One Last Hurrah...Sort of

At Tuesday's weekly football press conference in Ames, Coach Dan McCarney and his Iowa State Cyclones were anxious to wrap up regular season play and send a small but very important senior class off in style. ISU's 1 p.m. contest against Connecticut will be the final game at Jack Trice Stadium for fifth-year seniors such as Atif Austin and Zach Butler.

Dan McCarney's general comments:

"First of all, I'd just like to congratulate Coach Ferentz and the job he's done over at Iowa. It's not some phony statement. He's done a great job over there and it's great for the state of Iowa to see both of these programs doing really well. He and the Hawks are sure to be congratulated."

"We're looking forward to this game. It's going to be a very important week. We're already bowl qualified for the first time in the history of this place three years in a row, but we're playing for a bigger and better one. This is going to be a very important game. Even though our senior class is not big in numbers, it's real big in character, class, leadership and what they've meant to this program in recent years. We really want to do all that we can to have a great send-off for them."

"It's going to be hard, because Connecticut is really on a roll and playing tremendous football. They've scored 61, 63 and 38 points the last three games. All of the nation saw what Navy did with Notre Dame, taking them to the last series of the game and fought their tails off. Then Connecticut went into the game and it was 509 to 82 yards. It was no game, there was no contest. So it doesn't take long to get the attention of our coaching staff and football team of the respect we have for Connecticut."

"Going into the game we're in real good shape overall from a health standpoint. That's amazing with the schedule we played—eight ranked teams, five in the top 10, six of them on the road, who are we kidding? To go into this last game and have as many players still with us and healthy is a real tribute to those kids, our out-of-season program, in-season program and the job Matt McGettigan does every week for us. We're glad to have a fairly healthy team going into this last game."

"I'm proud of my staff and this team. There is no gloom and doom around here. We're playing for the chance at an eighth win and a ninth win in a bowl game. No one in America has had the challenge we have. You check the schedules this year, last year, next year, 10 years ago and nobody has had to do what we've had to with the schedule this year. I couldn't be more proud of my football family. These coaches and players have done a wonderful job. We're going to do all that we can to finish this thing up right."

"Never in the history of Iowa State have we ever finished 7-0 for a home season. That's unbelievable. We're 14-4 over the last 18 home games, so we've got some great home-field tradition going now. We've got the chance to make a run at nine wins, which has only happened twice in the history of Iowa State, if we can win this one Saturday and win our bowl game."

"So there are all kinds of positives. That's what I'm going to zero in and talk about. I'm not going to spend much time talking about any disappointments or setbacks that we have had playing this schedule."

On potential All-Big 12 players:

"It's hard to say which first-teamers we have. There is no doubt Seneca Wallace is on anybody's first-team all-conference and that's in a conference that has great quarterbacks. There are a lot of them in this league. There is no question he deserves that."

"Zach Butler and Bob Montgomery have been our most consistent offensive linemen all season long. I don't think there's any question Lane Danielsen has had an All-Big 12 season. Whether it's first, second or third team depends on the media and coaches. Those guys have all had tremendous years."

"Jordan Carstens, JaMaine Billups and Jeremy Loyd are the first three that come to mind on defense. It may not be this year, but eventually the smallest guy on our team Todd Miller will get some honors as a return guy in our conference. He's special and that's the reason I brought him here. He may not catch many passes as a receiver, but will always be a real good return guy."

On competition between Wallace and Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury for postseason awards:

"It will be interesting to see, because both of them have led their teams to bowl games, had great seniors years and are very deserving of any honors out there. Mike (Leach) wouldn't trade Kliff Kingsbury for any other quarterback and I sure wouldn't trade Seneca Wallace. I'm sure that's the way he feels and that's definitely the way I feel about it."

"But those aren't the only two good ones. This league is loaded. We talk about it as a staff on Sunday, it seems like every week we're out coaching and preparing for some of the best in college football. Many of the players will go on to the NFL. But that's the challenge of this league. It's the best of the best. You're seeing that again this year."

Looking back on how this group of seniors is slim:

"First of all, the reason this class is so small in numbers is because this was the year we signed 18 junior-college players. We needed to do everything we could to try and find as many players, athletes, speed, playmakers and big playmakers. So that's the route we went. That's the class that if you would have signed high school kids, those guys would all be graduating this year if they were fifth-year players. But that wasn't the case."

"We needed to fill the roster with a lot of kids that could help us. If we wouldn't have made that decision, there's no way we would have gone 9-3 (in 2000). We had to do that and were real competitive in that year we went 4-7 going to the wire with Texas, Colorado and Kansas State."

