Iowa State Cyclones

For now, college football in Iowa belongs to the Cyclones

Until further notice, Ames is the state's college football capital

Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy celebrates as he runs in a touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe during the Cyclones' 72
Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy celebrates as he runs in a touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe during the Cyclones’ 72-20 pounding of ULM at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. Purdy won’t have fans to point at Saturday when the Cyclones host the Louisiana team from Lafayette. (Matthew Putney/Associated Press)

Saturday marks six months to the day since the cancellation of the men’s basketball tournaments of the Big 12 and Big Ten, six months since COVID-19 stopped the nation for college sports and so much else.

A half-year later, Iowa State football is the only major-college football going in Iowa. The Cyclones’ game against Louisiana Saturday will be on ESPN. It’s a game that wasn’t even on Iowa State’s schedule until a month ago. Weird year.

Instead of College Football Saturday ending in Fresno as viewers in Fairfax settle in for a final football fix before falling asleep, the last game of the day will be Coastal Carolina-Kansas, at 9 p.m. on FS1. From the opening kick in Ames to the closing tick in Lawrence, America will be reminded the college game is open for business in the Big 12.

Which won’t make fans of Big Ten teams like Iowa feel especially great.

Just how this all works out for the Big 12 and ACC and SEC and Coastal Carolina, who knows? In the age of the coronavirus, fortune-telling is no longer a stable, honorable profession,

This college football season could be one continuous game of Whack-A-Mole, with teams popping up, getting clobbered by the virus and disappearing, and popping up again later.

It’s also possible the three major conferences that are playing will see this season through to the finish, making those that didn’t look foolish in many eyes. The Big Ten has long been seen as the compass of major-college sports, the visionary. It is now viewed by many of its own fans as a bumbler. Weird year.

Saturday’s 11 a.m. Big 12 games (Louisiana-Iowa State, Arkansas State-Kansas State, Eastern Kentucky-West Virginia) will go head to head to head on ESPN, Fox and FS1. Hey, remember when that conference was about to get last rites administered to it less than a decade ago?

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Elsewhere on television Saturday, the Big Ten Network will have a day-full of one-hour versions of past games. The 1992 Virginia Tech-Rutgers affair will be on at 11 a.m. So there’s that.

While the Big Ten Network airs football reruns on September Saturdays, the SEC Network and ACC Network will have live contests. Their conferences will join the Big 12 in being even more prominent on ABC/ESPN and Fox.

On the other hand, the college season in progress will get watered down fast if just one or two significant teams get sidelined by the virus. Hard as it may be for many to believe in Big Ten country, “Glad we waited” could still be a sentiment they utter before they’ve sat down to a socially distanced (or not) Thanksgiving dinner.

Largely lost in all this are the football practicalities of Saturday’s game in Ames. It could be an entertaining clash. Louisiana, though anonymous up here in the Midwest, is good, experienced, explosive. It’s the best opponent a Big 12 team will face Saturday.

An upset loss to the Ragin’ Cajuns would push the Cyclones off the map immediately after they inherited a more-prominent spot on it. A victory would be a good lead-in to a difficult start to the Big 12 season (at TCU Sept. 26, Oklahoma in Ames Oct. 3), keeping the Cyclones ranked and unbeaten for two more weeks.

A stellar performance by ISU quarterback Brock Purdy and company Saturday? That would make The Only Game in Iowa one that might reel in a few new fans hungry for something to care about.

I’ve half-expected Cyclone billboards to show up in Eastern Iowa saying “You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play.” But then I remember even the athletics departments with football teams that are playing don’t have the money to waste that they did just six months ago, and are looking at cutting sports and staff.

Oh, and if something happened between the time this was published and Saturday morning to cause Louisiana-ISU game to be canceled? Then disregard all this.

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Meanwhile, Ames High was one of eight Class 4A schools that paused athletics this week after their districts voted to start school entirely online. The pandemic, you know. It’s still a thing.

So the city’s university plays football and its high school does not. Say it with me: Weird year.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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