So here we are, in the sultry, dog days of summer, waiting for football to start. As a kid, that time between the 4th of July and the beginning of the state fair was always filled with talk of baseball in my household. Me trying to impress my older brother with all of the vast knowledge I picked up by skimming the box scores in the morning paper. My brother countering with a nugget or two he took away from studying the stats on the back of his new pack of baseball cards.
Our favorite time was just prior to the July 31st trading deadline. We'd tune in nightly to Baseball Tonight, eager to hear about all of the trades soon to take place. We even created our own game to mimic it all, aptly named "the trading game", where we'd inherit the roster of a random franchise and then propose trades to better the team with the other brother acting as commissioner, deciding whether or not to allow the trade. It's a grand moment of nostalgia for me and even as I sit on the eve of turning 30, I still can't help but getting a little fired up this time of year when big leaguers start trading out jerseys.
Like most of the men in my demographic, however, baseball is but a flickering memory anymore. Instead of intently watching the division races play out, now we start forming our fantasy football leagues and scour the Internet for breaking news coming out of our favorite football team's training camp.
For me, this time of year has become especially dangerous to my psyche. Football is on the horizon. There's a palpable buzz throughout each of our days, starting with the local morning sports radio show, carrying over into the daily web surfing at work, sprinkling in some more gridiron talk on the commute home and then wrapping it all up with nightly highlights on the TV. Everyone, and I mean everyone is gearing up for football season.
With that type of excitement and anticipation, it's easy to get carried away. Chances are you weren't encouraged with Iowa State's season a year ago and I'd go so far as betting that despite ending the year with consecutive wins, you weren't exactly overly optimistic about the Cyclones' chances in 2014. Hell, I know I wasn't, especially with the off season losses on the defensive line, coupled with a continually muddled QB situation.
But you know what? This time of year does something to a football fan's mind. You stop thinking rationally and you start to get your hopes up. Objectivity is for what you saw at the Spring Game. Now it's time to dream.
This time of year is a dangerous time indeed and when you had a year like Iowa State had in 2013, even the most strong-willed of us, who promised not to let hope get the best of them, can't help but be overcome by the hysteria of it all.
First, it's the media days. Just about everyone on the roster has "had a great summer" and has "really stepped up in offseason workouts". The quarterbacks and receivers are building great chemistry and at least one or two of the newcomers is going to make an impact. If a player had a weakness the year prior, well you can better believe he's put in the necessary time to turn that weakness into a strength. The league's coaches feed us these lines for several days and we eat it all up with a delirious smile on our face.
Next thing you know, fall camp has started and boy let me tell you what, that new receiver or that new linebacker can really play some football, or at least that's what we read in our Twitter feeds. The release of the fall camp depth chart only makes matters worse. That defensive end put on 15 pounds of muscle you say? Fantastic! Oh, and look there, a redshirt freshman is playing out of his mind and challenging a returning starter for his job!
It's the videos, though, that take the cake. Cyclones.TV does an excellent job of putting out content and giving fans a glimpse into what's going on at practice, but I'll be damned if we don't all turn into a bunch of amateur jackasses after watching those. Never have so many offered so little in terms of insight and analyzing how good or how poor of a player so and so is. Somehow, a 45-second snippet of a guy blowing up a tackling dummy turns into a serious conversation about whether or not that guy can be all conference this year. We think we know football. We don't. We think we can judge talent. We can't. We think this is the year our season projections will be accurate. They won't.
Remember that season win total you predicted back in April? Well you can add at least a win or two to that number before the first game. I've been very pessimistic about this upcoming season pretty much since last season ended, but sure enough, I talked myself into into a bowl game while hanging out with some buddies last weekend. How the hell did that happen when only a few months earlier, I was calling for 3-9?
By nature, I believe that most people are optimistic and hopeful. I also believe that sports and being a sports fan makes you drunk and delusional on optimism and hope. Simply put, it just feels better to have hope (plus, I have to find a way to justify those season tickets to my wife).
I don't want go into this upcoming season expecting the worst. No matter how much my head and my gut tell me we're in for a rough one, I want to believe and I want to be encouraged. And to be completely honest, maybe we should be.
Last year was dismal, discouraging and at times, downright pathetic. But I look back on what we as fans wanted to see going forward and hasn't Paul Rhoads addressed every need?
There had to be a change made at offensive coordinator and there was (a rather significant change at that). We knew the team was going to need an influx of junior college talent on the defensive side and Rhoads went out and signed seven J.C. transfers to give Wally Burnham to plug in and play. In recent years, we had heard whispers that maybe Rhoads was riding the team too hard in practice. So he formed a player leadership council that could voice the concerns of the team to the staff. When you go 3-9, changes have to be made and Rhoads has surely done that.
Beyond the confines of Ames, you also have to consider the schedule. Iowa State will play one of the most difficult schedules in the country this year, but there are winnable games out there. North Dakota State lost a ton of starters and their head coach. Kansas State has to comes to Ames in early September and who knows if they'll be a well-oiled machine in week two. Toledo has a chance to win the MAC, but they still have to come to Jack Trice Stadium. Kansas is Kansas. Texas Tech and West Virginia have to come to Ames in late November and the latter of those two is nothing special on paper. Iowa State goes to TCU on December 6th, but the Horned Frogs went 4-8 last year and lost their last three games at home. And maybe there's an upset or two out there?
So maybe there is reason to be optimistic. Then again, that could just be the dog days of summer talking.