Football schedule looms

Curtis Powers

Football season is almost upon us, and I’m a little scared because this year’s team reminds me of the 2006 team.

That team returned 10 starters on offense and four starters on defense. They were coming off a good season — well, underachieving and excruciatingly painful fit too — going 7-5 (4-4) losing in the Houston Bowl to Texas Christian University, 27-24.

That 2005 season was successful due to a strong defense that created turnovers. So the offense for the 2006 team was suppose to carry the team against a tougher schedule. Things didn’t quite pan out.

We won our first two games in heart attack fashion: 45-43 over Toledo in the third overtime and 16-10 over University of Nevada, Las Vegas with the last play being a UNLV player catching a pass barely out of bounds in the end zone, which resulted in a very funny YouTube video of their coach.

Then we couldn’t quite get over the hump against Iowa in a 27-17 loss, followed by a 37-14 loss to Texas — which was 16-14 at one point).

After beating University of Northern Iowa 28-27, things just kind of went downhill from there, culminating in one of the most embarrassing losses I have witnessed at Iowa State.

We lost to Kansas 41-10 at home and it wasn’t even that close. That loss, I think, was the straw that broke the camel’s back for coach Dan McCarney, who resigned at the end of the season.

Iowa State ended up finishing 4-8 (1-7) that year, and the offense only scored more than 20 points three times.

Now, I’m not saying that will happen. After all, back then you were kind of expecting the worst to happen at any moment, and it often did.

This past year though, I didn’t get that feeling. Furthermore, Iowa State improved as the season went along and handled adversity well. So things are different, but how much different? It is hard to tell at this point.

It will probably depend on turnovers and red zone efficiency on both sides of the ball, like it normally does, and how well they start the season — especially in their first game against Northern Illinois University, which is a real land-mine game.

Last year I had Iowa State finishing 4-8 (2-6). This year, I have Iowa State finishing 6-6 (4-4). Hopefully coach Paul Rhoads and his team can prove me wrong again this year by winning more than that.

First Half of the Season Predictions

The first game of the year is against NIU at home. I think this game could be the difference between going to bowl and staying home.

NIU returns most of their team that beat Purdue on the road by a touchdown, lost to Wisconsin on the road by a touchdown and went to a bowl game last year. Most analysts pick them to win the MAC or get close.

Iowa State lost to NIU by a touchdown on the road in 2003. Iowa State beat NIU by a touchdown at home in 2004. I expect the game to close again this year. Unfortunately, I think Iowa State loses this one, mostly because I think we generally start seasons slowly.

The second game is against Iowa in Iowa City. Iowa is coming off one of the luckier seasons I’ve seen in college football, and I think this has caused them to be overrated — mostly due to a brand new offensive line.

Certainly they have the talent to be great again, but historically they perform better when they have lower expectations. With Iowa State coming off a loss to NIU and Iowa thumping Eastern Illinois University, the table is set for the Cyclones.

I think Iowa State, much like in 2005, will pull off a major upset of the Hawkeyes in a low scoring affair. It will be tougher on the road, but it is definitely there for the taking.

Game three is a neutral site game against Kansas State, and is all about avenging last year’s blocked extra point loss — the one that sent kicker Grant Mahoney into a tail spin.

I’m hoping Mahoney can exorcise his demons and help the Cyclones beat the Wildcats on a last-second field goal; or just help the Cyclones win by 20. I’ll take either scenario. I think Iowa State rolls.

Game four is a home game against a UNI team that is down. I think we should easily win this game by a couple touchdowns, though you never know. UNI always seem to play well against in-state rivals.

The next two games are huge for the Cyclones. They play Texas Tech and Utah at home. Both are winnable, but we probably enter both games as underdogs.

While many folks may be excited to play to Texas Tech under new coach Tommy Tuberville, I am not. All the man does is win. He’s only had three losing seasons in 14 years of coaching in the SEC — four at Ole Miss and 10 at Auburn.

So Tech may not be up-to-speed quite yet in a new system, but I still think the Red Raiders win this one.

