Publisher's Note: This is the final installment of a 12-part series projecting the outcome of the upcoming Iowa State football season. These are works of fiction, obviously, and all the information and quotes printed are figments of the writer's fertile imagination. However, they are also meant as analysis and prognostication.
May 2—Iowa State 38, Illinois State 3
May 9—Iowa State 23, Iowa 21
May 16—Iowa State 26, Army 14
May 23—Iowa State 27, Nebraska 20
May 30—Iowa State 35, Baylor 14
June 6—Missouri 28, Iowa State 16
June 13—Iowa State 31, Oklahoma State 27
June 20—Texas A&M 21, Iowa State 7
June 27—Iowa State 17, Kansas State 16
July 4—Iowa State 34, Colorado 10
July 11—Kansas 12, Iowa State 10
Iowa State 34, Texas 30
Houston, Texas – The turnaround is now complete. The quest for respect has been fulfilled.
Ten years ago Iowa State was a coaching graveyard and a college football doormat. Ten years later the Cyclones are the newest tenants of college football's high-rent district. Two years ago Iowa State was reeling following a 2-10 season, including a winless record in the Big 12. Two years later the Cyclones are the Big 12 Champions and heading to the Bowl Championship Series.
Vince Young's fourth-down pass to Jordan Shipley came up just inches short of the first down marker with less than a minute remaining, preserving ISU's 34-30 shock-the-nation win in the Big 12 Championship Game held in front of a sellout crowd at Reliant Stadium and millions more nationwide on ABC-TV.
"I've been involved in some big wins," said a drenched-in-Gatorade ISU Coach Dan McCarney afterwards. "I've gone to and won Rose Bowls as an assistant coach, as well as coached on teams that were ranked No. 1 in the country. But this easily tops anything I've ever been a part of. To bring a Big 12 championship home to Iowa State is tremendous, no doubt about it."
ISU, which has never played in a major bowl game, will officially be invited to the Fiesta Bowl on Sunday afternoon when the BCS bids are announced. The Cyclones finish the season 9-3, as does Texas. The Longhorns, if they aren't given an at-large berth to the BCS, are expected to accept an invitation to the Cotton Bowl.
How does ringing in the New Year in Arizona sound, Cyclone Nation?
"It sounds great to me," said a jubilant Bruce Van De Velde, ISU's athletic director. "I'm so proud of Dan and his staff and all the players. This ranks up there with the greatest moments in Iowa State's history, and it was great for the nation to get a chance to share it with us and see what the Cyclones are all about."
ISU's stunning triumph is just the latest in a line of head-scratchers since the Big 12 Championship Game was first played in 1996. Several of them involved the Longhorns.
- Unranked Texas – sporting a so-so 7-4 record – upset third-ranked Nebraska, 37-27, to set the tone the very first year of the event in 1996.
- Texas A&M overcame a 27-12 deficit to topple top-ranked Kansas State in double-overtime, 36-33, in 1998.
- No. 3 Texas lost to Colorado in Dallas, 39-37, in 2001.
- After spending 16 straight dominant weeks at #1, Oklahoma was routed by Kansas State, 35-7, in 2003.
And now you can add No. 7 Texas to the list of favorites to bite the dust in the Big 12 Championship Game.
"I'm proud of the way our team came back in the second half, but obviously we're very disappointed," Texas Coach Mack Brown, a former ISU assistant coach, said. "I want to congratulate the Cyclones as well as Dan McCarney, who is one of the classier coaches around."
The game-plan for the Cyclones was simple: capitalize on a few breaks early and then hold on for dear life. ISU took advantage of three Texas turnovers in the first half and led, 20-10, at halftime.
"We really needed to convert that first big break," said Meyer, who passed for a season-high 328 yards. "Walt was wide-open across the middle on the play-action and I just had to hit him in stride."
Big break number two occurred later in the first quarter courtesy of an errant throw by V. Young that wound up in the waiting arms of Steve Paris. V. Young was forced to throw the ball off of his back foot thanks to the pressure being applied by Shawn Moorehead and Brent Curvey.
Meyer struck paydirt again, this time by zipping a pass to Todd Blythe in the back of the end zone from 14 yards out. Just like that the Cyclones led, 14-0.
"We got off to a great start but Texas is a great team with great athletes," McCarney said. "We knew they were going to come right back, no doubt about it."
