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Iowa State recap: Bitter end but successful season

Scott Dochterman, CR Gazette

NEW YORK — Iowa State players, coaches and officials held their chins high and forced smiles through clenched lips Friday night, but their faces read the disappointment of a 27-13 Pinstripe Bowl loss to Rutgers.

Athletics Director Jamie Pollard personally thanked media members who followed the Cyclones to New York, as did many of the Iowa State players. Their universal message after the game was simple: it was a tough end to a resilient season.

“Of course our ultimate goal was to get to a bowl game and win a bowl game, and we didn’t win it,” Iowa State freshman quarterback Jared Barnett said. “It hurts right now and you think right now it wasn’t as successful as we wanted it to be, but for the most part, I would say we did have a successful season.”

The Cyclones finished 6-7 but posted several memorable victories that will last longer than the fading newspaper clippings of the 2011 season. Iowa State blistered former No. 19th-ranked Texas Tech 41-7 and won at defending Big East champion Connecticut — both on the road. The Cyclones twice rallied in the fourth quarter to edge Northern Iowa in the season opener. They held off Kansas in a cliche trap game.

Iowa State also produced a pair of wins that will live in infamy. The Cyclones upset cross-state rival Iowa 44-41 in triple overtime. And in what ISU officials listed as the biggest win in school history, the Cyclones upset No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State 37-31 in double overtime, the program’s first win over a top-six school (1-56-2 historically).

ISU was an underdog in 11 of 13 games, and Sports Illustrated predicted a 2-10 finish.

“From the doubts we had from the outside world coming in and being able to prove the nation that we can compete with all these teams and we’re not going to lay down to anybody, I thought that was great and kind of a trademark of this team,” said ISU linebacker Jake Knott, a first-team all-Big 12 selection.

The bowl loss provided an outlet for the seniors to reflect on their chaotic careers. Most of them were recruiting by Dan McCarney, who resigned after the 2006 season. Gene Chizik coached them for two seasons in 2007 and 2008 before bolting for Auburn. Paul Rhoads joined the program in 2009 and has led them to a pair of bowls and multiple high-profile victories the last three years.

“For the guys that stuck it through as a senior class and didn’t quit or didn’t transfer, which is very few of us, it was just a reflection on their character because they didn’t run away when things got tough and they didn’t back down,” Iowa State tackle Kelechi Osemele said. “They just kept pushing back. This is just one of those lessons in life. You’ve just got to keep pushing and hope for the best, and we’ve got the coach that we needed and we got some results.”

ISU’s program won’t be able to rest on its success for very long, however. Osemele is a projected first-round NFL draft selection. Cornerback Leonard Johnson could land in the first four rounds and guard Hayworth Hicks also is a likely draft pick. Knott will have surgery on his right shoulder to repair a torn labrum and need time to rest a healing broken arm and broken thumb.

But Iowa State also returns seven regular starters on offense and key backups. The defense loses six starters, including three defensive linemen, but brings back Knott and fellow linebacker A.J. Klein, the Big 12′s co-defensive player of the year.

“We’re going to lose those guys to the NFL, but we played the top amount of people in the Big 12 just playing through backups,” ISU sophomore running back Jeff Woody said. “So we have good depth, we have good youth and that youth got experience, which is good.”

The Cyclones have some challenges as well. Quarterbacks Jared Barnett (six starts) and Steele Jantz (seven starts) were inconsistent throughout the year. Barnett, a freshman, completed just half his passes, and the duo combined for 17 interceptions and 16 touchdowns.

Barnett completed just 2-of-7 passes against Rutgers and in the second quarter was pulled for Jantz, a junior. When asked to elaborate on his decision to pull Barnett, Rhoads chuckled and said, “I wanted to create a quarterback controversy heading into spring ball.” That appears to be the case.

“With me and a couple of other guys we’re going to have a good battle and whoever comes out on top will be better for it,” Jantz said. “I’m excited about it. I know Coach Rhoads will get a good guy, and knowing the other quarterbacks and myself we’re going to work hard, not only to win the battle but to lead the team and get the offense rolling early.”

But before the page is turned to 2012, all agree this class left a mark at Iowa State through the memorable wins and gritty performances.

“I wanted to come to Iowa State so I could go to a school where I could make an impact and leave some sort of legacy,” Osemele said. “I thought that I did that at Iowa State.”




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