Iowa State football's regular season ended with a loss to West Virginia last Friday, and the first annual Riot Bowl proved to be a microcosm of the 2012 season. The game, like the season, was a close enough game to keep fans entertained, but the Cyclones fell just short when the win was on the line.
So Iowa State ends the season at 6-6, with several close losses to Texas Tech, Kansas State and West Virginia that would have pushed the 2012 from an average season to something special. Which is something unique, because historically, a 6-6 season is special for Iowa State. But in 2012, the stakes for Iowa State football have been raised. Paul Rhoads said as much at Meet the Coaches Night over the summer, barking that three wins conference weren't acceptable in the program he was trying to build. Unfortunately, three conference wins were what his Cyclones ended up with in 2012.
But when a team's all-time W/L record is 505-601, fans appreciate the seasons when the Cyclones break even. When a team has only 11 bowl appearances in 120 years of playing football, fans appreciate the seasons when the Cyclones make a bowl. And while Paul Rhoads has made it a habit to have at least one big upset over a ranked opponent each year, like #15 TCU this year; historically Iowa State hasn't beaten ranked opponents very often, and they definitely haven't done it on the road.
So why does the 2012 season feel like a bit of a letdown? Well, as Paul Rhoads said earlier in the year, the expectations for Iowa State football have been raised. After four years with Rhoads at the helm, the floor for Iowa State's season should be six wins. After seeing Cyclone football drop off a cliff in 2006, fans have come to accept Iowa State as a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team six years later. Not anywhere near the top of the conference, but competitive. And once people start expecting a certain level of success, they want their team to take the next step. Many fans thought 2012 would be the year for that next step. But it wasn't, yet.
Then there's the fact that Iowa State dropped so many close games this year. Texas Tech, Kansas State and West Virginia were all winnable well into the fourth quarter. Hell, only the Oklahoma State and Texas games really got out of hand this year. That's a big change from previous regimes and even previous Paul Rhoads' teams, which were regularly shellacked multiple times a year. But those close losses sting, because fans remember the blown game-winning drives and it's natural to question what might have been if one more ball was caught (YOUNG!!!), one more pass was thrown on target (BARNETT!!!) or one more ball wasn't fumbled (WOODY!!!)
And the 2012 season featured such a large swing in quality of play from both the offense and defense; it's hard to get a read on the team as a whole. But a brief review of each game might help.
- Tulsa: Ha, remember when people were worried about Tulsa? CRUSHED a pretty good C-USA team. That play call that resulted in the safety though sure was worrying though, wasn't it? Eh, probably just a one-time mistake from Messingham.
- Iowa: WHOO! Beating Iowa! Always a good thing, even if the offense did only score 9 points while turning the ball over three times in the red zone. Gee, sure hope that doesn't become a theme for the season.
- Western Illinois: Huh, only hung 37 points and 504 yards on a completely overmatched FCS team. This offense is starting to cause some concern.
- Texas Tech: GAAAHHH. THIS OFFENSE. 189 yards? ARE YOU KIDDING ME. Also, maybe Jantz shouldn't have more carries than all running backs combined.
- TCU: TOOT TOOT! Is that the sound of TCU scoring a touchdown? Nope, just the sound of the Iowa State fan base hopping back on board the Cyclone Express! Nice win streak you had there, TCU. Had, as in past-tense. Also, Josh Lenz is totally winning the Biletnikoff award.
- Kansas State: PLEASE LEARN HOW TO THROW, JARED BARNETT
- Oklahoma State: PLEASE LEARN HOW TO THROW JARED BARNETT, PART TWO: The Gundy Strikes Back
- Baylor: Steele Resur-Jantz! Not just the title of a terrible porno, the theme for Iowa State's victory over Baylor. And hey, after holding ISU's running backs hostage for the past two weeks, Courtney Messingham finally let them run wild over the worst defense in the nation.
- Oklahoma: Aaaannd Iowa State comes crashing back to Earth. Jake Knott's absence is sorely felt as Oklahoma rolls up hundreds of yards by converting on every goddamn third down they attempt.
- Texas: Just a mess from start to finish. Apparently it takes the death of a legend like Darrell K. Royal to inspire the Longhorns to play up to their ability. The game gets mildly competitive for two minutes at the end of the first half and two minutes at the start of the second half.
- Kansas: AND A REDSHIRT FRESHMAN SHALL LEAD THEM. Where has THIS guy been all year?
- West Virginia: Sonnuvabi... Another winnable game that Iowa State just couldn't pull out. Damn you and your unholy legs to hell, Tavon Austin.
So Iowa State still has a bowl game left to play, and that will go a long way to determining whether or not Iowa State's 2012 season is successful or not. But how do you feel about Iowa State's regular season? Success, failure, or about what you expected?