On what that small group has meant to program:

"These kids have done a marvelous job. There are three fifth-year seniors in that group that will always be special to me. Those four-year guys and especially those fifth-year guys have seen both ends of this thing. They saw before we really got competitive and turned it around and now we're two wins away from having the three best seasons in the history of this place."

"They bought into the program, my plan, my coaches' plan, coaches coaching, have been through a lot of adversity, good times and bad times. We get the chance to add to that history in these last two games. Those are things they'll take with them the rest of their lives. Believe me, these are the kids that are most meaningful to me."

"It's easy to step in and be part of something that's already happened. But when you build it, build it the right way, go through the darkest of days and lowest of lows, then still win and hold your head high, those are the kids that mean the most to me."

On final home game at Jack Trice Stadium for seniors:

"You can imagine the feeling I have and the coaches who have been here have for those kids, and how much we owe them. They're so important to us and this week will be very emotional. Fortunately we're not saying goodbye for the season, but we're saying goodbye in Jack Trice and it is our last home game. It's only fitting that they can go out and play as seniors and have a chance those seniors have never done. Those seniors have never led three bowl trips in a row at Iowa State. You're talking about history."

On senior cornerback Atif Austin, a fifth-year player:

"He's got the responsibility way beyond being a student-athlete as a husband and father. It's hard to imagine, because I don't know that I could have handled it when I was 18, 19, 20 and 21 years old. But he's a man's man. He's a great father, tremendous husband and a great team guy."

"When I think of Atif, the first thing that comes to mind is how unselfish he is and how much of a team player he is. He wasn't necessarily a three-time All-Big 12 defensive back, but all of those things he did for this program on and off the field will be very important to me."

On team's outlook with such a big group of returners:

"I think the future looks great. You look at all of the pieces that are in place coming back next year. We'll miss four starters on defense and three on offense. Seneca will be a huge loss as we all know, as will all of those senior starters. But when we come back, there are very few times in my career as an assistant or head coach that we've had that kind of a nucleus coming back off a very successful season."

"It's a very challenging schedule. We trade places in the Big 12 on where we play teams. It's going to be very tough. Plus Iowa returns an awful lot of good players. But it looks real good for next year again. If you're not optimistic about next season with this team, something's missing. We're very optimistic."

On Lane Danielsen potentially breaking single-season receiving yards record Saturday:

"It's who he's doing it against. This isn't the old Big Eight anymore, it's the Big 12. That's made our job even tougher, individually and as a team collectively. He's just done it against the best. Even in those couple games that were ugly for us, he still showed up and made plays and was our MVP a week ago against Kansas State. He's done it against all of them, whether we won big, won at the end or lost ugly."

"The neat thing is that he's got another year back. We've had a real good group of wide receivers and every single one of them comes back. We're going to get that year back on Jon Davis and have already gotten off to a nice start recruiting that position."

On what next year's team needs to take another step:

"We need to keep bringing in more big, strong, physical guys up front and have already started doing that on both sides of the ball. Then if there are any more Jordan Carstens' out there, we want to grab as many of them as we can and embrace them and bring them to Iowa State. You can't find enough of them like that. Those guys can play every week in the trenches and play winning football. I'll take as many Nick Leaders' as we can. How many true freshmen have you ever heard of in college football play a 13-game schedule, start almost every game and play good football every week."

"We're always looking for team speed and more playmakers. I think you're going to see by February this is going to be a real complete class that we'll bring in. There won't be any positions missed."

On prospects for offensive line, which will be without Butler:

"We need to keep getting bigger and stronger. That will be their commitment and dedication to Matt McGettigan in the out of season and eating good and getting bigger and stronger. We're still 280-285 pounds at tackle and most Big 12 teams have a lot bigger guys than that playing tackle. It goes back to the way they were coached and the effort they've given. Those are under-sized offensive tackles."

"We'll really miss the leadership and heart and character of Zach Butler, whoever starts at center. It's not just his ability and how hard he's played. He's one of the best leaders I've ever been around in college football. You just don't replace that because somebody slides into that position, starts talking in front of the team and really inspires people. He is really special and we'll miss that."

"But all of those other guys that played are back. We need to keep continuing to bring in more depth with as many of those big guys as we can get. Everybody else has got them. We walk out there every Saturday in pre-game warmups and look around. All those teams that are going to postseason play have the great physical guys up front in addition to the speed."

On how the experience of this year will pay dividends:

"It's going to be great getting Luke back. His progress is real good right now. You're seeing most games right now where there's not a lot of rotation and substitution in our offensive line. That means those guys that are playing are pretty consistent and that those guys backing them up have a long ways to go yet. It's a constant work in progress."

