The college football world will have its eyes locked on Ames on Thursday night. The focus of the gaze is of course centered on Texas head coach Mack Brown as he fights for one of the most coveted jobs in America. It is always a spectacle when ESPN comes to town, throw in a national champion coach on the brink of elimination and the circus adds a few elephants.
ESPN likes to promote itself; give them some controversy and a few talking points and they can turn the world flat. They didn’t create the 24/7 news cycle, but they have found a way to prey on the best and worst of it, while everyone else in the sports media follows along. Nowhere is this more evident than during a coaching change.
As I write this on Monday morning, there are the eleven headlines listed on ESPN.com. Zero headlines have anything to do with a game recap. Seven of those eleven deal with coaching controversy or changes. The Chicago Cubs’ Dale Sveum got fired, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin is in hot water, UConn’s Paul Pasqualoni was also canned. And it’s old news but ESPN.com reminds us that USC’s Lane Kiffin was fired this weekend and to piggy-back on Kiffin there is a story on "If USC can be elite again."
While fools like Skip Bayless only perpetuate the trend, the drama surrounding sports is not just ESPN-created. They are a byproduct of what the public wants to hear and read about. The games themselves often aren’t entertaining enough so we all need stories and theatrics to keep our attention. College sports are not only big business, they have been "WWE-ized." Iowa State isn’t immune to the melodrama. This very website’s most trafficked days revolve around coaching changes and searches.Tragedy sells. And I am first in line with everyone else to read and watch the chaos.
Mack Brown is the fourth headline down the ESPN.com list, apparently Earl Campbell wants him fired. Thirteen paragraphs into that story is a nifty head’s up: Texas next plays at Iowa State on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Just in case you want to watch.
Heading into Thursday night’s match-up with the Cyclones, Iowa State is merely a role player in the ongoing Texas soap opera; but the Cyclones have plenty to gain themselves. Paul Rhoads’ club seized some confidence with a win over Tulsa a week ago and they enter Big 12 play with a new outlook. It has been over a decade since Iowa State got off on the right foot during conference play. The Cyclones haven’t won their Big 12 opener since September, 2002 when Seneca Wallace schooled Mark Mangino in the rotund coach’s first season at Kansas.
Rhoads has espoused for the last couple seasons that the vaunted "next step" for the program is to win four or five games in conference play. That is difficult to do in the rugged Big 12 and even more arduous when you start the conference by decapitating your foot. The last two years, the Cyclones were undefeated and riding high into the conference home openers. Against Texas in 2011 and Texas Tech in 2012, the Cyclones crash landed in tough-to-swallow losses at Jack Trice. They struggled to gain traction the rest of each respective season.
This year the Cyclones enter October with a different feeling. They are 1-2 and enter the battle with Texas with a healthy amount of humility. The adversity came early this year and, optimistically, a young squad needed to learn the hard way.
Iowa State faces long odds of finishing in the upper tier of the conference this year, but a win against Texas would deliver a salvo to Mack Brown’s career and also vault Iowa State into unfamiliar territory: 1-0. Only a couple of Big 12 schools have emerged from the first month of the season without any scars. Prior to 2012’s home opener, seven of the 10 conference schools were undefeated. This year only three are unscathed (Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas Tech). Oklahoma State was the odds on favorite coming into last week before their couch-igniting performance in Morgantown. Nothing is a lock in this league this year, anything is believable.
In what will be an unconventional year in the Bowlsby conference, Iowa State can help rattle a few cages and burn down the status-quo. An Iowa State win on Thursday could mean the final blow to this era of Texas football and headlines of Longhorn doom would assuredly follow. It would also mean the Cyclones are one win closer to the next step.
Somebody has to deliver the knock-out and end the Texas drama, might as well be Iowa State.