Too many key games upcoming to engage in debate today

The College Football Playoff (CFP) Committee has spoken. Unfortunately, it’s just the first of multiple declarations they’ll make this season.

The men’s and women’s basketball tournament committee model – letting members watch games as they see fit all year long – and then gathering for extended talks and announcing the fields after deliberation is preferred. The worth of these mid-season rankings is up for debate.

With that said, here are some items to ponder (for discussion purposes the committee’s Top 25 is the ultimate measuring stick)…

  • 24 Duke has not faced anyone in the committee’s Top 25 and won’t during the regular season. The same is true for 23rd-rated East Carolina.
  • Ohio State (16th) has not played one team in the Top 25 yet. It will face Michigan State.
  • Notre Dame is the highest ranked (10th) school, which has not beaten any anyone else in the committee’s Top 25.
  • Here are conference records for schools in the current Top 25 vs. fellow Top 25 schools: SEC (8-5), Big 12 (5-7), Pac-12 (5-4), ACC (3-3) and Big Ten (1-2).
  • There’s lots of action still ahead as Auburn, Alabama, Kansas State, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah still have three games each vs. Top 25 schools to end the regular season.
  • Here are the number of games remaining in the regular season for current Top 25 members vs. fellow Top 25 teams: SEC (12), Pac-12 (11), Big 12 (10), ACC (3) and Big Ten (2).

Tuesday night’s announcement sparked all sorts of excitement and hand wringing. Each week, the committee will get a little closer to its final decisions.

In the meantime, take it in. Discuss, deliberate, debate. Enjoy.

Then, get our your remotes and take your pick of Florida State vs. Louisville, TCU vs. West Virginia, Auburn vs. Ole Miss, Arizona vs. UCLA or Utah vs. Arizona State. Those are the match-ups between Top 25 schools this week.

If that’s not enough, consider Kansas State vs. TCU, Baylor vs. Oklahoma, Notre Dame vs. Arizona State, Alabama vs. LSU, Ohio State vs. Michigan State and Oregon vs. Utah. That’s on tap the next week.

In reality, the playoffs have already begun. We’re halfway through the playoffs. It’s called the regular season.

The arguing, too, has begun and it didn’t need to be that way.

Building a belief in close games

CyHawk14UI10

Iowa State has played more close games this season than anyone in the Big 12.

Four of its seven contests have been decided by seven or fewer points. The Cyclones have split those games (wins at Iowa and vs. Toledo and losses to Kansas State and at Texas).

“A big piece of it (winning close games) is confidence,” Coach Paul Rhoads said Monday. “It’s something we’ve highlighted in the last 8-9 days.”

A year ago, Iowa State was 0-4 in close games. The mark was 1-2 in 2012. The last time the Cyclones had had a winning record in such contests was 2011 when they went 5-1.

“We talked about eliminating doubt as we went into the Iowa game,” Rhoads said of a game that his team won in the closing seconds. “One of the ways you eliminate doubt is to have confidence.”

The determination of this year’s squad has put them in position for wins more than half of the time through seven games. With five regular-season games left, it’s likely they’ll have more opportunities.

Building on games like the road win in Iowa City earlier this fall is what Rhoads is trying to do.

The Cyclones have captured victory in close games twice as many times in the opening seven weeks as they did in the prior two full seasons combined.

Belief is gradually increasing.

Bibbs return to health carries offense

Bibbs, E.J.14UT 1

NBC football analyst Cris Collinsworth hammered home a point relentlessly in the second half of New Orleans’ win over Green Bay Sunday night.

He was underlining the impact that tight end Jimmy Graham’s return to the lineup had for the Saints’ offense.

Collinsworth called New Orleans a Super Bowl contender with the 6-7, 265-pound receiving stud back on the field. That is quite the hyperbole for a team that entered the game with a 2-4 record.

Iowa State tight end E.J. Bibbs, a pre-season All-America candidate, impacts the Cyclones similarly.

Bibbs suffered an injury late in fall camp. Fighting through it, Bibbs had 11 catches for 88 yards in the opening four games while ISU averaged 312.0 yards of offense.

In the most-recent three outings – after Bibbs got healthier – Iowa State has gained 433 yards per game and Bibbs has 21 receptions, 175 yards and five touchdowns.

“You’ve got to change things you do defensively (when Bibbs is operating at full strength),” Coach Paul Rhoads said Monday. “If you’re going to bracket him or manage him – if you have additional playmakers – it opens things up.”

No kidding. Bibbs had a career-best 10 catches vs. Texas. Not surprisingly, Aaron Wimberly had the team’s first 100-yard rushing day of the season.

“Opening up E.J. Bibbs as a big athlete is not something folks want to do,” Rhoads said. “Right now, we have enough guys making plays, and with the ball distribution in our offense, we are able to take advantage of that. E.J. gives us that (ability).”

With Graham unable to play at peak level recently because of injury, the Saints beat Tampa Bay in OT and lost to Detroit. With his return Sunday, New Orleans handily defeated the division-leading Packers.

The impact of a great tight end can’t be underestimated.

