Football season is so close now you can smell it. The crisp fall air; freshly harvested corn fields, depending on your route to the stadium; charcoal grills and cooking meat; beer, whether it’s yours or it’s on your tailgate neighbor’s breath; and newly manicured grass. Now imagine yourself stepping from the concourse into the stadium for the home opener, seeing that beautiful field painted up for gameday for the first time in several months. It’s the college football fan’s version of seeing the piles of presents under the tree on Christmas morning.
We all have certain things that we’ll be watching for as the 2010 season unfolds. As I pondered this myself, I quickly identified five things on my personal watch list. (They had been there all along. I just didn’t know it yet.) When I began this exercise, I intended to include all five in this post. But before I knew it, I had hit six paragraphs on #5, so it will have to stand alone for the time being. So here it is, with 1 through 4 to follow in the coming days.
5. Will fan support hold strong throughout the season?
At some point, Cyclone fans have to stop with the excuses. Every person in the stadium on any given Saturday could have come up with some excuse to miss the game. And, unfortunately, far too many people do find excuses to stay home. But coming off of a surprisingly successful season that culminated in just the third bowl victory in school history, the excuses should be harder to come by. Coming off of the conference realignment scare, fans should feel like their beloved Cyclones were just granted a stay of execution. (Notice I didn’t say ‘pardon’.)
If you’ve been waiting for a Cyclone team to rally around, the 2010 football squad would be a good choice. Coach Rhoads’ first team overachieved last season, and the Cyclones will have to do it again this year in order to return to a bowl game. The schedule will certainly test the fairweather fan. On the whole, it’s an absolute bear, considered by many to be the toughest schedule in the land. Breaking it down a bit further, the middle third will undoubtedly separate the wheat from the chaff.
I’m not betting on it, but it’s not inconceivable that Iowa State could start the season as good as 4-0. Clearly, the most difficult game in the first third of the schedule is at Iowa. Difficult, but nowhere near unwinnable. But that’s an argument for another day. Then the calendar rolls over to October, and Iowa State will be staring down a four-game stretch of Texas Tech, Utah, Oklahoma, and Texas. If October doesn’t begin well, it undoubtedly will not end well, and an 0-4 slide would not be surprising.
I’m not predicting a 4-0 start followed by an 0-4 slide, although a 4-4 record over the first eight games is not an unlikely outcome. Instead I use this scenario to illustrate the dramatic ups and downs that could be on the horizon. October will test the mettle of each and every one of us. But no matter what happens between October 2nd and October 23rd, fans need to show up on the 30th. Not only is it homecoming, but, more importantly, it sets up to be a pivotal game against a Kansas team that should be much more vulnerable than in recent years. Will the fans show up and support the team if things don’t go the Cyclones’ way heading into that game?
So why waste time fretting over something like fan support? Why not discuss the D-line or the young linebacking corps? I’ll get to the front seven eventually, but fan support is important for a number of reasons. Setting aside the issue of homefield advantage (the catalysts of Hilton Magic should understand this well), the number of butts in the seats has obvious financial implications. For the most part, we’re talking about single-game ticket sales. But even an absent season ticket holder will impact concession sales, not to mention the negative visual impact of having prime seats sitting empty. I’m sure I’m not the only one frustrated at the sight of large chunks of empty seats in the lower-level seat-back sections between the 40s. Of course, this isn’t nearly as bad as seeing these seats occupied by visiting fans. But I digress.
Fan support in 2010 is also important from a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is-or-put-a-sock-in-it perspective. There was much gnashing of teeth over Iowa State’s lack of sway in the conference realignment drama. Granted, a primary factor in determining a team’s sex appeal (television sets) was out of everyone’s control. That doesn’t let fans off the hook, however, as it’s up to us to finance a football program – from jockstraps to stadium expansions – deemed worthy of some level of consideration the next time around. Those who are buying tickets and donating to the Cyclone Club are doing their part. Others? Not so much.
So get out to the stadium this fall, hang tough through October, and make sure you show up for the October 30th showdown with the Jayhawks. Paul Rhoads and his 2010 Cyclones deserve, nay, need our support.