AMES (MCT) — Jamie Pollard and Paul Rhoads weren’t worried about a rematch with Tulsa when it came to accepting a bid to play in the 2012 AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31.
Pollard, Iowa State’s director of athletics, and Rhoads, the Cyclones’ head football coach, feel the postseason is a reward for the football team’s efforts on the field and for the fans who packed Jack Trice Stadium at an average of more than 55,000 over six games this season.
With that in mind, and the knowledge the Big 12 Conference could have more bowl-eligible teams than bowl agreements, the duo scoured over the bowl landscape and sought what they believed would provide the Cyclone Nation with the best bowl experience possible.
It didn’t take long for Pollard and Rhoads to center on Memphis, Tenn., the Birthplace of the blues, Beale Street, Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum, BBQ and, of course, the Liberty Bowl.
“At the end of the day, we are more about the bowl experience for our student-athletes and our fans,” Pollard said. “That trumped the potential that we would have to have a rematch. There was a chance that wasn’t going to be the case had Central Florida won the Conference USA championship (game).
“In the end, if we were in that spot (being left out of the Big 12 bowl picture), the Liberty Bowl was best by far for our football team, our football program and our families.”
Fiscally, it was a shrewd move, as well. The Liberty Bowl provides a $1.4 million-plus payout per team compared to the $1.1 million the Heart of Dallas Bowl or $1.15 the Independence Bowl offers. Those bowls were also considered possibilities for the Cyclones.
And if there was any doubt about ISU fans’ excitement about a trip to Memphis to play Tulsa, that evaporated in 72 hours when the Cyclones sold out their first allotment of 10,000 tickets. Liberty Bowl officials kicked them another 2,000, and ISU is close to having those sold, as well.
Rhoads said his team was ecstatic about the Liberty Bowl and will have no problem getting motivated to try to beat a Golden Hurricane team it beat 38-23 on Sept. 1.
“This is a football team that has been very driven, has had zero motivational problems in all 12 weeks with all 12 opponents,” Rhoads said.
While the team doesn’t know its Memphis itinerary yet, it does know it will be going to a rodeo during the bowl week. That excited wide receiver Josh Lenz.
“I’m going to have cowboys boots, hat and all ... I’m looking forward to that,” Lenz quipped. Running back James White, a native of Dallas, was glad the Cyclones landed in Tennessee and not his native Texas.
“I’m kind of glad we aren’t going to Dallas because I already know what is in Dallas,” White laughed.
KNOTT THE COACH: Two-time all-conference senior linebacker Jake Knott will not play in the Liberty Bowl. Knott had season-ending shoulder surgery two days after helping Iowa State beat Baylor on Oct. 27 and missed the Cyclones’ remaining four games.
There had been some speculation Knott had a chance to play in a bowl game, but Rhoads and Knott both said that won’t happen.
“He will be there in a coaching role and very excited to help lead his teammates in that role,” Rhoads said.
Knott, who is projected to be a mid-round NFL draft pick, said he relishes the role of helping the Cyclones prepare for Tulsa.
“Just a lot of making myself a better football player on the mental side and also helping whomever I can physically and mentally out there on the field whether it is a true freshman or redshirt senior,” Knott said of how he plans to spend December. “That is my job right now and my duty as a captain to the entire team, and that is what I’m going to be doing out there.”
QB CONTROVERSY? After rotating Jared Barnett and Steele Jantz for the first 11 games of the regular season, it appears Rhoads has settled on redshirt freshman Sam Richardson as his signal-caller.
Richardson was brilliant in relief of Jantz in a win over Kansas and solid in a loss to West Virginia to close the season.
“I don’t know if you should assume anything when it comes to the quarterback position in this program,” said Rhoads when asked if Richardson would start over Barnett and Jantz again. “He ran with the No. 1s tonight (last Sunday), I will put it that way.”