Big 12: Ennis Haywood
McCarney led the Cyclones to five bowl trips in the first six seasons of the decade. That record was as good as any team's in the North Division to that point.
Things didn't go as swimmingly for the Cyclones for the second half of the decade, although Rhoads' gutty underachievers were one of the biggest surprises in college football in 2009.
Here's a look at my all-decade team for Iowa State.
QB: Seneca Wallace
RB: Alexander Robinson
RB: Ennis Haywood
WR: Todd Blythe
WR: Lane Danielson
TE: Mike Banks
OL: Reggie Stephens
OL: Cale Stubbe
OL: Bob Montgomery
OL: Aaron Brant
C: Ben Bruns
DL: Nick Leaders
DL: Brent Curvey
DL: Jordan Carstens
DL: Reggie Haywood
LB: Alvin Bowen
LB: Tim Dobbins
LB: Jesse Smith
DB: LaMarcus Hicks
DB: Ellis Hobbs
DB: JaMaine Billups
DB: Leonard Johnson
P: Tony Yelk
K: Adam Benike
Offensive player of the decade: QB Seneca Wallace. Fans remember his serpentine touchdown run against Texas Tech in 2002, but he also led the Cyclones to back-to-back bowl trips while setting the single-season school records for passing and total offense.
Defensive player of the decade: LB Alvin Bowen. A two-time team most valuable player, Bowen produced 155 tackles as a senior in 2006 to become All-Big 12 linebacker and one of the most productive players in ISU history.
Coach of the decade: Dan McCarney. When he was fired after the 2006 season, he had more wins, more bowl trips and more bowl victories than any coach in the school's history. And if he had a more consistent field goal kicker, McCarney might have won that elusive North Division championship that the Cyclones are still looking for.
Moment of the decade: Iowa State’s 37-29 victory over Pittsburgh in the 2000 Insight.com Bowl. Sage Rosenfels passed for 308 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Cyclones to their first bowl victory in school history. It capped a 9-3 season that was the most victories by a Cyclone team since 1906.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are 10 things to watch for in Big 12 games this weekend:
1. Will Sam Bradford play or not? Oklahoma didn’t look like it needed Bradford in back-to-back victories over Idaho State and Tulsa. A trip to Land Shark Stadium Saturday night against Miami might be different. The Sooners offense hummed when Landry Jones threw for a school-record six touchdown passes against Tulsa. It might be in for a more challenging game against Miami, which will be looking to bounce back after the its struggles last week at Virginia Tech.
2. Oklahoma’s defensive dominance: The Sooners enter the game with a scoreless streak of 123 minutes, 3 seconds after posting back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1987. The unit is still haunted by the late touchdown it allowed in the opener against BYU that ended up being the difference in that loss. Since then, the Sooners have forced nearly as many punts (19) as first downs allowed (22), and allowed opponents a scant 2.39 yards per snap. Miami, however, will be a different challenge with Jacory Harris, Graig Cooper, Javarris James and Leonard Hankerson all ready.
3. Texas A&M’s first big test: The Aggies have emerged as one of the nation’s biggest statistical surprises as they rank among the top seven teams nationally in rushing, passing, total yards and scoring and lead the nation in sacks. Those feats have all been accomplished against a tissue-soft schedule that hasn’t provided a true test yet. That will all change Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium as Arkansas and massive quarterback Ryan Mallett will challenge A&M in ways it hasn't seen yet this season.
4. Jerrod Johnson: The Aggies’ junior quarterback has shown vast growth since last season as he ranks third in the nation in total offense and is coming off a record game where he accounted for six touchdowns against UAB. Johnson has rushed for four touchdowns, passed for nine touchdowns and yet to be intercepted in 111 attempts this season. Arkansas will be his first BCS conference opponent of the season, but the Razorbacks have struggled against the pass. It could be more of the same for them against Johnson, too.
