A blistering hot day in southwest Tennessee had Liberty Bowl patrons wiping brows and seeking hydration. The Memphis Tigers were set to host Kansas, a team from a power five conference – although the term “power” is used loosely, as the Jayhawks have not won a road game since 2009.
Central Iowa is home to the beautiful state capitol, fields of corn, and Iowa State University. The surroundings along the twenty mile drive north of Des Moines offer little suggestion that college campus life lies just ahead. When cutting off toward Iowa State, it isn’t long before a stadium jumps into view. The campus is a few football tosses away. Lincoln Way is the main drag with the Campus Bookstore and several quaint hangouts. On gameday, parking lots are full and tailgating is in full force right from the highway exit. The party starts early as a flurry of activity permeates the perimeter of Jack Trice Stadium from first class tailgating to the team walk that attracts fans, the band, and Cy the Cyclone mascot. The band scurries over to the Alumni Center to perform their Step Show – the fight song, chants, and cheerleaders continue the festivities as fans anticipate kickoff.
No matter how much a team is struggling, it’s tremendous to see how much a visit from a top 5 team can ignite fan support. Jack Trice Stadium’s surroundings filled with anticipation for what Cyclone fans would hope could be an upset. Of course, history wasn’t exactly on its side as Iowa State’s record against top 5 teams rests at 1-54-2. Nevertheless, the chance is enough to generate optimism.
Any road leading to Morgantown offers picturesque views that lead to one of college football’s most tradition rich programs. Nestled in this mountainous venue lies Milan Puskar Stadium, home of the West Virginia Mountaineers.
West Virginia football had lost some of it’s spark over the past couple years. Former coach, Rich Rodriguez had lofted expectations in Morgantown and the hope was that new coach and offensive wizard, Dana Holgorsen, would put the Mountaineers back in the spotlight. The Marshall game was his debut and the West Virginia offense opened with a three and out followed by an 87 yard punt return TD by Marshall. It didn’t exactly showcase the fruits of his labor. But highly touted Geno Smith quarterbacked his way back into the hearts of mountaineer fans as he led his team on several scoring drives.
Both Wisconsin and TCU had magical seasons that led them to a unique Rose Bowl matchup on New Year’s Day. Our trip to Pasadena turned out to be less than magical. We left on New Year’s Eve ready to connect in Kansas City, then Phoenix, then Long Beach en route to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, our flight from Chicago was delayed and upon arriving Kansas City, our connect to Phoenix was gone. Panic stricken, we found ourselves in a deserted airport seemingly destined to ring in the New Year 2,000 miles from the Rose Bowl.
Rice is an outstanding academic institution that tends to seem out of focus when it comes to their football program. Despite some recent bowl success, the Owls appeared doomed to roost among the average in Conference USA. Further evidence of this came on this night when Baylor came to town. Of the mere 23,000 fans that showed up, around half displayed green and yellow in support of their Bears. Rice fans were not very vocal. However, their team did not provide them with much to exercise their vocal cords. In fact, the only thing that appeared to stop the Baylor offense was a lightning delay early in the second quarter.
Bill Snyder, head coach of Kansas State, holds the great honor of being the only head coach in FBS who is currently coaching in a stadium named after him. After his arrival in 1989, and subsequent turnaround of a dismal program, Wildcat games are a hot ticket and Bill Snyder Stadium is an intimidating place to play. The views encountered along the trek to Manhattan, cleverly nicknamed “The Little Apple,” offer a stark contrast from the concrete towers that litter “The Big Apple.” Skyscrapers and pedestrians are replaced with wheat fields and cattle.
T-shirts around the stadium proclaimed, “Fill the Bill,” and the purple followers came through. The crowd sent rumbles through the Great Plains as Kansas State took the field in front of a record opening day home crowd. As if there wasn’t enough roar in the crowd to start the game, Harley Day in Manhattan sent more noise bouncing off the walls of Bill Snyder Stadium. With Snyder’s return to the sidelines, much anticipation has grown for the Wildcats and having UCLA as an opponent only increased the excitement.
Getting back at Kansas should have been the driving force for Iowa State. Last season, the Jayhawks kept the Cyclones out of the Big 12 Championship game with a come-from-behind, overtime victory in Lawrence. For Iowa State, thoughts of revenge may have been clouded by the fact that their team has been suffering through a winless conference campaign in 2006. It quickly became evident that no amount of revenge, redemption, or fan support that shuffled into Jack Trice Stadium could lift the Cyclones toward victory…