Monday Musings

In his weekly word to Cyclone Nation readers, editor-in-chief Steve Deace says that despite a lot of forward progress for Iowa State football in recent years, Saturday's demoralizing loss to UCONN proves there's still much to be done.

Look on the bright side, at least speculation about Dan McCarney leaving is likely to die down now, right?

Seriously speaking, that's the lone remotely positive spin you can put on what has to rank among the most embarrassing chapters in recent Iowa State football history.

Connecticut (a.k.a. the Babe in the Division I-A woods) 37,

Iowa State 20.

Mac should make this final score a permanent sign in the Iowa State locker room to remind future Cyclones of the way this year's seniors went out and how costly it is to overlook any opponent.

A crowd of around 35,000 witnessed this senior day debacle at Jack Trice Stadium. There isn't enough HTML space on this web page to describe the shame the Cyclone fans are about to experience at the hands of the Hawkeye Nation. And what makes it especially painful is that it's well deserved.

This Thursday, give thanks to the short week of exposure you'll have to suffer through thanks to the holiday.

That magical evening at Kinnick Stadium, and the final scoreboard reading 36-31 as the black-and-gold faithful headed for the exits, seems like a distant memory now. Clobbering Nebraska on network television in front of the nation? Must've been an all-too-real EA Sports simulation. Seneca Wallace in a toga on ESPN's College Gameday as the undisputed Heisman Trophy frontrunner? Nah, never happened.

It's amazing what one loss will do the hearts and minds of fans, isn't it? Welcome to the world of high-stakes college football. It probably seems like it was almost easier to take being a perennial doormat after suffering through a loss like this one.

The timing of this loss couldn't have been worse. Let's face it, if the Cyclones are forced to settle for Boise and the Humanitarian Bowl – a game that even some players mocked at a press conference a few weeks back – a lot of you will probably elect to stay home. Thus, this will unfortunately be your final in-person look at the 2002 Iowa State football team.

And heading into the offseason with season-tickets for 2003 about to go on sale in a few months, that's likely to leave a bitter taste in a lot of potential consumers' mouths.

This is exactly why the Chicken Littles who are screaming for ISU to turn down a bowl bid on our message board, especially if it's Boise, are dead wrong. This program has come too far the last three years to let the UCONN fiasco be the lasting image of its progress this season. The marketing department at Iowa State is already fighting an uphill battle against fan empathy, so this loss cannot stand as the final verdict on the season.

Remember that 40 of the top 48 returning next season that Mac is always talking about? They could certainly use an extra 15 practices that accompany a bowl-bid, couldn't they? The current players also need this for themselves. They need to re-evaluate what has happened to their team since that rainy October day in Norman, Oklahoma.

Boise may be the ideal destination for this to take place. Think about it, no Disney World, no beaches, no Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit, and no scantily clad girls. No distractions, except for football. What better place for the Cyclones to rediscover their inner-mojo (as Sean Keeler of the Des Moines Register put it in Sunday's paper) than in remote Idaho, where men are men and a bowl trip is like boot camp?

Wallace is a prime example of a player who needs to regain his focus and lose the distractions. He hasn't talked to the media after the last two games, and that doesn't send a positive signal about the mindset of the team in my opinion. He is a captain, and needs to face the public scrutiny that comes with defeat, just as he was willing to face the media when he and the Cyclones were riding high.

Wallace is a terrific player, and a classy, dignified young man that has conquered some adversity in his personal life to now be considered one of the top 10 senior quarterbacks available in the 2003 NFL draft, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. You couldn't ask for a better spokesperson for Iowa State football. If you've ever been around him at all, you know he is quiet and reserved and hardly one to seek the spotlight.

Yet the spotlight was on him when the Cyclones were 6-1, and the spotlight is still on him after 13 turnovers in three weeks and the Cyclones finishing 7-6. Frankly, it seems to me that he is pressing and trying to do too much at times. When it became apparent that Iowa State just doesn't quite have the horses up front yet to run with the bulls of the Big 12, he put even more pressure on himself to make every play. The transition from local hero to Superman can be a difficult one, and he is learning that lesson now. A lack of confidence is his, and the team's, Kryptonite. As Wallace goes, so goes the team. When he began to wilt under the pressure of inflated expectations so did the Cyclones.