"But we're coming and instead of having to replace three starters in the O-line, (Mike) Banks and Luke that went out with two serious injuries, we'll have most of those guys back. That makes you feel good coming in with a new quarterback next year."

On what were Wallace's most memorable plays in career:

"I'd say the scramble for a touchdown against Nebraska a year ago, then the Texas Tech one. It's amazing that they were both with his feet running the ball, because he's made so many unbelievable throws. Right up there with that is the third-down play when we're backed in Kinnick and the lid's going off the house over there. It was a great play by him. There are not many quarterbacks that could have made that play, kept that drive alive and help us secure that victory over there."

On what team's bowl situation is heading into the regular season finale:

"I just want the best for these players, this coaching staff and their families. I think you can imagine what it's been like, how long this thing's been, how hard this has been and how hard everybody has worked in this football family. So the best bowl, best opportunity, best rewards—I just want to take of these players, coaches and their families first. My first priority is what's best for all of them. They're the ones that deserve it."

"We have the Alamo, Tangerine and Houston Bowls coming on Saturday. They wouldn't be sending somebody if we were off their list. Those are all in-house and in the Big 12, but there was potential horse-trading last year in the Big 12 and it didn't happen. It all starts with having more than what you have available in your conference and being short in another conference. There is a chance to have 10 teams in this league bowl eligible, which is phenomenal. This is the best football conference in America."

"It's just neat to be in the mix and it's the third time in a row. It will be a lot of fun these next couple weeks, because I don't think we're going to know anything for sure until after that Championship game is played."

On effect of lobbying for favorable support from bowls:

"It played a role. It helped that we had strong relationships with those people over time. We try to do a lot of it. I'm limited this time of the year, but there are a lot of things that can be done out-of-season to build relationships. I think people know if you have a real good team, great fan following and classy football team that really is a great representative of the University, those things do make a difference. To me it's an easy sell."

"We're putting together a real nice highlight tape of our program, the history of Iowa State football and the recent tradition. We've sent those out to any of the potential bowl people and I think it will leave a strong impression along with what we've done on the field."

On what playing in state of Florida or Texas could do for recruiting:

"Anytime you get the chance to go play where you recruit, that helps. I don't think there's the chance of any bowls in the state of Iowa in the near future, so we're hopefully going to go south, west or southeast. Where you go, you're going to get a lot of exposure. Those kids know that. The good thing is that when we play our bowl game, it will be our 10th game on television. I don't think there's many of them in the country that have had more exposure than the Cyclones have this season."

On UConn's recent run of success:

"They're playing really good football and have a lot of confidence. They're coming in on a three-game dominating victory streak and are just blowing people out. Even more impressive than that is the way they played Boston College early and Georgia Tech. They're an impressive football team. We're going to have our hands full and are not poor-boying it and playing any mind games. You see it on tape. I don't think any of my players are dumb enough to think that this is going to be anything easy. We'd better be ready to go."

On challenges for defense coming out of Colorado game:

"We need to get more turnovers. We only got two turnovers, they were important ones and led to some points for our offense, but we've got to do more of that. We missed too many tackles."

"The mental errors that we had were real costly ones. Sometimes you can hide a mental error and still get a backdown, make the play on a receiver or still sack a quarterback. But the few mental errors that we did have on defense were extremely costly, including the long 50-yard run. We didn't have nine guys knocked down on that play, we had a bust mentally and those things just kill us as coaches."

"We've got to do a better job of communicating and coaching. When the game was on the line and we needed to make a stop, we didn't. We've got to come back. This defense has improved this year and we need to finish that way in the next two games."

Jordan Carstens on Saturday's opponent:

"From what I've seen on film, they look like a pretty solid team. They've had some success towards the end of the season against Navy, who took Notre Dame to the wire. The quarterback is a real smart player and is able to make plays. They've been able to put up some pretty big point totals offensively, so it's going to be a pretty good challenge for our defense to hold their scoring down."

Carstens on positive outlook for future:

"Next year we'll have some great leadership with the senior class coming in. We've got a lot of guys in that senior class that have been able to play really well for a number of years here. They'll bring some experience. From what Coach Mac and all of the coaches have done, we've got some good kids coming in. Hopefully we'll be able to put together a fairly solid team for next year."

Lane Danielsen on not underestimating any team:

"They're a good team and we're going to have to show up to play to get a win. The way our coaches have handled things, I don't think we take anyone lightly around here. This coaching staff doesn't. You've got to take it one game at a time. In college football anymore, anybody can beat anybody."

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