October 27, 2006

Sorry coaches, this is a must-win for both

The Iowa State Cyclones come to Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday with a 3-5 overall record and a glaring 0-4 mark in Big 12 Conference play. It wasn't supposed to be this way for the Cyclones, a team many thought would contend for the Big 12 North title.

The lack of success from an Iowa State program that has been on the cusp of winning the Big 12 North title two years in a row is causing a rising level of tension around ISU coach Dan McCarney.

"I know it's out there, fans talking about this and that, but I don't let it bother me," McCarney told the Des Moines Register. "I go into the office every day trying to figure out how I can be a better head coach and a better leader for the program.

"Our fans are passionate," McCarney also said. "The success we've had in the past resulted in high expectations, and that's a good thing."

So, maybe one could mark this game down as a must-win for McCarney's Cyclones.

On the other sideline, K-State coach Ron Prince's team is 4-4 and 1-3, meaning it needs two more wins to get to bowl eligibility. In an interesting move, Prince has gone from a coach who is prone to talk about winning championships to one who suddenly shies from talking about the importance of playing in bowl games.

"In all seriousness, all we can think about is Iowa State," Prince said. "The biggest thing I'm looking for is how we play against Iowa State, and that's where I want our team's focus on."

Fair enough, but K-State may want to treat this game as a must-win if it wants to play past November.

That may not be easy because according to Prince, Iowa State's skill level is much more worrisome than the Cyclones' record. It starts on offense where the trio of junior quarterback Bret Meyer, junior receiver Todd Blythe and senior running back Stevie Hicks have tasted success the past two years.

"I sound like a broken record when I come in here and say every week that they have a wide receiver that no one can cover, a running back that no one can tackle, and a quarterback that makes a lot of plays, but that's really what's happened in this league," Prince said at his weekly press conference. "Every week you turn around and it's the same story. Defensively (Iowa State) is very good and they have the conference's leading tackler in (Alvin) Bowen, a significant player. It's a good challenge this week."

The stats don't necessarily back Prince up, though. Iowa State has struggled on both sides of the ball this season despite its past success. Iowa State is 10th in the conference in scoring offense (21.1 per game) and 12th in scoring defense (31.0). K-State, meanwhile, is 11th in offense (19.5) and sixth on defense (20.0) in Prince's first season.

One team is trying to stop a free fall and another is trying to ascend the conference's ladder, but in many ways the game that kicks off at 2:30 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium is critical for both Iowa State and Kansas State. Say "must-win" if you want, even if the coaches won't.

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