This Connecticut game was lost long before Saturday. It was lost on a dreary afternoon in Sooner Country. It was lost in primetime in Manhattan and Boulder. Little by little, the soul of this team has been eroding with each loss to one of the Big 12's power-brokers; reminding the Cyclones just how far they still have to go. When Mac talks about fatigue, that's what he's talking about.

Think of how you fans felt around here after Colorado applied that final nail in the coffin. After that loss, out went any shot at the Big 12 North Division title, as well as any shot at the Alamo Bowl. In fact, many of you felt any shot at legitimacy was shot as well.

So did the players, and the results showed on Saturday.

The program may legitimately feel as if it doesn't have to answer any questions about its progress after five straight wins over Iowa and three straight bowl bids for the first time in school history. But after the whipping a school best known for its women's basketball program put on them over the weekend, many of you fans do and that's what counts because the customer is always right. Whether or not the program can reach the next level is a question a lot of you have, and it's also one I'm sure the administration is wrestling with as it decides to dole out prospective pay raises.

There's only one answer: work harder. That means lifting more weights and recruiting more talent. Knowing some of the coaches you have up there at the Jacobson Building and their work ethic, I'm confident they're aware of that already and won't be getting much sleep between now and National Signing Day.

But there is a bottom line here: you're going bowling again. Again being the operative word. I'm not saying at all you should be satisfied with consistent trips to Boise or pre-Christmas bowl games. But there are still programs with far more tradition and resources that aren't going anywhere except to final exams this December.

This season should be considered a slight disappointment considering the strong way it began. The letter grade certainly isn't an "A", but it shouldn't be an "F" either. More like a C+. A better barometer of whether or not the program has hit a plateau will come next fall, with a squad laden with upperclassmen facing these same big boys inside the friendly confines.

Until then, if you still want to go off the deep end and fire all the coaches, check your home video library for all those great bowl highlight films of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Weekly Top 25

If I had a vote in the AP Poll, here's what my ballot would've looked like this week:

1. Miami, Fla. (10-0)

Last week: 1

This week: at Syracuse

2. Ohio State (13-0)

Last week: 2

This week: season completed

3. Oklahoma (10-1)

Last week: 5

This week: at Oklahoma State

4. Iowa (11-1)

Last week: 4

This week: season completed

5. Georgia (10-1)

Last week: 6

This week: Georgia Tech

6. Notre Dame (10-1)

Last week: 7

This week: at #8 USC

7. Kansas State (10-2)

Last week: 8

This week: season completed

8. USC (9-2)

Last week: 9

This week: #6 Notre Dame

9. Washington State (9-2)

Last week: 4

This week: idle

10. Texas (9-2)

Last week: 12

This week: Texas A&M

11. Michigan (9-3)

Last week: 11

This week: season completed

12. Penn State (9-3)

Last week: 16

This week: season completed

13. Colorado State (10-2)

Last week: 18

This week: idle

14. Pittsburgh (8-3)

Last week: 13

This week: at #19 West Virginia

15. Alabama (9-3)

Last week: 10

This week: at Hawaii

16. Colorado (8-3)

Last week: 19

This week: at Nebraska

17. Florida (8-3)

Last week: 20

This week: at #21 Florida State

18. LSU (8-3)

Last week: 21

This week: at Arkansas (8-3)

19. West Virginia (8-3)

Last week: NR

This week: #14 Pittsburgh

20. Auburn (8-4)

Last week: NR

This week: season completed

21. Florida State (8-4)

Last week: 15

This week: #16 Florida

22. Virginia Tech (8-3)

Last week: 14

This week: #23 Virginia

23. Virginia (8-4)

Last week: NR

This week: at #22 Virginia Tech

24. Maryland (9-3)

Last week: 17

This week: Wake Forest

25. N.C. State (10-3)

Last week: NR

This week: season completed

Dropped out: #22 TCU, #23 Texas Tech, #24 UCLA, #25 Boise State

Honorable mention: #26 Arkansas (8-3); #27 Boise State (11-1); #28 Hawaii (9-2); #29 Oregon State (8-4); #30 TCU (8-2).

My Heisman Ballot

  1. Ken Dorsey (QB-Miami, Fla.)…Repeat the mantra: 36-1 as a starting quarterback.
  2. Brad Banks (QB-Iowa)…Hoping for a Miami loss in more ways than one.
  3. Carson Palmer (QB-USC)…The hottest quarterback on the hottest team in the country right now.
  4. Larry Johnson (RB-Penn State)…2,000+ yards is impressive, but level of competition bulk of yardage came against isn't.
  5. Willis McGahee (RB-Miami, Fla.)…The best player on the best team in the country probably won't win the award.

