To help give us an insider's perspective on all things Iowa State, we've turned to our SB Nation colleagues at Clone Chronicles to help us out.
RMN: Generally speaking, what's the atmosphere around the football program like these days? Optimistic, skeptic, etc?
CC: It's pretty close to one of unfettered optimism, which may be difficult for those outside of the tight knit ISU fanbase to grasp. Divide last year into two halves - the first half included losses to UNI, Kent State and Toledo, as well as an ass-kicking from Texas. Then, all of a sudden, a different team showed up. Say, for instance, our team has a real kicker or quarterback, and we upset Oklahoma. We gave you guys a run for your money, beat a bowl team in Colorado, and did relatively well in a double digit win against Kansas State. The Kansas game was a real disappointment, but you take the Iowa State team that showed up in the second half of the season, and it's hard pressed to say they didn't play like at least a .500 team.
There are two big games from last year that really turned the tide. The Oklahoma game was the first. We basically had our guys finally buying in to the new system. I'm sure Tiger fans did a double take when they saw "Iowa State 7, #4 Oklahoma 0 - Half". But, they're probably not aware of what happened going into the half.
The scoreboard operator had mistakenly stopped the clock. After the officials conferenced, they decided to put time back on the clock for some unknown reason. Chizik lost it, going on to the field and verbally berating officials, while calling them a "joke". The fanbase fell in love with him right there, as the clock was changed back. He isn't Dan McCarney, that's for sure.
The second game of note was the Colorado game. Iowa State, down 21-0, pulled off the biggest comeback in school history in the second half, putting up 31 unanswered. Chizik commented this spring that it was such a big thing because he finally had the guys starting to shake the feeling that they couldn't accomplish big things.
When Gene tells the players he wants a Big 12 Championship in practices (and he has, both to players and recruits), he's dead serious. And you know what, he's seemingly getting people to buy in.
There's a sense of skepticism, but, you know what, if you were an Iowa State fan, you'd sure as hell be looking for any morsel of optimism as well. And the new regime has people believing.
RMN: What is the expected "timetable" for success under Chizik? What is considered "successful" for the program in 2008?
CC: Well, we're suffering through mediocrity in our men's basketball program, and Greg McDermott doesn't look to have his seat getting warm, so I'm guessing that the administration will more than likely give him the length of his contract (six years) to get where he needs to go.
That being said, I would say the 2009 season is the one we have to breakout by. The schedule remains easier (no TTU, OU or UT), and experience at most positions, with our most talented runningback (Bo Williams) becoming eligible.
As far as success this year? A 3-9 season would surely be a disappointment after last year, but 4-5 wins may be sufficient progress depending on how those wins and losses come about. I'd say, however, 5 wins would be the bottom rung of what could be considered "success".
The players are talking about a January bowl game. While that may be shooting a bit high, a bowl should not be out of the question. Look at the schedule - South Dakota State, Kent State, @ Iowa, @ UNLV, @ Baylor - those are all extremely winnable games. Couple in games at home against Nebraska and Texas A&M, and road games against teams we beat last year in Colorado and Kansas State - and I don't think it's utterly f_cking crazy to think a bowl team could be a possibility.
Then again, this is all dependent on seeing the team that showed up in the second half of last year. Coach Chizik said during Media Day that if this team is that much better this year, it'd be "glaring" in the first game. So, I suppose you'll get a sense then when ISU hosts SDSU on national television (I shit you not, Fox College Sports picked the game up today).
More questions after the jump
4. Is there any one player or position whose development will play a major factor in determining Iowa State' success this year?
CC: The quarterback battle and turnover in the linebacker are both going to be big for this team, but the defensive line will really determine how this season shakes out. We're losing a draft pick in Ahtyba "Tuba" Rubin in the middle, and we're going to be relying on a bunch of freshmen and five-year seniors to step up. Bailey Johnson and the gang will have a tough road to hoe.
5. Iowa State played Mizzou tough last year, and very nearly took down Oklahoma in Ames. How do you expect the Clones to matchup with Mizzou, especially at a place where the Tigers have had trouble recently?
CC: Mizzou is undoubtedly the better team. It'll honestly depend much more on how the Cyclones' season is going. I expect Mizzou to be in the national title race, but, it'll more than likely be a much closer game if ISU is doing well and believing in themselves.
I can't figure out why Missouri has such a tough time at Jack Trice. I still think we have some of the best fans out there, but maybe Gary Pinkel just has troubles here.
6. Finish the following phrases:
-- Mizzou will win if:
-- Iowa State will win if:
7. Give us an early prediction for Mizzou/Iowa State game, as well as the best- and worst-case scenarios for Iowa State's record this season.
CC: I'll one up you.
Best Case ISU scenario for the Mizzou game: ISU 24, Mizzou 21 as the ghost of Bret Culbertson pushes a Jeff Wolfert kick wide late in the fourth quarter, ruining Mizzou's Big 12 North title hopes.
Worst Case: Missouri 70, ISU 7 as a red-hot/pissed-off Missouri team flattens one of the worst teams in the conference in a statement game.
The swing could truly be that wide.
Best Case Season: Iowa State is a modern-day Rutgers/South Florida/ (ahem) Kansas, taking care of a weak schedule with wins against SDSU, Kent St, Iowa, UNLV, Baylor, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Colorado and Kansas State to go 9-3. A Holiday Bowl win over the Oregon Ducks caps off the greatest season in ISU history, and Gene Chizik commemorative coins rocket up in value, making one college-aged blogger very wealthy.
Worst Case Season: 1-11. A squeaker of a win against South Dakota State puts doubt in the mind of the team, a loss against Kent State starts the death spiral, and a team that has a history of being really bad is just that - really bad.
Simply put, it's an exciting time to be an Iowa State fan. We're certainly keeping our noses out of trouble, unlike the other Division I teams in the state. We have a coach who inspires hope, instead of being content with what we have and complaining how difficult it is in Ames. And, finally, we've got players that are just talented enough to do the job. Both Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates have a higher ceiling than Meyer ever did. Offensive Coordinator Robert McFarland did wonders with a patchwork line last year, while the Cyclone defense showed flashes against the likes of Sam Bradford last year.
Some Missouri fans may think I'm jaded. Maybe. I was one of the first on the Chizik bandwagon. But it was an opportunity to see him in action at an open practice that sold me. He addressed the team with such passion and conviction - stating how he was going to go places with ISU, and that while he wanted the players to join them, he only wants guys who believe it can happen. And I really think he's getting them there. It's as simple as watching the guy in his element - on the field with his players, or addressing the team - and he'll have you believing too. This guy is the face of Iowa State football, and he's got more people believing than ever before. Sure, it may wind up to be another disappointing season, but, that being said, this is one of the first times I've ever felt we're on the road to someplace we've never been before. As an Iowa State fan, it's difficult to get so emotionally invested, but, honestly, I think we're seeing a transformation.