Cyclones excited about Insight Bowl

Many people did not expect the ISU football team to have a great season in coach Paul Rhoads's first season as head coach this year, picking Iowa State to finish last in the Big 12 North. However, the Cyclones (6-6) believed in themselves and found a way to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2005.

That resulted in the team being invited to play in the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. at Sun Devil Stadium on Dec. 31.

"We are thrilled and elated to be headed to Tempe, Ariz. to represent Iowa State University," Rhoads said.

That game will be televised on the NFL Network and will be played at 5 p.m. (CT). The opponent for the Cyclones will be the Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6) from the Big Ten.

"It's been a long time coming," quarterback Austen Arnaud said. "We have to go back to work and I'm happy to be able to say that.

This bowl game comes just a year after a 2-10 season, when Iowa State lost its last ten games and center Reggie Stephens was at nearly a loss for when he was asked what his reaction was to the announcement.

"I can't really explain it; to be as low as we were and to get back to this point makes you ecstatic," Stephens said. "To get to highs like this you have to experience some lows like that."

The Cyclone football program has been to the Insight Bowl on one previous occasion. Iowa State defeated Pittsburgh 37-29 to win a school-record ninth game in 2000 at Bank One Ballpark. Ironically, one of the defensive coaches on the Panthers' sideline in that game was Paul Rhoads.

That was Rhoads's second of six bowl games that he participated in as an assistant before going to one this season for the first time as a head coach.

"I felt the Cyclone Nation of about 20,000 people on every snap for about four hours," Rhoads said. "I anticipate another great following from our fantastic fans."

Going to a bowl game is vital for the building of a young football program like Iowa State's. The coaches are able to have three extra weeks of practice with the players and the program gets exposure on the national stage with recruiting and television.

"Any bowl game suffices you and we are just thrilled to playing in a bowl game, practicing in December and having an opportunity to play," Rhoads said. "Right now, the opportunity to lead this football team and be the head football coach heading to Tempe, Ariz. is a great feeling."

Iowa State was not guaranteed a bowl spot despite being eligible until Missouri knocked off Kansas last Saturday. The Cyclones have been holding developmental practices for a little over a week since being assured of going to a bowl game.

"This team has been working as hard as it possibly can to win a bowl game since our first team meeting," Rhoads said.

That task will be not be easy. Minnesota features a powerful offense that has struggled down the stretch after the injury to All-Big Ten wide receiver Eric Decker. The Gophers still have a solid corps of pass catchers and a dual-threat quarterback in Adam Weber. The one common opponent the two teams had is Iowa. Minnesota lost 12-0 to the Hawkeyes in Iowa City in its regular season finale, while Iowa State lost to Iowa 35-3 in its second game of the season in September.

Rhoads said the hardest part of bowl preparation is sandwiching it around recruiting.

"The tricky thing about bowl game preparation and recruiting is we are in the middle of a contact period and seven of our ten coaches will be on the road but the coordinators will get a jump start on it," Rhoads said. "We will have around fifteen recruits on campus to entertain next week and we will sandwich official visits around three bowl practices."

This announcement insured one more final game for 22 seniors, many of which have had three different coaches in their time at Iowa State.

"You have played this game since you were young and it's the last game but it will be fun and exciting," defensive lineman Nate Frere said. "To set that goal and have all that hard work pay off is rewarding."

Rhoads said the team is not satisfied, though.

"They are full of smiles, there are some fourth year seniors that have never experienced this, and this will be an experience that they will remember for a long time to come," Rhoads said. "Our plan is not to just make a bowl game; it's to win a bowl game."

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