With Loss, Cyclones Likely Out Of Holiday Bowl Mix

By Rob Gray, Reporter

Iowa State head football coach Paul Rhoads reacts to a call late in the fourth quarter against West Virginia at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Friday, November 23, 2012. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

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By Grant Burkhardt

AMES, Iowa — Let the guessing game begin.

The Iowa State football team entered Friday’s dispiriting 31-24 loss to West Virginia poised to join “the short list” of teams being considered for the Holiday Bowl in balmy San Diego, among other warm-weather Big 12 Conference-affiliated postseason destinations.

How’d the Cyclones end the day?

Likely off the Holiday Bowl’s radar.

“We’d like to have a team come off of a winning record — a win streak, if you will,” the bowl’s executive director Bruce Binkowski said before Friday’s game. “Rather then to kind-of back into the game.”

ISU’s sun-swept dreams became mostly cloudy when the Mountaineers’ Tavon Austin raced 75 yards on a short pass for what proved to be the winning touchdown.

The Cyclones (6-6, 3-6) had rallied from a 10-point deficit to lead, 24-23, on Edwin Arceo’s 49-yard field goal with 6:42 left.

One catch, juke and sprint from Austin 11 seconds later — along with a forced fumble five yards from the goal line on ISU’s ensuing drive — turned hopes of a leap forward for the Cyclones’ program into the third 6-6 regular season finish in four years under coach Paul Rhoads.

“I feel like we’re striving for bigger and better things here,” said ISU nose tackle Jake McDonough. “We want to become a championship football team rather than just squeaking into a bowl game.”

Even if that squeaking comes against all odds — and one of the nation’s most challenging schedules.

That’s no solace when possible firsts under Rhoads such as a four-win conference season seemed within grasp.

“It hurts,” said center Tom Farniok. “We’ve lost a few games that we definitely shouldn’t have and chalk this up (as) another one. Obviously, I’m not taking anything away from them. They’re a good team, but to turn that corner, to take that next step as a program we’ve got to finish more games like this and win, not self-inflict things on ourself.”

So where do the Cyclones go from here?

Just about anywhere among the Big 12’s lower-tier bowls, or beyond.

Representatives from the Independence Bowl, which ISU played in in 2001 and 2004, were also in attendance Friday.

The Shreveport, La.-based bowl is affiliated with the SEC and the ACC, but BCS vagaries and eligibility shortcomings could combine to create a free agent sort-of situation.

“Just like anybody else in the United States, we’re out covering our bases,” Mike Akers of the Independence Bowl said before Friday’s game. “Looking to see who might fall into our window.”

Lots of variables remain, but it appears unlikely any Big 12 team would slip outside league-affiliated bowls unless only one manages a bid to a BCS game.

The Big 12 pecking order is BCS, Cotton, Alamo, Buffalo Wild Wings (formerly Insight), Holiday, Meineke Car Care (Houston), Pinstripe, and Heart of Dallas.

The conference could end up with nine bowl-eligible teams.

Selection Sunday isn’t until Dec. 2.

And if No. 14 Oklahoma (8-2) somehow got knocked off by 22nd-ranked Oklahoma State (7-3) Saturday in the Bedlam game, and/or by unranked TCU (7-4) next week, and No. 7 Kansas State (10-1) loses to No. 18 Texas (8-3) ...

Who knows?

“I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to work,” Akers said, chuckling. “I’ll find out Sunday, (Dec. 2).”

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