Best depth Jackson has ever had and here’s why it’s important

Jackson, Kevin_OU_2013-14_1

Kevin Jackson begins his sixth year as Iowa State’s wrestling coach with three returning All-Americans.

A pair of them – seniors Kyven Gadson and Michael Moreno – have accomplished nearly everything college wrestling has to offer.

“There’s only one more step to take,” Jackson said in reference to winning an NCAA title. “They’re ready to take it.”

Beyond those two, Jackson can also point to five other wrestlers who have qualified for the NCAA Championship.

But, what excites Jackson more than anything is team depth from 125 pounds through heavyweight. He has never had this type of depth at Iowa State.

Former Olympic champion Ed Banach once told me that the practice room provided the best competition he faced during his undergraduate career. When the lights came on, Banach knew he had prepared better than his opponent because of the people he wrestled daily.

That, in reality, was because of depth.

Jackson, I’ll repeat, likes his team’s depth.

“You’ve got to have that challenge, each and every day by a high-level, high-caliber athlete in your weight class” Jackson said at media day this week. “You’ve got to be challenged each and every day so that depth is definitely allowing us to take that next step.”

Depth in the workout room can’t be overlooked. It’s a basic ingredient in top-shelf performance.

Hard to pin down transitions, but Saturday may have been it

Mangino, Mark_Spring Game_2014_4

Teams have identities and reputations based upon their results over an extended period of time.

Then things change and, all-of-a-sudden, a new reputation emerges.

You seldom recognize the transition, however, while it’s happening.

Any coach whose team has made dramatic improvement could probably point to an event (play, game, season) when things clicked, when cultures changed or when confidence in the plan grew.

Could Fred Hoiberg point to a game early in his tenure when his floor spacing principles took hold? Does Bill Fennelly remember when his team really felt empowered to let the three pointers fly?

When Mark Mangino was hired as ISU’s offensive coordinator, I told a friend that he’d be really good. But, I also added that the timeline for the improvement was up-in-the-air.

At the start of fall camp, people would have listed Quenton Bundrage, E.J. Bibbs, Aaron Wimberly, DeVondrick Nealy and Jarvis West as Mangino’s biggest potential playmakers. The Cyclones, experts noted, didn’t have a QB named yet.

Of that list, only Nealy hasn’t missed time due to injury. ISU has also lost three linemen to season-ending injuries.

With that as the backdrop, Mangino carved up the nation’s third-best defense Saturday night. Sam Richardson, a healthier Bibbs, Wimberly, Allen Lazard and D’Vario Montgomery had leading roles.

Is a transition occurring? When we look back some day, will a hard-fought 48-45 game in Austin be a game singled out for its significance?

Stay tuned, but things are trending upwards.

From publicity machine to storytellers

SID Roundtable (2)

You may not recognize their names.

Tom Starr, Butch Henry, Kirk Hendrix, Dave Starr and Tom Kroeschell.

If you are a Cyclone athletics fan, however, you would recognize the individuals they worked behind the scenes for.

Earle Bruce, Jeff Hornacek, Johnny Orr, Dan McCarney, Jeff Grayer, Troy Davis, Dr. Harold Nichols, Dwayne Crutchfield, Danny Harris, Max Urick and many, many others.

Starr, Henry, Hendrix, Starr and Kroeschell were Directors of Sports Information at Iowa State in the last 30-plus years. That quintet – along with current director Mike Green – have filled the key department role since the retirement of the legendary Harry Burrell, the school’s SID for 41 years.

At ISU, these men’s duties centered on keeping stats, maintaining records, writing releases, staging news conferences and setting up interviews. They led the publicity arm for athletics.

In recent years – with the emergence of shows like ESPN’s 30:30 series – these SIDs are taking on a new role. Today, they are storytellers for documentary features like those on 30:30 or Cyclones.tv.

After all, who better knew the people like Barry Stevens, Dan Gable, Pete Taylor or George Amundson than their PR guys?

The Cyclones’ five SIDs were on campus last week to renew friendships, see the campus again, attend the Toledo game and tell stories.

Cyclones.tv had the cameras running for more than two hours as host John Walters threw out topic after topic to the group. The conversation was pure gold.

It was an honor to have these men back at ISU for a weekend.

The beneficiary of their visit will be you.

In the coming weeks, the stories they told will be coming your way, via Cyclones.tv. Stay tuned. It will be worth your time.

“Pollspeak”: coaches & media agree the Big 12 is strong

Big 12 logo

It is a rare day when college football coaches and the news media covering them are in full agreement.

That was nearly the case this week when the Associated Press (media) and USA Today (coaches) released their college football polls.

The Top 15 schools in each poll mirror one another at every slot but two. The media says Auburn is No. 6 and Michigan State eighth. The coaches flip-flopped those schools. That is the only difference.

What that also means is that the news media and coaches agree that the Big 12 is very strong.

Half of the 10 schools in the Big 12 are included in the To 15 of both national polls. The Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC have a combined four schools in the Top 15. Like the Big 12, the SEC checks in with five (36% of its membership) schools in the Top 15 and each of them is in the Top 10.

