Cyclones Have Many Reasons to Believe

Iowa State won't go into its Aug. 24 football opener against traditional power Florida State with the idea of holding down the score. There's much more to the Eddie Robinson Classic than his school collecting its $1.2 million paycheck, Cyclone Coach Dan McCarney said.

"We'll really have our hands full, but my players will step off that bus believing we can win that game,'' McCarney commented. "The game isn't all about money. We're looking forward to that game because it's a great challenge and opportunity this school hasn't had before.

"We're really counting the days.''

The Cyclones enters a 13-game schedule featuring Seneca Wallace, a talented quarterback whom the university's sports publicity office is promoting as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

Iowa State will go into the Florida State game against Coach Bobby Bowden's Seminoles with an offense that's without reserve tailback JaMaine Billups.

"One of the biggest stories of the day probably will be us moving JaMaine Billups from running back to strong safety,'' McCarney said. "We think it's best for him and it's best for our football team.

"He's not reluctantly making the move. Hiawatha Rutland is our No. 1 running back, Michael Wagner is No. 2 and JaMaine was No. 3 coming out of spring ball. We will add some depth, competition, ability and size and physicalness immediately with a 208-pound JaMaine Billups at strong safety. If it doesn't work in time or he feels like he's a fish out of water, then we'll immediately move him right back to running back.''

Billups, a junior from Omaha, was the USA Today player of the year in Nebraska in 1999, and was named Mr. Nebraska Football that season.

Rutland has a slight edge over Wagner for the starting tailback job.

"Hiawatha has had a phenomenal summer,'' McCarney said. "Nobody is in better shape than him, and nobody is more motivated to be the starter than Wagner.''

McCarney said he wouldn't have asked Billups to change positions "if we didn't feel real good about the (running back) depth, and with the emergence of Brian Thompson, who was redshirted last year.''

McCarney said asking Billups to move to defense "was important because, instead of being a parttime guy and playing 15 to 20 snaps a game, we'll put JaMaine in a position where he can impact this team and the defense.

"We still feel real good about the flexibility of using more backs. If it doesn't work, we'll bring Billups back to offense. We gave him a chance to beat the other running backs out in the spring, but it didn't happen. He was the No. 3 running back coming to fall camp.''

Billups said "it wasn't a real big shock'' when he was approached earlier this week by the coaches about making the switch from offense to defense.

"After spring practice, I was going to concentrate on trying to get the No. 1 running back spot,'' he said. "But a couple of days ago, (the coaches) brought the position switch up to me, and I was all for it.''

Billups said he's thinking in positive erms about the position switch.

"I can't really say I regret not playing defense at first,'' he commented. "I wanted to play running back. But the change is good, and I'm going with it.''

McCarney indicated Billups' football future, possibly in the NFL, would be better as a defensive player.

Told of that comment, Billups was happy.

"That's good,'' he said. "I've always dreamed about playing at the next level. "If I keep doing what I have to do, maybe the good Lord will help me and I'll get to the next level. I can tackle pretty good.''

Even though he made the shift from offense to defense just this week, Billups thinks he could handle the strong safety position as early as the opener against Florida State.

"I'm confident of my ability,'' he explained. "If I don't feel comfortable, then I'll go the coaches and tell ‘em I'm not ready yet.''

Although Iowa State is promoting Wallace for the Heisman Trophy, McCarney would prefer to downplay it.

"I'm not much into this preseason stuff,'' McCarney said. "It's just not my deal, and Seneca knows it. If my team is ready to play and we have a good year and I'm doing a good job of motivating, teaching and coaching, then there's going to be some great things that happen at the end of the season.

"And Seneca has bought into that. He's not going to be making daily checks on the Internet to see where he's at (in the Heisman race). We focus on the games, winning respect and credibility at the end of the year.''

McCarney said for Wallace to improve, he must "see more of the big picture and get us out of more bad plays. When it comes to pass efficiency and completion average, it's going to be hard against the competition we have to improve a whole lot. Presence? I don't know that he can improve much more. Confidence? I don't know that he can improve much more. Gaining respect and respectability from his teammates and coaches? I don't know that he can improve much more.

"He has as much passion for the game as anybody I've ever been around. They don't come around like that very often.''

Here & There
Jordan Carstens, the big redshirt junior from Bagley, Ia., figures to be an outstanding defensive tackle for Iowa State. "He's a 300-pounder and he's got it all,'' McCarney said. "No one on this team will outwork him.'' McCarney talked of Carstens' dedication off the field. After being in games for 75 and 80 plays on Saturdays during the season, McCarney said, "he'll be back home on Sunday doing chores.'' ... Seneca Wallace admitted the preseason publicity he's receiving "feels good, but I've got to put that behind me and stay focused on what we have to do because we have a long schedule ahead of us.'' ... Iowa State's schedule is called the toughest the school has ever had. .. After a strong junior season, Wallace said he's "even more humble. After things go well for you, it makes you more humble. I want to take things in stride.''.....Uppermost in Wallace's thinking "is the team and getting back to a bowl game.''

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