Dan McCarney is fond of saying there's no such thing as a bad bowl game.
As someone that has never participated in one, I wouldn't presume to dispute Mac's claim, but I would go as far as to state that not all bowl games are created equal.
With that said, contrary to what you're going to hear the next few weeks from the ISU brass, they didn't write a letter to Santa Claus requesting the Independence Bowl for Christmas.
The simple fact of the matter is that this wasn't ISU's first bowl of choice, nor even its second. The Cyclones were just there three years ago, and reportedly had a nice time. Plus they got the chance to play Alabama from the powerful SEC, one of the most storied programs from one of the most storied conferences in the history of the sport.
However, once to Shreveport is enough, two trips in four years is an excellent argument in favor of term limits. Especially when you're facing the Miami not nicknamed the Hurricanes from the MAC in the Marc Hansen Bowl. The former award-winning sports columnist from the Des Moines Register is a Redhawk alum, so he's probably more excited by this matchup than any other Iowan.
Everybody else wanted to go to Houston: players, coaches, administration, boosters, and fans. Cyclone Nation may have converged on Reliant Stadium some 20,000 strong. I suspect that Independence Bowl officials are keenly aware of that sentiment, especially once the Houston Bowl offered them money not to take ISU. Nevertheless, the magic number here is seven, which is approximately how many fans the Buffaloes brought to Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night for the Big 12 Championship Game. If you're the Independence Bowl you do the math and realize that 10,000 less-than-enthusiastic ISU fans is still about 9,700 more than Colorado would've brought with it.
So, in a way, ISU being selected by a bowl game it wasn't even lobbying to attend could be construed as a compliment I suppose. That begs this question: should a team and its fanbase that was 2-10 last season and only has eight bowl bids in its history be greedy?
Still, the ending to what has been a great football season for ISU leaves me with a sense of incompleteness. This is what happens when you don't take care of your business.
Two years ago, when the Cyclones just had to beat Connecticut on their home field to head to sunny Orlando they didn't, and headed to the land of Hampton instead. Two weeks ago, the Cyclones just had to beat free-falling Missouri at home to win the Big 12 North Division title outright and they didn't. In hindsight, you can't help but wonder that if they had won that game they might have made it to the highly regarded Alamo Bowl, which loves the state of Iowa, given the way things turned out with the BCS.
Hopefully this will be a lesson learned for what could be as good a football team as ISU has ever had in 2005. As many as 17 starters return, not to mention several talented youngsters that haven't yet seen the field or played meaningful minutes. In addition, this will be year two in Barney Cotton's offense, and familiarity should breed increased productivity. Despite all of their progress this season, they still left some unfinished business to attend to for next fall.
So what does this bowl game mean for ISU?
The Cyclones are headed to the land of nice folks, great food, casinos by-the-dozen, legalized adult beverage consumption while navigating your automobile, and drive-through drinking. Which, come to think of it, may make this bowl game an especially easy sell to the students.
They're also headed to a bowl game with a 29-year history, that includes appearances by such proud programs as Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Syracuse, Kansas State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Washington, Georgia, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Alabama, and Nebraska.
It also grants ISU the right to hold 15 extra practices between now and kickoff, which can only help prepare for next season. Plus, you have to think ISU from the Big 12 will be the favorite in this game, which would give it only the second bowl championship in the history of the program.
On the other hand, beating Miami of Ohio isn't likely to give ISU any national respect. Although that's nothing new, is it? And the Redhawks are still good enough to beat the Cyclones. Losing to a MAC team, preceded by the disheartening Mizzou loss, would lead to a 6-6 finish. Not a great way to cap off the year.
Therefore, if I were ISU I would treat this strictly as a business trip and keep the players away from the Texas Hold ‘Em tables. I would use this game as an early kickoff to bigger and better things – like representing the North Division in Houston next December and qualifying for an upper tier bowl slot.
Use this as a springboard towards controlling your own destiny in 2005, instead of giving the Big 12 another opportunity to slight ISU.
My Top 25
Here is my final regular season poll, and I threw in where I had these teams in my preseason poll (which is based on a projection of how I thought they would finish) just in case you're interested.
2. Oklahoma (12-0)…Last week—2…This week—beat Colorado, 42-3…Next—Orange Bowl vs. #1 USC (12-0). Ranked 2nd in my preseason poll.
5. Texas (10-1)…Last week—6…This week—idle…Next—Rose Bowl vs. #10 Michigan (9-2). Ranked 6th in my preseason poll.
7. Virginia Tech (10-2)…Last week—7…This week—beat Miami (Fla.), 16-10…Next—Sugar Bowl vs. #3 Auburn (12-0). Ranked 38th in my preseason poll.
9. Georgia (9-2)…Last week—10…This week—idle…Next—Outback Bowl vs. #15 Wisconsin (9-2). Ranked 4th in my preseason poll.
10. Michigan (9-2)…Last week—12…This week—idle…Next—Rose Bowl vs. #5 Texas (10-1). Ranked 8th in my preseason poll.
11. Boise State (11-0)…Last week—13…This week—idle…Next—Liberty Bowl vs. #8 Louisville (10-1). Unranked in my preseason poll.
