Wisconsin, 30-7…Next week—season over.
18. Virginia (8-2)…Last week—20…This week—beat Georgia Tech, 30-10…Next week—at #7 Virginia Tech (8-2).
19. Wisconsin (9-2)…Last week—8…This week—lost to Iowa, 30-7…Next week—season over.
22. Texas A&M (7-3)…Last week—22…This week--idle…Next week—at #6 Texas (9-1).
Handicapping the Heisman
A certain Sooner quarterback is the leader, but nobody has pulled away quite yet with two weeks to go.
1. Jason White (QB-Oklahoma)…Is this right? Does dude have a 70/9 touchdown-to-interception ratio the past two seasons? Yowsa! He'll get a chance to redeem his performance in last year's Big 12 championship game.
2. Adrian Peterson (RB-Oklahoma)…It was his turn to be showcased against Baylor, and after being banged up for two weeks the freshman displayed his talents when healthy with 232 yards and three touchdowns.
3. Alex Smith (QB-Utah)…Led his team to a big win over BYU that clinched an undefeated season, but he didn't have the numbers he needed in a spotlight game to make a serious push in the finale.
4. Matt Leinart (QB-USC)…Has two televised, spotlight games left against the Irish and UCLA. If he puts up huge numbers he could end up being the second Trojan in three years to win the award if the top two split the Sooner vote.
Waiting List: Cedric Benson (RB-Texas)
Most analysts now think there may be a shakeup in the BCS because of a stronger matchup in the conference championship game in favor of Auburn, but I don't agree with that sentiment.
Orange (BCS #1 vs. BCS #2)…Oklahoma (12-0) vs. USC (12-0)
Rose (Big Ten #1 vs. BCS)…Michigan (9-2) 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 (8-3) vs. West Virginia (8-3)
Outback (SEC #4 vs. Big Ten #3)…LSU (8-3) vs. Wisconsin (9-2)
#Liberty (C-USA #1 vs. MWC #1)…Louisville (10-1) vs. Boise State (11-0)
Music City (Big Ten #6 vs. SEC)…Northwestern (7-5) vs. Alabama (6-5)
Peach (ACC #3 vs. SEC #5)…Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. Florida (7-4)
Sun (Big Ten #5 vs. Pac-10 #3)…Purdue (7-4) vs. Oregon State (6-5)
Continental Tire (Big East #4 vs. ACC #4)…UCONN (7-4) vs. N. Carolina (6-5)
*Emerald (At-large vs. MWC #3)…New Mexico (7-4) vs. Navy (9-2)
Holiday (Big 12 #3 vs. Pac-10 #2)…Texas A&M (7-4) vs. Arizona State (9-2)
Houston (Big 12 vs. SEC)…Nebraska (6-5) vs. Arkansas (6-5)
Alamo (Big Ten #4 vs. Big 12 #4)…Ohio State (7-4) vs. Texas Tech (7-4)
*Silicon Valley (WAC #2 vs. At-Large)…UTEP (8-3) vs. Bowling Green (8-3)
Independence (Big 12 #5 vs. SEC)…Oklahoma St. (7-4) vs. So. Carolina (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)…Minnesota (6-5) vs. Miami, Ohio (9-3)
$MPC Computers (WAC #1 vs. ACC #6)…GA Tech (6-5) vs. So. Miss (6-5)
$Hawaii (C-USA vs. WAC)…Cincinnati (6-5) vs. Fresno State (8-3)
Fort Worth (Big 12 vs. C-USA)…Colorado (6-5) vs. Memphis (8-3)
GMAC (MAC #1 vs. C-USA #2)…Toledo (8-4) vs. UAB (7-4)
Tangerine (ACC #5 vs. Big 12)…Virginia (8-3) vs. Iowa State (7-5)
*—No bowl-eligible Pac-10 team
$—No bowl-eligible WAC team
#—Liberty Bowl gets first pick for losing Utah to BCS
(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.)