And come right back the Longhorns did when V. Young shook loose for a 36-yard touchdown run. That was followed by a 44-yard field goal from Richmond McGee. It looked like momentum was now with the Longhorns, but that's when offensive coordinator Barney Cotton delved into his bag of tricks.
Following a solid kickoff return by Jason Scales, Cotton called for a flea-flicker. The Longhorns bit on the play, and left the middle of the field wide open. That's where Meyer found Austin Flynn running free, and the former quarterback took the pass and rambled for a career-best 31-yard reception. Although the drive later stalled out in the red zone, Bret Culbertson's 35-yard field goal gave ISU a 17-10 lead.
The Longhorns completed the first half miscue hat-trick when V. Young was picked off again, this time because of a swing pass that deflected off of the fingers of Ramonce Taylor and into the welcoming hands of Adam Carper.
That would set up Culbertson's 37-yarder that split the uprights just before halftime.
"The reality is that we could've been up by more points," Blythe said. "Their defense was really tough to solve in the red zone, so we had to settle for field goals. At halftime we just kept telling each other it wasn't over yet and that we were going to get their best shot."
That they did get right away. The Longhorns forced a three-and-out, and then jammed the ball right down the Cyclones' throats before finally going to the air for a 13-yard touchdown pass to David Thomas.
And then the most curious call of the game occurred. Brown, known as a coach that likes to play the percentages, rolled the dice and tried to catch the Cyclones napping with an impromptu onsides kick. Fortunately for ISU, Ryan Kock was on his toes and caught the ball on the bounce to give the Cyclones excellent field position.
"We thought we had them on their heels a bit so we figured we'd go for it to try and maintain our momentum," Brown said. "If I had it to do over again I would've made the same call. It just didn't work."
Meyer went right to work, finding Flynn for a 19-yard gain over the middle and then connecting with Jon Davis for a 16-yarder. That was followed by a draw to Stevie Hicks, who ended up going the distance for a 21-yard touchdown run. ISU was now in front, 27-17. Still, it was too early to celebrate.
On what seemed like a passing down on third-and-long, Taylor made up for his earlier mistake and found a seam on a sprint draw for a 34-yard touchdown run. However, Nick Leaders got his big paw on the extra point to block it, making a play that would have repercussions later in the game.
"Just about any time you miss an extra point it comes back to haunt you and (Saturday night) was no exception," Brown said. "We needed that point later on during the last drive. Instead of playing for the field goal and overtime the only option we had was to go for the touchdown."
Leading, 27-23, the ISU offense tried to respond with a drive of its own, but Meyer got greedy throwing into double coverage and was intercepted at the goal line by Michael Huff.
Texas took advantage of the turnover. V. Young hit Limas Sweed for two straight passes that brought the ball out past midfield. Then V. Young took off on one of his trademark scampers, and didn't stop the highlight reel until he reached the end zone 46 yards later. Texas had its first lead, 30-27, with about 7 minutes remaining.
"Bret just had a look in his eye when we got the ball back," Nickel said. "He didn't say much, but you could tell he was confident that we could score. We fed off of that."
The money drive wasn't money to start with. Meyer was actually sacked for a short loss by Tim Crowder on the first play, and then his pass on second down was batted down by Rodrique Wright. It was 3rd-and-14 and the clock was running.
"We decided to go four-wide because we figured they would double-team Todd and then play zone everywhere else," Meyer said. "Coach Cotton called the perfect play."
That perfect play went to unlikely hero Ryan Baum, his only catch of the game. Baum found a seam in the Texas zone and exploited it for a 15-yard reception and a first down.
"I just had to turn around and the ball was there," Baum said. "Bret made a great throw and the line gave him great protection."
After a screen pass to Hicks netted another first down, Meyer hit Davis for a 13-yard slant pass. A draw to Hicks went nowhere, but then Meyer gave Texas a dose of its own medicine with a quarterback draw that went 16 yards and brought the ball down to the 18-yard line of the Longhorns with 4:49 left.
Then the Cyclones tried to get cute with an end-around to Davis, and he was promptly dropped for a four-yard loss. Meyer got some of that back on the next play with a seven-yard run, but that set up another key third down.
"We went back to the play that we scored our first touchdown on and it worked again," Meyer said.
This time Nickel didn't get the touchdown, but his reception did set ISU up with a first-and-goal from inside the five with 3:56 left. Hicks tried to go off-tackle for the touchdown but was denied, and then Meyer was stopped on the option after a two-yard gain. It was third-and-goal from the two with 3:07 remaining.