“Every game in this league (the Big 12) is on a national stage and a great opportunity,” Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads said. “You’re talking about a league that has half of its football teams in the Top 15 in the country. That’s a pretty impressive number.”

The College Football Playoff committee, however, has repeatedly stated that it would rank teams according to performance against their own schedules.

Overall conference strength isn’t a major factor since every conference (except for the Big 12 and its round-robin schedule) has unbalanced scheduling. Some of the elite teams don’t face one another.

When everybody plays everybody (the Big 12’s tagline) and the quality of the conference is good (the Big 12’s reality this season), it’s very likely that whoever emerges from the league as its champion will have a strong case for playoff inclusion.

Who knows, a couple of Big 12 teams may get a serious look?

“Competitive” Cyclones just keep battling

bibbs

Coach Paul Rhoads said Monday that he continues to discover things about his 2014 team.

When asked to share the biggest things he has learned – without hesitation – Rhoads said “They’re competitive.”

They keep working at it. There is a “we-can-get-it-done” mentality.

Indicative of that attitude is that three of the Cyclones’ best offensive drives this fall came after significant adversity.

  • Against 20th-ranked Kansas State, the Cyclones fell behind 13-0 early. What followed was a nine-play, 85-yard scoring drive that got ISU back in the game. Sam Richardson hit 5-5 passes and the run game averaged nearly seven yards per attempt on the drive.
  • At 21st-ranked Oklahoma State, the Cowboys opened the second half with a kickoff return for a TD, widening their lead to 14 points. Iowa State responded with an 11-play, 71-yard scoring march to make it a seven-point game.
  • Against No. 7 Baylor, the Bears built a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. ISU’s response was an 11-play, 92-yard scoring drive that cut the lead in half. It was the first time BU had allowed points in the opening quarter all season.

Rhoads also noted this team’s desire to be coached and the fact they’ve continued to improve each week. He said the credit goes to the players.

“I told them that ‘coaches yell and scream and do all that to motivate you, but it rarely works,’” Rhoads explained. “It has to come from the players.”

Saturday vs. Toledo, the Cyclones showed a resiliency in the second half and this time it was rewarded with a win.

“It was a lot of fun to watch them in the second half (vs. Toledo) as they drew a line in the sand,” Rhoads said.

Bouncing back has been a season-long storyline and it’s one worth savoring.

Tempo turns tables on Toledo

Richardson, Sam B14UI18

Iowa State beat Toledo Saturday because of its speed.

Not physical speed, but rather quick execution of its offensive game play.

The Cyclones quickened the tempo in the second half and ISU took control of the game with that proactive approach.

“We were getting in places where we were waiting for them to set up on defense,” record-setting QB Sam Richardson said. “I told the coaches we needed to go and not let them set up. (I am) very proud that we put the game in our own hands.”

The Cyclones scored 28 points in the second half after tallying nine in the opening 30 minutes. Inside those numbers are more telling tid-bits.

In one fewer minute of offensive possession, the Cyclones…

  • Ran eight more plays (51-43) in the second half
  • Gained in excess of 100 extra yards (296-195) in the second half
  • Converted on 49% more of its third-down plays (89% to 50%) in the second half

“We were allowing them to control things with their defense,” Head Coach Paul Rhoads said.

Richardson, as everyone noted, broke a school record for completions (37).

His biggest contribution, however, was suggesting the offense use its speed (execution-wise).

Fifth? Ok, let’s get to work.

Hoiberg, Fred_2014-15_MeetTheCoaches_

Big 12 men’s basketball coaches Tubby Smith, Bruce Weber, Scott Drew, Bob Huggins, Trent Johnson, Bill Self, Travis Ford, Lon Kruger, Fred Hoiberg and Rick Barnes have combined to win 3,926 games as college coaches.

That’s a whole lot of hoops wisdom.

Those 10 men – through independent projections – picked Hoiberg’s 2014-15 Cyclones to finish fifth in the upcoming Big 12 standings.

The collective wisdom of those coaches and their assessment that ISU will barely make the first division of this winter’s league race underlines the challenge the challenge that Hoiberg faces in replacing Melvin Ejim (17.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and DeAndre Kane (17.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.9 apg).

For those choosing to question Hoiberg’s ability to rebuild on the fly, consider the senior departures he has dealt with in prior seasons:

  • 2011: Diante Garrett (17.3 ppg), Jake Anderson (12.8) and Jamie Vanderbeken (11.1)
  • 2012: Royce White (13.4 ppg), Scott Christopherson (12.6) and Chris Allen (12.2)
  • 2013: Will Clyburn (14.9), Tyrus McGee (13.1) and Korey Lucious (10.1)

Hoiberg rebuilt each time with returnees assuming bigger roles or transfer players getting their shots.

To some, the fifth-place guess seems to be cause for anger.

Rather than be upset, I’ll rely on the competitive nature and skill set of the players that ISU will have on its roster this season.

And, of course, the steady hand of Hoiberg directing the action.