NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads needs to look no further than across the field at Yankee Stadium to find an example of a program that has gone from a longtime loser to a consistent winner.
Rutgers had played in one bowl game before Greg Schiano took over as coach in 2001. He didn’t have his first winning season with the Scarlet Knights until 2005. Since then, Rutgers has reached the postseason every season but one — last year.
Schiano & Co. will do their best to ruin Iowa State’s trip to the Big Apple.
“I’m excited for us to end the season on a high note,” said Schiano. “Winning in Yankee Stadium would be the icing on the cake.”
Iowa State scored the most significant upset of this college football season, handing Oklahoma State its only loss and setting the stage for a BCS title game rematch between Alabama and LSU.
Oh, yeah, and the Cyclones also became bowl eligible on that memorable Friday night in Ames, Iowa.
To the rest of the country that was a footnote to Iowa State’s mesmerizing 37-31 double-overtime victory on Nov. 18, but to a program that has had more failure than success in its history, getting that sixth win was huge.
It ended up being the last victory of the regular season for the Cyclones, but it was enough to earn them a trip to the Big Apple and a bid to the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, where they will play Rutgers on Friday.
“Today our football team went to the top of the Empire State Building,” Rhoads said Thursday. “We rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. We visited Sloan-Kettering memorial hospital and spent a great time with a number of children, then we walked Yankee Stadium.
“We got to do things in one day that most people don’t get to do in a lifetime.”
All because they beat Oklahoma State.
Iowa State (6-6) was 5-4 going into that game against the undefeated Cowboys, but with nationally ranked Oklahoma and Kansas State to follow, bowl eligibility seemed so close but yet so far.
The Cyclones responded with an inspired performance on a big stage.
“It gave us great national press, which I think is going to help our recruiting and is going to help far beyond one game,” said junior linebacker A.J. Klein, the Big 12′s co-defensive player of the year. “It’s going to be a big part of our history … We’re hoping to continue to make history the next couple years.”
Rhoads, an Iowa native, is up for trying. He signed a 10-year contract extension after the season, putting an end to speculation he might take another job.
The Scarlet Knights, meanwhile, bounced back with an 8-4 record this season on the strength of quick and aggressive defense that has become something of trademark under Schiano.
Led by linebacker Khaseem Greene, the Big East’s co-defensive player of the year, the Scarlet Knights rank 14th in the nation and No. 1 in the conference in total defense at 314 yards allowed per game.
Greene is easy to spot for Rutgers. On the field, he’s usually near the ball, ranking 12th in the country in tackles at 10.58 per game. On the sideline, he’s the guy with the bright red streak dyed down the middle of his thick black braided hair.
“I had it once before for a bowl game,” Greene said of the dye job. “I didn’t have the opportunity to do it last year. The year before that it was blonde so I said I’m going red this year.”
Greene and his cohorts will have to contain an Iowa State spread offense that got a jolt at midseason when redshirt freshman Jared Barnett became the starting quarterback. Barnett led the Cyclones on a three-game winning streak that culminated with the Oklahoma State victory.
He threw for 376 yards and ran for 84 against the Cowboys.
“They have a very mobile quarterback who can run and throw,” Greene said. “He’s got a big league arm.”
Rutgers has been trying to settle on a quarterback all season. Junior Chas Dodd and freshman Gary Nova have taken turns as the No. 1, and the starter against Iowa State will be a game-time decision.
“We have some ideas,” Schiano said Thursday. “Right now we’re talking it all through. I think you can expect to see them both play. Who starts, I’m not sure yet.”
Despite the inconsistent play at quarterback, Mohamed Sanu has been one of the best receivers in the country. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior broke Larry Fitzgerald’s Big East record with 109 receptions and lines up all over the field. He could be ready to jump to the NFL after this game, but he says he hasn’t made that decision yet.
“I think he could rank right up there with the great wide receivers in the Big 12. The Justin Blackmons, Kendall Wrights,” the Cyclones’ Klein said. “Very physical player.”
What’s your prediction for the Pinstripe Bowl? Let us know in the comments below…
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)