There shouldn’t be any ho-humming about Iowa State qualifying for a third bowl game in four seasons.
The Cyclones, it should be remembered, were predicted by nearly all who do such predicting to finish eighth or ninth in the Big 12 Conference. The preseason Las Vegas over/under number for ISU victories was 4.5. Today, Iowa State is 6-5 with Friday’s regular-season finale against West Virginia still to play.
According to the Sagarin Ratings, ISU’s schedule to date has been the sixth-toughest played by any team in the nation. I thought the schedule had caught up to the Cyclones when ISU suffered consecutive one-sided losses to Oklahoma and Texas. I thought last-place Kansas, which had pushed Texas Tech to overtime the week before in Lubbock, would be fired up in its home-finale and poised to upset ISU Saturday in Lawrence.
That was a gross miscalculation, to say the least.
Travel didn’t allow me to see most of the game, but I did get to a television in time to catch the final few minutes. ISU, leading by what would be the final score of 51-23, obviously had the game in the bag. But what struck me was the spirit shown by the team after the game.
Cyclone after Cyclone seemed happy for red-shirt freshman quarterback Sam Richardson, who was pulled off the sideline to replace Steele Jantz after ISU sputtered on its first offensive possession. After the Cyclones’ 35-20 home loss to Oklahoma, I wrote that they weren’t going to make further advancement as a Big 12 program until they got some Big 12-quality skill-position players. The league is full of terrific quarterbacks, and ISU didn’t seem to have one.
Maybe Richardson will be just that. It was just one game, and it was just Kansas, but the Floridian couldn’t have had much more of an impressive debut. He threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score in the second quarter alone, and added a TD pass to the terrific Josh Lenz in the fourth quarter.
Richardson completed 23 of 27 passes for 250 yards. Those are great numbers in a controlled scrimmage, let alone a Big 12 game.
Paul Rhoads did what a coach has to do, though it couldn’t have been an easy choice. He could have replaced Jantz with former starter Jared Barnett — who was ISU’s No. 1 quarterback previously this season and who led ISU’s unforgettable win over Oklahoma State last year. Few would have argued.
But Rhoads clearly felt Richardson gave him the best chance for success even though the player hadn’t thrown a pass in a college game. Had Richardson not been ready for the moment and had the offense come unraveled, Iowa State’s season might easily have snowballed to an unhappy conclusion.
It didn’t, and not just because the kid quarterback was ready for his close-up. In Game 11, when teams that are playing out the string tend to step out of the way, Iowa State played like a squad that really wanted that bowl-eligiblity and an extension of its season. You have to like that.
The Cyclones haven’t had one of those shock-the-world wins this season, but they have defeated Tulsa (now 9-2), beat TCU (6-4) on the road, and handled a Baylor team that rolled over previously unbeaten Kansas State Saturday night.
Friday will be a somewhat-remarkable day in Iowa college football history in that our state teams will be on national-television for virtually seven solid hours. ABC will air Nebraska-Iowa at 11 a.m., West Virginia-Iowa State at 2:30.
The thing the two games may have most in common: Lots of enthusiastic fans wearing red.