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Archive for Friday, September 30, 2005

Commentary: Both Iowa State, Nebraska need victory in Lincoln

September 30, 2005

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Iowa State-Nebraska is the only game Saturday between Big 12 North teams, but it should tell us a lot about the Big 12 North race. It will also tell us a lot about the direction of the programs.

The last time Iowa State won in Lincoln, Neb., Earle Bruce coached the Cyclones to a 24-21 victory in 1977. Iowa State defensive tackle Nick Leaders' father, Mike, was a Cyclones linebacker in that game.

Since then, Iowa State has lost 13 straight there - none of them close.

The average score is 49-11.

"Beyond losing, it's been almost embarrassing going over there and the way we've played, or not played," Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said. "We've got to do everything we can to play much better than we have in the past."

McCarney is 0-5 in Lincoln. His first two trips there, the Cyclones gave up 73 and 77 points.

This year could be different. The Cyclones come into the game ranked - 23rd in the AP Top 25 - while Nebraska is not. It is the first time that has ever happened.

The voters don't buy NU's 3-0 record. Not because it has come against Maine, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh, but because Nebraska's offense has scored only three TDs. The defense has scored four.

Meanwhile, Iowa State has a marquee victory over Iowa and victories over Illinois State and Army. The Cyclones haven't been perfect, but they've been scoring.

They also have beaten Nebraska two of the last three seasons. Iowa State was the North co-champion last season and won its bowl game.

There was no bowl game last season for Nebraska in its first year under coach Bill Callahan.

There have been many milestone defeats during Nebraska's recent slide to mediocrity. A home loss to Iowa State would be further confirmation that the invincible Nebraska of old is long gone.

However, if Nebraska manages to win, there's a spark of hope. Even if it's just the ghosts of Memorial Stadium propelling the Huskers to victory, it would be a foothold in what has been a backward slide.

"We haven't played our best football yet," Callahan said. "You have seen a lot of teams sputter early and go 'kaboom' at the end of the year. Some teams start hot and then peter out at the end. It will only help if we take stock in our team and come out with a win."

Callahan is fighting the future, McCarney the past.

The future - at least the immediate future - doesn't look bright for Nebraska unless the offense starts clicking.

As Callahan preaches patience, the sniping in Nebraska centers on how the playbook is too big for the players to absorb. How Nebraska doesn't yet have the talent to run the West Coast offense. And how Callahan is trying to coach college players with an NFL mentality.

The good thing for Callahan is that he can control what happens in the future. McCarney can't do anything about Iowa State's past troubles in Lincoln.

The Cyclones won't just be taking on Nebraska, they will be fighting a history that says it's impossible to win at Nebraska.

"We're sure not going to approach it that way," McCarney said. "Hopefully, there's not one player that believes that or has that in the back of their mind. But it's easier said than done."

If Iowa State can win, the Cyclones will get a huge boost in a North race where winning on the road could be the determining factor. It would confirm the Cyclones' status as a Top 25 team. It would also burn another awful chapter in Iowa State's history book while McCarney writes a new one.

A loss and moans of "Same old Iowa State" will be heard all the way from Ames.

If Nebraska wins, put the Huskers at the front of the North race. If they do it while showing improvement on offense, then wipe away the questions and criticisms from the first three games.

If the Huskers lose and the offense goes nowhere, the carping about Callahan simply will double in volume.

It's just the first game of the conference race, but considering the history of the series in Lincoln and the recent success and struggles of Nebraska and Iowa State, it's a game that should shed light on the outlook for both programs.

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