12. Iowa (9-2)…Last week—14…This week—idle…Next—Capital One Bowl vs. #13 LSU (9-2). Ranked 14th in my preseason poll.
13. LSU (9-2)…Last week—15…This week—idle…Next—Capital One Bowl vs. #12 Iowa (9-2). Ranked 3rd in my preseason poll.
14. Tennessee (9-3)…Last week—9…This week—idle…Next—Cotton Bowl vs. Texas A&M (7-4). Ranked 13th in my preseason poll.
15. Wisconsin (9-2)…Last week—16…This week—idle…Next—Outback Bowl vs. #9 Georgia (9-2). Ranked 22nd in my preseason poll.
16. Miami, Fla. (8-3)…Last week—11…This week—lost to Virginia Tech, 16-10…Next—Peach Bowl vs. #22 Florida (7-4). Ranked 7th in my preseason poll.
18. Pittsburgh (8-3)…Last week—18…This week—beat South Florida, 43-16…Next—Fiesta Bowl vs. #4 Utah (11-0). Unranked in my preseason poll.
21. Virginia (8-3)…Last week—21…This week—idle…Next—MPC Computers Bowl vs. Fresno State (8-3). Ranked 20th in my preseason poll.
22. Florida (7-4)…Last week—22…This week—idle…Next—Peach Bowl vs. #16 Miami, Fla. (8-3). Ranked 9th in my preseason poll.
23. West Virginia (8-3)…Last week—23…This week—idle…Next—Gator Bowl vs. #17 Florida State (8-3). Ranked 10th in my preseason poll.
24. Toledo (9-3)…Last week—25…This week—beat Miami (Ohio), 35-27…Next week—Motor City Bowl vs. Connecticut (7-4). Ranked 33rd in my preseason poll.
25. Texas Tech (7-4)…Last week—24…This week—idle…Next—Holiday Bowl vs. #6 California (10-1). Ranked 43rd in my preseason poll.
Handicapping the Heisman
If I had a vote for this prestigious award, this would've been my ballot.
1. Alex Smith (QB-Utah)…The dynamic duos for USC and Oklahoma complement one another so well, but I bet you can't name another offensive starter for the Utes, can you? This is a sentimental pick for me and sort of a consolation prize for a once-in-a-lifetime season in Salt Lake City.
2. Jason White (QB-Oklahoma)…His season numbers are spectacular. His career numbers are even better. His team is undefeated. He's the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and I'm guessing Archie Griffin is going to have company this coming Saturday night. But the vote will be very close.
3. Matt Leinart (QB-USC)…Reminds me a lot of Danny Wuerffel when he was at Florida. He's a cool customer that is somewhat a product of the system. Who can't throw five-yard swing passes to Reggie Bush? Still, his numbers rival those of Carson Palmer when he won it two years ago.
4. Cedric Benson (RB-Texas)…Pound-for-pound, he might have been the hardest offensive player to stop in college football this season. He consistently faced eight and nine-man fronts, and didn't have an explosive passing game to keep opposing defenses honest.
5. Adrian Peterson (RB-Oklahoma)…Only Hershel Walker has had a better freshman season at tailback in the entire history of college football. Capable of a big play at any moment, but also tough to stop between the tackles. He'll miss White and that outstanding offensive line in front of him next year.
My All-American Team
The best of the best in college football this season, in our humble opinion.
QB—Alex Smith (Utah, Sr.)
RB—Cedric Benson (Texas, Sr.)
RB—Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma, Fr.)
WR—Braylon Edwards (Michigan, Sr.)
WR—Roddy White (Alabama-Birmingham, Sr.)
TE—Heath Miller (Virginia, Sr.)
OL—Alex Barron (Florida State, Sr.)
OL—David Baas (Michigan, Sr.)
OL—Jammal Brown (Oklahoma, Sr.)
OL—Elton Brown (Virginia, Sr.)
OL—Ben Wilkerson (LSU, Sr.)
DL—David Pollack (Georgia, Sr.)
DL—Shaun Cody (USC, Sr.)
DL—Mathias Kiwanuka (Boston College, Jr.)
LB—Derrick Johnson (Texas, Sr.)
LB—Matt Grootegoed (USC, Sr.)
LB—Leroy Hill (Clemson, Sr.)
DB—Carlos Rogers (Auburn, Sr.)
DB—Ernest Shazor (Michigan, Jr.)
DB—Antrel Rolle (Miami-Fla., Sr.)
P—Brandon Fields (Michigan State, Jr.)
AP—Reggie Bush (USC, So.)
Bednarik/Nagurski (National Defensive Player of the Year)—Derrick Johnson, Texas
Biletnikoff (Top Wide Receiver)—Braylon Edwards, Michigan
Broyles (Top Assistant Coach)—Norm Chow, USC
Bryant (National Coach of the Year)—Tommy Tuberville, Auburn
Butkus (Top Linebacker)—Derrick Johnson, Texas
Groza (Top kicker)—Mike Nugent, Ohio State
Guy (Top punter)—Brandon Fields, Michigan State
Hendricks (Top Defensive End)—David Pollack, Georgia
Lombardi (Top Lineman/Linebacker)—Derrick Johnson, Texas
Mackey (Top Tight End)—Heath Evans, Virginia
O'Brien/Unitas (Top Quarterback)—Alex Smith, Utah
Outland (Top Lineman)—Jammal Brown, Oklahoma
Thorpe (Top Defensive Back)—Carlos Rogers, Auburn
Walker (Top Running Back)—Cedric Benson, Texas
(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.)