Clearly, given the low amount of hearty Iowa State fans that plan on traveling with the team to the frozen tundra of Idaho, the Cyclone Nation is duly noting its collective disappointment with the way the second half of the season unfolded. A season that once held so much promise, with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback and the first top 10 ranking in school history, was undone because of ISU's inability to win a single game outside of the friendly confines of our state's borders.
Ironic, then, that the Cyclones get one more chance to test their road mettle in the Humanitarian Bowl, which is a glorified eighth away game against a ranked foe. This time the opponent is Boise State, which is ranked in both major polls and boasts one of the most prolific offenses in college football. ISU Coach Dan McCarney is effusive in his praise for the Broncos, even going so far as to call the champions of the Western Athletic Conference "a great team."
We in the media look for deep meanings and thematic elements to stories like what happened to Iowa State football in 2002. One theme could be "Crime and Punishment." The Cyclones are guilty of college football's capital crime—not taking care of business against under whelming opponents like UCONN. As a result, they've been punished with a bid to the Boise Bowl, which is more like a sentencing than a reward.
But it's time for the Cyclones to forget about that incredulous home loss to the Huskies. It's time for them to let go of the disappointment of a season gone mediocre. It's time to focus on the task at hand. And it's time to change their theme to "Pride and Prejudice." That means playing this game with pride in mind and treating the Broncos with extreme prejudice.
Who cares whether this is below-the-fold news in the state's papers of significance? Who cares whether some local TV stations elect to not even send reporters to Boise for the holidays? Who cares about the fact everyone's bowl attention is focused south on Miami with the Hawkeyes' magical run for the Oranges. Everyone in the Cyclone Nation – players, coaches, administrators and fans – needs to move on. If anybody is at least slightly envious of the warm holiday season their black-and-gold clad friends and family are basking in, try learning from them.
Iowa could've easily let the profound disappointment of September 14th ruin its season, but it righted its own ship and put its eyes on the prize. That's exactly what needs to happen for Iowa State in this game as a springboard for 2003. The program should use the wind chill in Idaho to strengthen its resolve going into the New Year.
The Humanitarian Bowl, its lack of national pizzazz aside, is a statement game for the Iowa State football program. This is still a school that has won just one bowl game in its history. This is still a school where eight-win seasons are rare accomplishments. This is still a school that is no position to take any bowl game cavalierly.
Beggars can't be choosers, and after the way the season climaxed the Cyclones should be begging for another chance to make it right and earn back some dignity. There is a world of difference in finishing 8-6 as compared to 7-7. The way the program is perceived around the country, and even in the state of Iowa, is riding on this game. Iowa State needs something good to happen to it, and needs to rediscover its fighter spirit. The Cyclones are at their best when they're playing for respect, and that's what they're playing for in Boise.
Redemption and urgency are two factors that often decide college football games. There's no question the Cyclones are in need of redemption, even from some of their own fans. A sense of urgency is another matter. These so-called "minor" bowls are often decided by which team wants to be there more. Boise State is longing for a chance to get a big-time, Big 12 team on its field before a nationwide cable audience. Are the Cyclones equally eager? Their answer to this question – and on-field actions speak louder than words at press conferences – could determine the outcome of this game.
The 2002 Humanitarian Bowl could be played between the temples as much as it is the hash marks. It's very simple for Iowa State, which as the BCS conference school seemingly has the better overall personnel.
If the Cyclones come to play, they'll win. If they pout, they'll get blown out. Here's guessing Mac has beat the pout out of them the past six weeks: Iowa State 38, Boise State 28.