On Aug. 10, a derecho ran amok in Iowa and the Midwest. The next day, the Big Ten postponed its football season and all other fall sports.
Where I live, the derecho was devastation. The football stuff was mere disappointment. Nonetheless, on consecutive days you had perhaps the biggest local news story in my career and one of the biggest sports stories relevant to Iowa as there has been.
So that was a bad one-two punch of never-before-seen events in our midst. Saturday is similar, sports-wise, except that it’s good instead of destructive/dreary.
At the same time, just a bit after 11 a.m., you have Iowa State playing perennial kingpin Oklahoma in the Big 12 football championship game in Texas and No. 3 Iowa playing No. 1 Gonzaga in South Dakota in men’s college basketball’s nonconference game of the year.
Iowa State has never been in a Big 12 football title game. Iowa has been in just one men’s basketball game matching top-three teams, and that was almost 34 years ago.
Both are happening Saturday at the same time!
This could have been even crazier. Had Michigan not pulled out because of its COVID-19 issues, Iowa’s football team would have played the Wolverines in Kinnick Stadium Saturday night ... on December 19!
So maybe it’s best that game got canceled, because how many times in a day can you have your mind blown?
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And it could have been so much wilder than even that. What if the Hawkeyes’ 17-0 lead against Northwestern on Oct. 31 hadn’t totally evaporated? What if they’d won that day?
Well, they would have won the Big Ten West and would have been playing Ohio State Saturday for the Big Ten championship ... at the same time Iowa State was playing for the Big 12 title and the Iowa men were trying to beat the No. 1 team in the nation to possibly become the new No. 1 team come Monday!
That didn’t happen, so football-wise it’s Iowa State’s day all to itself around here. The Cyclones earned it.
The story that should be told about Iowa State is it has gotten better and better the last several weeks, played every team in the conference, finished alone in first place for the first time in our lifetimes, and will get to a New Year’s Six bowl with a second win over the Sooners.
If you’ve been watching Iowa State football for the last umpteen years, this may still be hard for you to believe. So do the math. Over the last four years, only Oklahoma (30-5) has a better Big 12 record than the Cyclones (24-12). Texas is 22-13.
But through no fault of Iowa State’s, people around the country have tried to diminish its season because the College Football Playoff selection committee has it ranked sixth in the most recent Top 25 and those people think that’s too high.
The 8-2 Cyclones’ season-opening, 31-14, loss to Louisiana is mentioned over and over by critics of the CFP. The playoff system is rigged for the major conferences, the critics say. Well, duh.
The what-if game can be played in Ames as well as Iowa City. What if the Cyclones had come out firing in their season-opener and beaten Louisiana, which is 9-1 and ranked itself?
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With just a three-point loss at Oklahoma State, would ISU have nosed out Ohio State for the No. 4 CFP slot earlier this week, and would it be playing for a playoff berth Saturday since a win over Oklahoma would have cut more ice with the playoff people than the Buckeyes beating Northwestern?
“If” is the middle word of “life,” but you haven’t heard it coming from the Cyclones themselves. They went out and won eight Big 12 games. They’ve gone where no Iowa State team has gone before.
They have done what Northwestern and Kansas State did before them, which is to prove you can win anywhere in major college football if you have the right coach at the right time and give that coach the time and tools to create a winner.
So here we are, a one-day whirlwind for sports in Iowa. For one day, 11 a.m. is prime-time.
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