MEMPHIS, Tenn. (MCT) — The advantage of inviting a cold weather college football team like Iowa State to play in Monday’s 54th annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Tulsa is that even when it’s freezing in Memphis, it’s like the tropics to the Cyclones.
“It’s 40 degrees warmer here than in the state of Iowa, so this is a warm-weather location for us,” cracked Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, whose players traveled from their various homes to report to Memphis for Wednesday afternoon’s first on-site practice.
While Memphis got a dusting of snow with temperatures dipping into the 20s, the high back home on the ISU campus in Ames was in the 20s with a low of 6 degrees. The temperature for Monday’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium is forecast for 44 degrees, the same day the high in Ames is expected to be 17.
“We’re used to this cold,” said running back James White, who steps into the starting spot vs. Tulsa after starter Shontrelle Johnson injured a knee in practice two weeks ago. “Our fans are used to this cold. They travel well to our away games, so I wouldn’t expect anything less for bowl games.”
Iowa State (6-6) of the Big 12 Conference had just arrived on Wednesday at its team hotel, The Peabody, and hadn’t yet gone to practice when its cardinal-and-gold-clad fans began roaming Downtown. More than 15,000 Iowa State fans are expected.
“It gives you added motivation,” Rhoads said of the fan support. “The city of Memphis will know the Iowa State people are in town. There will be a good strength in numbers when we run on the Liberty Bowl turf on the 31st. I hope we can feed off that. We got three victories on the road this year, the most for Iowa State in over a decade.”
Rhoads said that Iowa State being invited to a bowl other than the normally contracted Big 12 bowls has energized his team and the fans.
“A lot of guys are excited to get down here,” receiver Josh Lenz said. “We didn’t know where we’d end up, so to end up in Memphis was great.”
Lenz said he has much respect for Conference USA champion Tulsa (10-3), even though Iowa State beat the Golden Hurricane, 38-23, in the season opener on Sept. 1 for both teams.
But he probably doesn’t mind playing them again. In the first meeting, Lenz had eight catches for 96 yards, including Iowa State’s first touchdown of the season.
“They were a good team then, and they’ll be ready for us,” Lenz said. “But a lot has happened to both teams since that first game.”
The biggest change for Iowa State is at quarterback. The Cyclones have started three different QBs this season, beginning with Steele Jantz, and then Jared Barrett and finally freshman redshirt Sam Richardson after Jantz got dinged early in game 11 at Kansas.
Since then, Richardson has thrown for seven touchdowns with no interceptions, and is averaging a team-best 62.3 rushing yards per game.
With all his QBs healthy, Rhoads suddenly has options. Would he consider a three-headed QB on game day?
“That’s an idea I haven’t entertained yet, but I probably will if anybody wonders,” Rhoads said with a laugh. “Sam Richardson has taken the bulk of the work with our first group (in bowl practices before Christmas) and I anticipate he’ll get the bulk of the work on the 31st.”