Guide to Big 12 bowls: Iowa State vs. Tulsa

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

(6-6) Iowa State vs. (10-3) Tulsa 2:30 CT Monday, Dec. 31 | Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium – Memphis, TN

Iowa State: Every team, in some respect, is an evolving work in progress. None had a more interesting offensive evolution than the Cyclones. Steele Jantz started eight games at QB, Jared Barnett three and Sam Richardson one. The ascension of each wasn’t necessarily related to injuries of his predecessor. Coach Paul Rhoads, for all of his sideline exuberance, could not find the right tactical chemistry for his offense, so he kept adding a new QB, swirling him in a beaker, and seeing what smoke was produced. For the year, only Kansas scored fewer point than the Cyclones.

Richardson, the redshirt freshman who got his first start in the season finale against West Virginia, wasn’t incredibly accurate, completing only 13 of 31 passes. But, he was not intercepted and did throw three touchdown passes. The game previous, in his mid-game debut against Kansas, he was 23 of 27 passing without an interception. Those are the Big 12’s bottom two defenses, but it’s all Iowa State has to work with at this point. It’s a glimmer of light

It should be noted that amidst all the doom and gloom around Ames, the Cyclones did win seven games this year, including over Tulsa in the season opener, 38-23. Shontrelle Johnson rushed for 120 yards in that game. That wound up being nearly one-fourth of his 12-game season rushing total of 479 yards. Jantz was the starting QB in that game. A lot has changed since then, including the loss of Jake Knott at linebacker due to a shoulder injury that has already been cut on.

Cyclones in Bowls: This is Iowa State’s eighth bowl game since 2000 after the program had just four winless trips in its history, and none since 1978. This year’s version of the Cyclones should fit in line with past bowl teams accustomed to defensive battles. In those seven prior bowl games since 2000 the Cyclones have scored more than two touchdowns just twice, going 1-1. With Tulsa owning four more wins than ISU coming in, it’s far from the first time the Cyclones have been pitted in a bowl matchup with a team owning several more wins. Just last year, 8-4 Rutgers beat 6-6 ISU in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. In 2005, ISU went into the EV1.net Houston Bowl at 6-6 facing TCU at 10-1 (won by the Frogs, 27-24). In 2002, ISU was 7-6 heading into the Humanitarian Bowl to face 11-1 Boise State on its home field (won by the Broncos, 34-16).

Liberty Bowl: Not listed as a partner Big 12 bowl, but came into play when Northern Illinois took Oklahoma’s spot as a BCS at-large team. With only one Big 12 team (K-State) in a BCS bowl, that meant the remaining eight bowl eligible conference teams were among the pecking order for just seven bowls with which the Big 12 has existing agreements.

This is the 54th playing of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The first game in 1959 featured Alabama against Penn State. Iowa State played here in 1972, losing to Georgia Tech. Tulsa last played here in 2005, beating Fresno State, 31-24.

The game’s trophy is a one-quarter-sized replica of the actual Liberty Bell, also cast in traditional black bronze and bolted to a handmade wooden yoke. The trophy bell, like its historical model, has the same nicked edges, foundry marks, misspelled inscription and famous crack.

Tulsa:
The champs of Conference USA after beating UCF in the league title game. The Golden Hurricane have three backs with more than 1,000 career rushing yards, including Trey Watts’ team-leading 959 this season; Ja’Terian Douglas has 857 in 2012 and seven touchdowns. It helped produce the best rushing team in C-USA and 11th-best in FBS. Watts, however, is the not just a rushing threat. He’s the team’s fourth-leading receiver and is also its punt and kick-return threat. He has a 95-yard kick return for a touchdown on his season resume. Junior QB Cody Green spreads out just enough of a passing attack (208 yards per game) to keep defenses honest.

Defensively, Tulsa has 48 quarterback sacks this year, the third best mark in the NCAA.