5. Alexander Robinson’s amazing recent rushing streak: Robinson’s cutback running has been a key to Iowa State’s 3-1 start as he’s rushed for 100 yards in his last three games -- the first Iowa State player to accomplish that feat since Ennis Haywood rushed for at least 100 yards in his first four games of the 2000 season. Robinson has provided some nice balance to what was expected to be a pass-heavy attack. His production will be pivotal as the Cyclones attempt to take a big step toward getting closer to bowl eligibility against Kansas State on Saturday.
6. Paul Rhoads vs. Bill Snyder: The conference’s two new coaches this season have a wide difference in coaching game experience as Kansas State’s Bill Snyder will be directing the Wildcats in his 209th career game and Paul Rhoads will be coaching Iowa State in his fourth. There’s some history between these two as Snyder used to recruit the high schools where Rhoads’ father, Cecil, worked during Rhoads' Hall of Fame career as a high school coach in Iowa. It will be interesting to see if Snyder’s experience provides him an edge in this matchup.
7. “The Dysfunctional Bowl:” Which coach has faced more off-the-field headlines this weekend? Is it Mike Leach’s Texas Tech team that dropped a disappointing loss at Houston, soon followed by the indefinite suspension of team captain Brandon Carter and Leach's banning of his team’s tweeting privileges after several uncomplimentary remarks became widely known. Or is it New Mexico’s Mike Locksley, who has received verbal and written reprimands from his superiors at New Mexico after splitting the upper lip of receivers coach J.B. Gerald after an altercation where a police report was filed. And that’s on top of an 0-4 start for the Lobos. It’s obvious that playing the game will be a relief for both coaches.
8. Texas Tech’s emerging running game: The Red Raiders appeared to have taken control of the game against Houston behind a bruising running game, keyed by a career night by Baron Batch, who rushed for a career-best 114 yards last week. Tech inexplicably got away from running the ball late in the Houston game and that switch might have cost them the game after the Red Raiders appeared to have dictated tempo during the middle of the game. They will have another chance Saturday against New Mexico, which ranks 111th in rushing defense and allowed 245 rushing yards to Texas A&M and 298 to Air Force earlier this season. The Red Raiders won’t run for that much, but they should be able to control the trenches against the Lobos, leading to a big game rushing if they want it.
9. Can Colorado build on its first 2009 victory? The Buffaloes are coming off a bye week after their triumph over Wyoming that turned some of Dan Hawkins’ self-described “conflama” that had dogged his program after two losses to start the season. His team will be facing a tough Thursday night challenge against West Virginia, which blew a fourth-quarter lead in the turnover-marred loss at Auburn. Colorado is a huge underdog in this game and will need a big effort to keep the game from getting away like earlier nationally televised losses to Colorado State and Toledo.
10. Baylor’s injury-plagued quarterbacks: Robert Griffin sustained a season-ending knee injury last week against Northwestern State. His backup, Blake Szymanski, bruised his shoulder later in the game and is listed as day to day. Szymanski will try to keep Baylor’s momentum going against Kent State, if he’s healthy. But if he can’t play, freshman Nick Florence will make the first start of his career against the Golden Flashes. Baylor’s bowl hopes -- so bright after their upset victory over Wake Forest to start the season -- have never looked more evanescent since Griffin’s injury.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Iowa State’s new passing offense was presumed to be a pass-first, run-later attack where running backs were a kind of endangered species.
Somebody forgot to tell Alexander Robinson about that.
|AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall|
|Iowa State's Alexander Robinson has fueled the Cyclones ground attack.|
Robinson has thrived in Tom Herman’s new offensive philosophy, rushing for an average of 113.3 yards per game in a fast early start for the Cyclones.
After four games, Robinson ranks second in the Big 12 in rushing and is on course to become the Cyclones first 1,000-yard back since Stevie Hicks gained 1,062 yards in 2004.
