McCarney addressed some of those during his weekly Tuesday press conference.
"The goals haven't changed one bit, but what I share with the kids and the opportunities that are there each week have grown," said ISU's head coach of 10 seasons. "Now they're to the point of multiplying with what we're playing for. There are a long list of things and it took me more time to go through those things Sunday night. But it's a positive, a great thing.
"You have these opportunities because of your hard work, dedication, and never giving in to adversity. That's what we've got. I want to bring a championship to the Iowa State fans. I can picture nothing that I would enjoy more than to hold that Big 12 North title up here in our stadium with these kids Saturday."
But first thing's first, and that's Missouri. McCarney and his staff have spent much of the past few days making sure their team understands that this weekend's game is the most important. One way of doing that is scheduling a full day of meetings and workouts during the time Nebraska and Colorado are playing in Lincoln Friday.
It's become clear that the Cyclones aren't worried too much about the outcome of that game – a meeting of the North Division's two second-place teams – as much as they are taking care of business on Senior Day at Jack Trice Stadium.
"We all know about the game in Lincoln on Friday, and possible implications, yet all I told the kids is that it had absolutely nothing to do with what we've got to do here Saturday," McCarney said. "‘I don't want you to sense relief, regardless of what happens.' We need to win this football game and put ourselves in position to do that. This is going to be a highly-motivated Missouri team coming in here that's very loose and ready to play."
It seems as if the Cyclones are making a routine of preparing for team's that dominated them in 2003. Saturday will be no different, as Mizzou is coming off a 45-7 thumping of Iowa State in Columbia last season. The roles have been reversed this fall, however, as the Cyclones are now headed for the postseason and the Tigers for what could be a tumultuous offseason.
But a team that features playmaking quarterback Brad Smith and the league's top-ranked overall defense and pass defense has ISU's attention.
"Missouri is still a very talented, dangerous football team," McCarney said. "I think everybody realizes that. They were picked preseason number one in the Big 12 North. They have a dynamic quarterback in Brad Smith and the number one defense in the Big 12 Conference.
"They have lost some close, heartbreaking games. Instead of playing for a title this week or possible bowl bid, they've got to play to finish strong and go into the offseason with a good taste in their mouth."
Smith is being utilized in different ways this season, much to the dismay of many Tiger fans and fellow players. The junior quarterback is doing more as a passer, completing 52 percent of his passes for 2,035 yards and 17 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. But he has been asked to do less running, and as a result has just 452 yards on the ground on 144 attempts.
Despite a five-game losing streak that has seen them fall into the North Division cellar, the Tiger defense has been the best Gary Pinkel has fielded in Columbia. Mizzou is the only Big 12 team giving up an average of fewer than 300 yards per game (296.6), and just 143.6 of those yards have come by way of the air. It currently ranks third in the conference with 20.1 points allowed per contest.
McCarney says a number of factors have keyed the resurgence.
"I think it starts up front," he said. "Their defensive is better than it's been since I coached against them. They're getting better pressure, more frequent pressures on the quarterback, more collapses, and more sacks. It all starts up front.
"Then they've got a real talented, athletic corps of linebackers. Their secondary plays with great confidence. It's not because teams are going up and down the field running the football, and they don't have to throw. They're hard to run on, too, and that's why they're number one in total defense and three in scoring defense. We have got to do a great job of blocking these guys and giving our backs and quarterbacks a chance to make plays."