On the radar screen: Chris Brown (RB-Colorado)

Updated Bowl Projections

New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 17: Sun Belt Champ vs. Conference USA #5)

North Texas (7-5) vs. Cincinnati (6-6)

GMAC Bowl (Dec. 18: Conference USA #2 vs. MAC #1/2)

Louisville (8-4) vs. Marshall (10-2)

Tangerine Bowl (Dec. 23: ACC #4 vs. Big 12)

Iowa State (7-6) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5)

Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 25: Mountain West #2 vs. Pac-10 #5)

Air Force (8-4) vs. Arizona State (8-4)

Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 25: Conference USA #4 vs. WAC #3)

Tulane (7-5) vs. Hawaii (10-3)

*Motor City Bowl (Dec. 26: MAC #1/2 vs. Big Ten #7)

Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Northern Illinois (9-4) Bowl (Dec. 26: Big East #3/Notre Dame vs. Pac-10 #4)

Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. Oregon State (8-4)

Houston Bowl (Dec. 27: Conference USA #3 vs. Big 12 #6)

Texas Tech (8-5) vs. Southern Mississippi (7-5)

Independence Bowl (Dec. 27: Big 12 #5 vs. SEC #7)

Nebraska (8-5) vs. Auburn (8-4)

Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27: Pac-10 #2 vs. Big 12 #3)\

Washington State (9-3) vs. Kansas State (10-2)

Alamo Bowl (Dec. 28: Big Ten #4 vs. Big 12 #4)

Wisconsin (7-6) vs. Colorado (8-5)

Continental Tire Bowl (Dec. 28: Big East vs. ACC)

Boston College (8-4) vs. Clemson (7-5)

*Seattle Bowl (Dec. 30: Mountain West #4 vs. ACC)

Washington (7-5) vs. Virginia (8-5)

Music City Bowl (Dec. 30: Big Ten #6 vs. SEC #6)

Purdue (6-6) vs. Mississippi (6-6)

Humanitarian Bowl (Dec. 31: WAC #2 vs. Big 12)

Boise State (11-1) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)

Sun Bowl (Dec. 31: Big Ten #5 vs. Pac-10 #3)

Minnesota (7-6) vs. UCLA (8-4)

Silicon Valley Classic (Dec. 31: WAC #1 vs. Pac-10)

Fresno State (8-5) vs. Oregon (7-5)

Liberty Bowl (Dec. 31: Conference USA #1 vs. Mountain West #1)

TCU (9-2) vs. Colorado State (11-2)

Peach Bowl (Dec. 31: ACC #3 vs. SEC #5)

N.C. State (10-3) vs. Arkansas (9-4)

San Francisco Bowl (Dec. 31: Mountain West vs. Big East)

New Mexico (6-6) vs. West Virginia (8-4)

Outback Bowl (Jan. 1: Big Ten #3 vs. SEC)

Michigan (9-3) vs. Tennessee (8-4)

Cotton Bowl (Jan. 1: Big 12 #2 vs. SEC)

Texas (10-2) vs. LSU (8-4)

Gator Bowl (Jan. 1: Big East #2/Notre Dame vs. ACC #2)

Pittsburgh (9-3) vs. Maryland (10-3)

Capitol One Bowl (Jan. 1: Big Ten #2 vs. SEC #2)

Florida (8-4) vs. Penn State (9-3)

Rose Bowl (Jan. 1: Big Ten #1 vs. Pac-10 #1)

Iowa (11-1) vs. USC (10-2)

Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1: SEC #1 vs. BCS At-large)

Florida State (9-4) vs. Georgia (12-1)

Orange Bowl (Jan. 2: ACC/Big East #1 vs. BCS At-large)

Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Oklahoma (12-1)

Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 3: BCS #1 vs. BCS #2)

Ohio State (13-0) vs. Miami, Fla. (12-0)

Please note that California, Kentucky, and Alabama are not eligible for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions.

*We project the Mountain West Conference and Big Ten Conference will not have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of their allotted slots.

(Steve Deace can be heard each Monday-Friday from 4-7 p.m. on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines, the flagship for the Cyclone Radio Network)

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