The 2015 season opener approaches with equal parts excitement and nerves. As the years pass by and months flip quicker than ever, time somehow manages to slow for the first College Football Saturday. It’s been 270 days since Iowa State mercifully ended the 2014 campaign by getting humbled in Ft. Worth 55-3 by the Horned Frogs. It was a forgettable end to a forgettable season. Paul Rhoads and company face the daunting challenge of trying to embrace the pain of the last two seasons in order to run far away from it. And that’s the greatness of college football; everyone starts at zero.
It is human nature to focus on the five wins in the last two seasons and question why this year will be any different. Iowa State fans are a cautious group and are rightfully in wait and see mode. The sound-bytes and smiles coming out of the football complex feel genuinely optimistic. Talk of an infusion of defensive talent, culture change and a brotherhood developing gives hope to a fan-base looking for something to latch onto. Year two of Mark Mangino calling the offensive shots, no quarterback controversy for the first time since Instagram was invented and legit Big 12 receivers adds a few more layers to the hope.
Yet, as we all know, success for Iowa State is far from guaranteed. Excitement is just a U-turn away from full-blown panic. It all starts with the opener against UNI. The initial contest for the college football elite is usually an exhibition, the appetizer for what awaits in the weeks ahead. That is not the case for the Cyclones, everyone realizes the ramifications. Lose the opener for the third straight season and the culture change conversation rings hollow. Paul Rhoads needs this game perhaps more than any other. And he will coach it in front of a record 61,500 at the revamped Jack Trice Stadium.
Iowa State fans are a unique and special group. Despite losing their final six games of 2014, only a few dozen tickets remain for the first two games of the season. The loyalty is truly amazing.
Iowa Staters often get caught in a trap of focusing on what they don’t have. It is hard to get players to come to the northern most school in the Big 12. Iowa doesn’t produce a high volume of division one talent and the there is a lack of a winning football tradition in Ames. But visit enough Big 12 venues and one thing becomes obvious: the loyalty and atmosphere at Jack Trice is hard to top.
I was in Ft. Worth on a beautiful day last December when TCU clinched a share of the Big 12 championship over Iowa State at 50,000-seat Amon Carter Stadium. There were 5,000 empty seats there to witness it as well.
Cyclone fans have nothing to be ashamed up. Sticking it out when times are rough make the wins that much more enjoyable.
This Saturday morning, tens of thousands will make the trek to Ames and drive down University Boulevard. On one side in the student lot will be the new generation of Cyclone fan, reveling in a new season and an excuse to Snapchat and play flip cup. On the other side is the seasoned veteran, meticulously executing the tailgate plan perfected over dozens of years, hopeful this year the Cyclones may turn the corner. All reunite for a Cyclone family reunion 61,500 strong in their new house they helped build.
When walking into the stadium on Saturday night, take a moment to sit back and soak it in. Cyclone athletics and Jack Trice Stadium have grown up. Let’s hope the football team follows suit.
It’s a new beginning. Game on.