Game six is against Utah. I don’t know much about their team this year, but I do know their coach, Kyle Whittingham, is really good. He’s 47-17 (28-12) in his five years at Utah, including a Bowl Championship Series win over Alabama two seasons ago.

One interesting note is that Utah will be coming off a bye week when they play Iowa State. In my mind, that cemented my decision to pick Utah in this one.

So, through the first half of the season, I have Iowa State going 3-3 (1-1) which would be a decent start; I would take it. I think the worst case scenario, Iowa state starts 1-5 (0-2) and the best case scenario Iowa State starts 4-2 (1-1).

Second Half of the Season Predictions

The start of the second half of the schedule is absolutely brutal. Iowa State plays Oklahoma and Texas on the road. The last time Iowa State beat Oklahoma was in 1990 and Iowa State has never beaten Texas.

So things do not look promising for Iowa State. However, it presents a great opportunity for the team, as well. You’re never going to break a losing streak unless you play the game. After all, Iowa State ended a long road losing streak to Nebraska last year. It will not be easy though.

Oklahoma, under Bob Stoops, is 66-2 at home. Their only losses were to Oklahoma State in 2001 and TCU in 2005. Many think Oklahoma may be a surprise national title contender this year. So I think it is safe to pick Oklahoma over Iowa State.

Then, Iowa State heads down to Austin to face Texas. While there may not be any imposing stats, such as the Stoops home record listed above, I am not terribly optimistic about this game either. I think Texas will win it.

After those two games, Iowa State finishes with Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Missouri. The only road game for those four is against Colorado.

So, I am looking forward to this part of the schedule, especially if Iowa State can find a way to be 2-2 in conference play at this point. I think if Iowa State can be 2-2 in conference at this point, they could win the Big 12 North. Likely? Probably not, but it could happen.

Heading into game nine against Kansas, I have the Cyclones at 3-5 (1-3). Kansas has a new coach and a lot of new offensive players. This was a Kansas team last year that Iowa State almost beat on the road in a shootout.

So, in my mind, even with a new defense, Iowa State should win this one easily. That would be nice given our lack of success lately against the Jayhawks.

Then we have what may be the most interesting game of the year. Nebraska comes to Jack Trice Stadium in what will be an emotional game, at least for the Cyclones.

Remember that Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten almost left Iowa State without a conference and dim prospects for the future, along with a potential loss of millions of dollars. That also means this will be the last game these two teams play against each other for a long time.

Add the fact Iowa State beat Nebraska last year with a backup quarterback and running back, and this game has all the makings to be a great one.

I think Iowa State’s crowd could be the difference in this game. It could be one of the more hostile environments ever seen at Jack Trice.

In the end, I think Iowa State pulls off a massive upset of the Huskers giving them a nice send-off from the Big 12. It will be a glorious day.

It will be so awesome and emotional that we will roll into Boulder the next week and lose to Dan Hawkins’ Colorado Buffaloes.

It’s like what happened to Team U.S.A. in the World Cup this year. After such an emotional and draining game, I’m not sure Iowa State will be able to rebound in the high altitude and take care of business.

I hope I’m wrong, but it’s very possible, especially since they almost beat us last year at home. Plus, I don’t think Iowa State has ever beaten Colorado in Boulder.

Iowa State’s last game is against Missouri in the battle for the Telephone Trophy. That has got to be one of the most nerdy rivalry trophies to play for in college football.

Missouri will probably be the favorite, but I like our chances. I have us at 5-6 (3-4) heading into this game, which means we have a lot riding on this game. Plus, we don’t lose too many senior day games.

So, I think Iowa State will win it to finish 6-6 (4-4), and will get an invite to the inaugural Pinstripes Bowl on Dec. 30 held in Yankee Stadium. They will go on to defeat the fourth team from the Big East. Then it’s New Year’s Eve in New York City!

So, hopefully, Iowa State will finish at least this good, if not a little better. Who knows? What I do know is, it makes me excited for the football season.