It's not good when Baylor can look at your team and almost say with a straight face, ‘man, they're bad'.
That's how it was for Iowa State though as the wheels officially fell off. Dead last in the conference, one of the most abysmal teams in all the country to play in any of the "major" conferences and just when you didn't think it could get any worse, it did.
There really is nowhere to go but up for Dan McCarney and his "Clones", something he was very aware of during Big XII media days in Kansas City. "The best news about our program is that last year is over." McCarney stated in his opening address to the media. "We all know that to have a chance to have good things happen in November (we) have to get off to a good start. We did not do that last year."
That's not entirely accurate as McCarney's team did start off the season 2-0. Yes, it was against Division 1-AA Northern Iowa and the University of Ohio, but looking back, hey, let's not nit-pick. Oh yes, there is the little fact of them losing every game after that.
So, I can hear you saying to yourself, ‘So, Steve, if they were so darn bad, what's with the 8th ranking in the conference?'.
That's a great question and I am glad you asked. The reason is that while some teams experienced a few setbacks due to brain lapses or just by the very fact that they were bad, Iowa State had a couple of things going against them.
The big one was injuries. Enough of them to key starters that 17 freshmen saw the field last year and 6 of them actually started. Can someone say "YIKES"?
This year now that everyone is healthy once again, there should be no less than 9 juniors or seniors on the defensive side of the ball and on offense, right around 6. And of those projected starters that aren't juniors or seniors (7), 6 of them started last year.
That's all well and good, but yeah, last year, Iowa State stunk. So bad that you might think that there's no way that even three notches up in the conference will be feasible.
Here's a bit of my reasoning:
First, the schedule. With all due respect to the fact that these three teams combined for 30 wins a year ago, The Salukis of Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa (Division 1-AA), at least to me aren't going to qualify as barometers for anyone's program this year. As to Iowa, yeah, the "Clones" will probably get pasted there, but two out of three ain't bad.
How does this apply to the conference season? Well, if Iowa State loses two out of three before they even hit conference play, throw my ranking right out the window - the Clones are going back into the cellar. If they don't however, I think that they'll have some of "Old Mo" taking them into the conference slate.
And that's where the second part of this and the good news comes for ISU. Texas A&M at home, Kansas at home and Baylor on the road. There's three games that are more than winnable for McCarney and his minions. Three conference victories would have put them somewhere in the top 7 last year and if they can pull one out in Colorado, hello top 6.
I know, I know. It's like putting lipstick on a pig. How do you make a team look and sound better than it's really going to be? Well, just do everything I did above.
In the grand scheme of things Iowa State is still going to be bad. Considering where they were last year though, this year will be a marked improvement. You say ending up ranked 8th in the conference is hardly "marked" in it's difference?
Ok, you go and lose all of your conference games, tell me how that feels and then win three of them the next year. I'd say marked works just fine.
Off of a season that coach McCarney called "embarrassing" last year, this year will probably not be a trip back to the post-season. It could be on the way back however and if that's the case, I don't think anyone will complain.
By the way and I know you are thinking it, "What? No mention of Barney Cotton?".
No offense to the former Husker, but I don't think Nebraska's offensive performance last season should be considered a real barometer for how his offense will work at Iowa State. Well, he better hope not.
Otherwise Baylor could be looking down at them two years in a row.