“This spread offense definitely opens some lanes and my offensive line has been doing a great job,” Robinson said. “A lot of my credit goes to them. They’ve just been blocking better as the year goes and I’ve been the beneficiary of that.”
Quietly, the Cyclones have jumped to a 3-1 record in the nonconference part of their schedule. A victory in Saturday’s game against Kansas State at Arrowhead Stadium could be pointing them to their first bowl game since the 2005 season under Dan McCarney.
The biggest reason for that early success has been Robinson.
“Our success running the ball has been constant,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “Guys within the team know who the playmakers are and his success through four games has been what it is. He’s a leader by how he commands himself and how he vocalizes things to the team.”
Herman’s system utilizes a zone-blocking scheme similar to what the Denver Broncos excelled at earlier in the decade. That strategy is ideal for Robinson’s ability as a cutback runner.
“I just kind of scan the defense looking for holes,” Robinson said. “I’m just following the reads that are out there.”
His streak began with 100 yards against Iowa in the Cyclones’ only loss of the season. They rebounded the next week when Robinson rushed for 143 yards boosting the Cyclones to a victory at Kent State that halted a nation-worst 17-game road losing streak.
And he added to the streak last week by rushing for 129 yards and two touchdowns and 49 yards and another touchdown on two receptions to boost the Cyclones’ victory over Army. Their 3-1 start is the best since McCarney’s 2005 team also won three of its first four games.
ISU has already surpassed its total of victories posted during last season’s 2-10 record under Gene Chizik.
“Our start has been good,” Robinson said. “This is something we haven’t felt for awhile, but we know we still haven’t arrived. We have to keep working to get better. But coming in on Sundays after games feels good.”
His three-game streak has made him the first Cyclone since Ennis Haywood started the 2000 with 100 yards in four-straight games.
Robinson strained his groin muscle late in the Army game, but vows to be ready for the Big 12 opener for both teams on Saturday.
Rhoads said that the early perception that new Iowa State offense being heavily pass-oriented was wrong. Robinson’s fast start shows the success that the Cyclones can have both rushing and passing.
"I’ve thought that’s kind of a wrong connotation that gets thrown around -- that the ball is going to get thrown all over the yard and that’s it," said Rhoads, who became ISU’s first first-year coach to start 3-1 since George Veenker in 1931. "If you're going to be successful running this offense, you have to be able to run the ball. And so far, we’ve been able to do that.”
Robinson said he heard reports about Herman’s pass-heavy attack and wasn’t sure what would happen this season. But he’s satisfied with his quick start.
“During the spring, we wanted to prove we could run the ball,” Robinson said. “And maybe, he just grew a little faith in what we could do after getting a chance to watch us play.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It might be the most endangered species this side of the American bison.
True workhorse running backs are disappearing across the nation, but particularly in the Big 12.
It's a marked contrast from the past where many Big 12 teams would rely on one major back to account for much of its running production.
Even the expansion of spread offenses can't be blamed entirely for this predicament. If anything, the overabundance of passing attacks should make it easier for one back to dominate carries because most teams are utilizing fewer running plays than ever before.
Here's an indication of how skewed the statistics were last season in the Big 12. Only four backs accounted for at least 40 percent of their team's rushing totals.
Texas Tech's Shannon Woods led all Big 12 backs last season with 44.5 percent of his team's carries -- 141 totes among Texas Tech's 317 rushing attempts.That total is the smallest for a leader in the Big 12 in the conference's history.
Consider only four years ago that nine Big 12 backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries in 2004 and seven backs that season topped 50 percent of their team's running plays.
But in today's Big 12, coaches are opting to predominantly use a rotation of backs. Teams like Nebraska (Quentin Castille and Roy Helu Jr.), Oklahoma (DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown) and Texas (Vondrell McGee, Cody Johnson, Fozzy Whittaker and freshman Chris Whaley) all are expected to rotate carries in 2009.
Here's a look at how those numbers have changed during the Big 12's history.