Liberty Bowl victory important for Iowa State to take “next step”

It’s the age-old debate in regards to bowl games in college football… 

Are they important postseason football games or simply winter exhibitions?

Back in the day, I thought of every non-BCS Championship Game bowl as the latter and still believe that to a point. Other than a trophy and pride, a winning bowl team doesn’t walk away from its postseason experience with anything more than the losers. And while the above statement remains to be true, we all should have learned something over the course of Iowa State’s last two bowl  experiences.

For a 6-6 football team, winning or losing your bowl game greatly affects program momentum. After all, if you lose the Cotton Bowl and go 10-3, well you still went 10-3 and made a trip to the historic Cotton Bowl.

But 7-6 seems a whole lot more legitimate than 6-7 after a grueling year in the Big 12. It’s also a lot friendlier on the eyes during a long offseason as well. It’s easier to recruit a top prospect to a program with a winning record as opposed to the alternative.

After Iowa State’s 2009 Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota, happy faces and positive attitudes flooded the Jacobson Building during the winter and spring months. After 2011’s two-touchdown loss to Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl, the program as a whole turned out to be fine, but fans were left with an icky taste in their mouths with an polarizing quarterback controversy to chew on throughout the summer. 

“You put so much time and effort into one game that if you don’t reap the rewards from it, then you feel like you let everybody down,” senior linebacker Jake Knott recently told me. “When that happens, you obviously don’t feel good. It isn’t a positive attitude going into the offseason. It’s more of – you’re pissed off that you lost. You’re mad that you put in all of this extra time and you don’t even get the benefit of a win.”

For a 2011 Iowa State football team that overachieved, the loss to Rutgers was especially devastating.

“We worked so hard to get to that sixth win and get to a bowl game, to come up short, it’s hard,” said linebacker A.J. Klein. “When you put so much extra effort in and put in so much extra time to get ready for a bowl game, it’s very disappointing (to lose)."

To the players, bowl gifts seem a lot less cool after a loss.

“All of the bowl stuff you get from the bowl, when you lose, it’s an, ‘I don’t want to look at this’ type of a thing,” said Knott. “It puts a chip on your shoulder.”

And that’s not always a bad thing either.

"You never want to end the season on a losing note,” said Klein. “Yes, there’s more determination after a loss, but you want to be determined after a win to take it to the next level."

And right there, Klein nailed it. Come New Year’s Eve, win or lose, Iowa State’s players are going to show up, work hard and get better during offseason workouts. Spring football likely won’t change much depending on the outcome of this or any bowl game across America. But with a loss comes disappointment. With a win comes excitement. It really can shape the atmosphere around a program in the offseason.

One more time A.J….

“But you want to be determined after a win to take it to the next level.”

That “next level” is something that always seems to be discussed here at Cyclone Fanatic. Iowa State has gone 7-6 (2009), only to go 5-7 (2010) the following season. After going 6-7 (2011) a year ago, the Cyclones now have a chance to get back to 7-6 and take that next step in 2013. 

“That’s why this game is so big,” said Knott. “It helps you transition into the offseason with a positive attitude and being ready to go.”

That’s for the guys who will be back next season. For seniors like Klein, this is it. It’s time to call your shot and leave your mark. 

"I want to leave a winner,” said Klein. “It’s important to me and the senior class as well to go out on a high note and achieve something that hasn’t been achieved yet."