ISU called for play-action, but the pass was incomplete. However, it was incomplete for a reason. Linebacker Aaron Harris was called for holding Nickel in the end zone, giving the Cyclones an automatic first down.
"It was a good call, but a tough call to make in that situation," Brown said.
After Meyer's quarterback sneak went nowhere on first-and-goal, Hicks found just enough of a seam behind Seth Zehr and Aaron Brant to squeeze into the end zone. After the extra point the Cyclones had a four-point advantage with 2:39 left.
"I've never experienced anything on the sidelines in a game like what happened when Stevie scored that touchdown," Leaders said. "But it wasn't over yet."
Tony Yelk buried the kickoff in the back of the end zone, forcing the Longhorns to drive 80 yards for victory. And they darned near did it.
V. Young took Texas inside the ISU 30, but that's where the Longhorns stalled out. On first down V. Young overthrew Thomas over the middle. On second down V. Young ran away from the blitzing pressure of Tim Dobbins for a seven-yard gain. On 3rd-and-three V. Young's delayed quarterback keeper was stopped for a loss when Jason Berryman bull-rushed past Jonathan Scott for the blind-side hit. Suddenly, it was 4th-and-7 with 58 seconds left. V. Young's slant pass to Shipley was completed, but he was tackled right away by LaMarcus Hicks and the ball was spotted just inches short of the first down marker when the chain gang came on for a measurement.
Cue "Ode to Joy" here.
"This is a dream come true," Nik Moser said. "People are going to have to start looking at us differently now."
And they will come January 2nd. Don't adjust your TV sets while watching the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. That really is Iowa State.
Iowa State 14-6-7-7=34
ISU—Nickel 23 pass from Meyer (Culbertson kick)
ISU—Blythe 14 pass from Meyer (Culbertson kick)
Texas—V. Young 36 run (Pino kick)
Texas—FG McGee 44
ISU—FG Culbertson 35
ISU—FG Culbertson 37
Texas—Thomas 13 pass from V. Young (Pino kick)
ISU—Hicks 21 run (Culbertson kick)
Texas—Taylor 34 run (kick failed)
Texas—V. Young 46 run (Pino kick)
ISU—Hicks 1 run (Culbertson kick)
Rushing—Iowa State (108): Hicks 15-64, Meyer 9-43, Scales 2-1; Texas (276): V. Young 17-144, Taylor 11-82, S. Young 8-50. Passing—Iowa State (328): Meyer 24-39-1-328; Texas (136): V. Young 11-21-2-136. Receiving—Iowa State: Nickel 5-70, Blythe 5-68, Flynn 4-78, Davis 4-60, Hicks 3-28, Barkema 2-9, Baum 1-15; Texas: Sweed 5-53, Shipley 3-39, Thomas 2-25, Taylor 1-19. Sacks—Texas 3, Iowa State 1.
Now that our summer preview of the upcoming season is over, this is a perfect time to remind you of two offers currently available here at Cyclone Nation because time is running out to take advantage of each of them.
First, if you would like to have our 2005 ISU Football Preview issue of CN Magazine arrive in your mailbox in the next three weeks, you need to subscribe today! You can do that by clicking on this link: https://secure.scout.com/store/view.aspx?s=171&p=6
Second, the deadline to sign up for our trip to Army is August 1st, and that is coming up soon. Make sure you don't miss out on this unique experience. Your West Point Gameday Trip will include:
- Round trip airfare on United Airlines from Des Moines to LaGaurdia. Flight leaves September 22nd from Des Moines at 10:38 a.m. and arrives in New York City at 4:05 p.m. You return home on September 24th. Flight leaves New York City at 12:05 p.m. and arrives in Des Moines at 4:05 p.m.
- Round trip transportation from airport to hotel.
- Two night stay at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, which is located in the heart of Times Square.
- Your choice to tickets to a Broadway show (either The Lion King or Phantom of the Opera) on Thursday night.
- Roundtrip transportation from New York City to West Point for the game.
- A two-hour, guided tour of West Point that includes the parade of cadets.
Game tickets are not included. Trip costs $925 (double occupancy) or $855 (triple occupancy). To order, call toll free at 888-633-7315 or 919-571-4608.
Finally, this will be my final Monday Musings column for this website. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read this space each week over the past three years. Please join me in welcoming Chad Winterboer here beginning on Monday, August 1st. Next week my annual college football season preview will be published in the place of this column.
Until then, God bless and thanks for your continued support of CN The Magazine and Cyclone Nation.
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in Iowa each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network.)