Calhoun: Liberty Bowl loss capped off disappointing year


Coach Paul Rhoads watches on before his team enters the field to play against Tulsa at the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31, 2012.  The Cyclones lost to the Golden Hurricane 31-17 in the 54th Liberty Bowl.

Jake Calhoun

After two years of covering ISU football, Paul Rhoads knows who I am.

Never afraid to ask a tough question, Rhoads eventually nicknamed me “Donald Sutherland” for the “negative waves” laden in my inquiries midway through last season.

Although I had never seen or even heard of the 1970 film “Kelly’s Heroes,” wherein these terms originated, they would surface upon any question or hint directed at any vulnerabilities or unfavorable challenges for his team.

Well, in possibly one of my final assets as an ISU football beat writer, I’ll need to channel my inner negative waves: If fans think the 2012 season was a success for the Cyclones, they’re kidding themselves.

Sure the Cyclones beat Iowa for the second straight year and beat TCU for the first time in school history; but aside from a few bright spots, didn’t the Cyclone Nation expect more from Rhoads’ team in his fourth year at its helm?

Despite his somber demeanor after his team’s 31-17 loss to Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl, Rhoads said he still views the 2012 season a success.

“It’s Dec. 31 and we’re talking football, we’re playing football, we’re in uniform; there’s a lot of folks that aren’t,” Rhoads said. “You get to the postseason in college football, you’d had a successful season.”

However, Rhoads did stop himself short of saying a 6-7 season — his team’s second in a row — was considered successful by his program’s standards, and rightfully so.

Before the Cyclones’ game against Kansas in mid-November, senior linebacker A.J. Klein said he thinks the team underachieved this season, with even a bowl berth not likely to change his opinion.

In some sense, he’s right.

“Yes, the goal is to get to a bowl game,” Klein said. “[However], it’s underachieving because it’s not Big 12 Championship-worthy football right now.

“That’s our expectation, that’s what we are working towards.”

For a team that has seen its home attendance record shattered from 2011 with 13 consecutive games of at least 50,000 fans, there’s a lot to be desired for fans who want to see the cardinal and gold stroll off the field with more than six victories in a season.

The most noticeable downfall for this team has been inconsistent quarterback play.

Three — count ’em, three — quarterback changes from one start to another have been a killer of offensive production all season. While the stats are not too dismal, the Cyclones should have won a few of the games they ended up losing because of some hiccups on offense.

The missed extra point following their second touchdown against Texas Tech killed momentum and ultimately was one of those “what if” moments for the Cyclones in the Big 12 opener. Steele Jantz passed for 73 yards and turned the ball over four times in that game, crippling the Cyclones from coming back in the 24-13 loss.

Jantz was benched in favor of Jared Barnett, who just so happened to lead the team to its first-ever win against TCU the following week. So Barnett was supposed to save this season, right?

Not so fast, my friend.

The week after that win, it was Barnett who threw an interception in the red zone in the 27-21 loss against Kansas State, which Iowa State should have won had that interception instead been a touchdown.

A win against then-ranked No. 6 Kansas State would have been almost as big as Iowa State’s upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State in 2011. It would have been that marquee win that would have essentially defined the season as the OSU win will always define 2011.

Iowa State would have cracked the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2005. Yes, it did receive its first-ever BCS ranking, but to land a spot in the independent AP poll would have been as big of a deal.

Take away running back Jeff Woody’s fumble inside the red zone in the closing minutes against West Virginia, and the Cyclones probably would’ve won their regular season finale in overtime. The team is 2-1 in overtime under Rhoads, so why not take some chances in that situation?

Would have, could have, should have.

Don’t take this the wrong way; Rhoads’ program is taking steps in the right direction and will continue to do so barring any radical changes.

Sam Richardson’s emergence as the team’s starting quarterback for the time being seems promising. Despite his 0-2 record as a starter, Richardson has the intelligence and athleticism that both Jantz and Barnett lacked.

But can this team afford another mediocre 6-7 season, even if it’s justified with the argument that the Big 12 is one of the toughest conferences in the nation?

“A lot of progress has been made in this program since I’ve been here,” Klein said. “We want people to have high expectations for this program because we hold ourselves to a high standard.”

Jake Calhoun is a senior in journalism from Urbandale, Iowa.