Rhoads, Cyclones saddle up for Liberty Bowl


Head coach Paul Rhoads speaks during a press conference for the Liberty Bowl. The ISU Cyclones will face the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31 in Memphis, Tenn.

Jake Calhoun

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There is a great difference between finishing the season 7-6 as opposed to 6-7.

Paul Rhoads’ ISU football team has met both scenarios and, not surprisingly, the fourth-year coach erred on the side of favoring the former.

“It’s very important,” Rhoads said of finishing 7-6 at his pregame news conference on Sunday. “In 2010 [after winning the Insight Bowl], we launched into the offseason. In 2012 [after losing the Pinstripe Bowl], we kicked it in the butt.

“As a coach, you find the motivation, you find the inspiration for whatever the outcome is.”

Rhoads said if his team should lose the 2012 Liberty Bowl — which will kick off at 2:30 p.m. CST Monday in Memphis, Tenn. — it will not affect the incoming recruiting class, but the outcome is obviously much less desired.

“We want to finish with a winning season; having seven wins is a plus,” said ISU cornerback Jeremy Reeves.

The hot talking point hurled at Rhoads during the pregame news conference was quarterback Sam Richardson, who will be the starting signal-caller for the Cyclones (6-6, 3-6 Big 12) despite having significant playing time in just two games this season.

Through three different scenarios of preparation — from not expecting to play against Kansas and having a short week to prepare as the starter against West Virginia — for redshirt freshman Richardson, Rhoads said this one leading up to the Liberty Bowl excites him the most.

“This one, he’s had a lot longer [time] to see the film, study the film, to prepare and be comfortable with that preparation and that start,” Rhoads said. “Hopefully that pays off come game day.”

The biggest difference between the preparation of this year’s bowl game to that of last year’s Pinstripe Bowl was that there was more competition at the quarterback position between Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett while Richardson redshirted.

“That game and leading into that game, the preparation was different in how those guys had performed,” Rhoads said. “Sam’s performed well in anticipation for this game and as we flip-flop back and forth a year ago, there was probably a little bit more open competition going on in the month of December in anticipation of the Pinstripe Bowl.”

Jantz got the win at quarterback in the season-opening 38-23 win against Tulsa, so the Golden Hurricane (10-3, 7-1 Conference USA) have not seen Richardson except from the scarce film they have.

“I think he’s a very effective young man,” said TU coach Bill Blankenship of Richardson. “The interesting thing for us is that we have not seen a huge transition in their offense depending on who the quarterback was.”

Finding an offensive identity for the Cyclones has been a struggle this season and will continue to be without leading rusher Shontrelle Johnson, who tore his ACL during practice in December.

The teams have also been preparing for a possibly rainy game, with forecasts for Monday predicting scattered showers.

With this in mind, Rhoads had his team practice outside in anticipation for bad weather.

“It gives us a chance to acclimate at game time,” said ISU defensive end Roosevelt Maggitt. “It’d be nice to have sun, but we’ve enjoyed the bowl.”

Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

“This is a very important game, especially for the senior class to go out winners,” said ISU linebacker A.J. Klein.