Iowa's McCarney: Cyclones still avoiding bowl talk despite fast start

Monday, October 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Is that the "B" word being bandied about at Iowa State? Not if coach Dan McCarney can help it -- even though his Cyclones are 4-0 for the first time since 1980 and two wins away from being eligible for their first bowl bid since 1978.

"We haven't addressed that at all," McCarney said Monday during the Big 12 coaches' weekly conference call. "This team's done a great job of taking it one day at a time -- and we're just getting started, frankly. We've got a lot of challenges, starting with a huge, huge challenge this Saturday."

That would be No. 2 Nebraska, which dropped out of the top spot despite beating Missouri 42-24 on Saturday.

"I guess I understand how that can happen," Cornhuskers coach Frank Solich said of the flip-flop with Florida State. "We're still in the ballpark to reach our goals, and we don't want that to detract from what we're trying to get done."

Missouri coach Larry Smith was a bit insulted by the Cornhuskers' drop in the polls, though.

"It used to be that a team would just go out and try to win games. Now you're expected to win by a ton of points to prove your status in polls," Smith said. "It hurts people who go out and play their tails off like we did, to say they didn't beat us by enough. To me, that just points up the evils of the polls."

One challenge for the Cornhuskers this Saturday will be stopping Iowa State running back Ennis Haywood. Haywood, who has rushed for 615 yards, was named the Big 12 offensive player of the week on Monday for a 241-yard, two-touchdown performance in Saturday's 31-17 win over Baylor.

"He's an excellent back in terms of finding creases," Solich said. "He has the strength to get the yards after contact, and he's got the skills to get things done at the line of scrimmage and get into the linebacker area."

The play of Iowa State's linemen will have a lot to do with whether there are any creases for Haywood to find, McCarney said.

"We hope we can line up and hang with Nebraska in the trenches," said McCarney, winless against the Cornhuskers in five previous tries. "If it's a mismatch in the trenches, you're in for a long day, and we've had a lot of long days against Nebraska."

It's turning into a long season for Colorado.

The Buffaloes have been to 15 bowls since Iowa State made its last appearance -- but after losing 44-21 to No. 4 Kansas State on Saturday and falling to 0-4, they're in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 1997 and only the second time since 1977.

Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum, whose team meets Colorado on Saturday, attributed the Buffaloes' record to their schedule, which so far has also included Colorado State, No. 13 Washington and No.

18 Southern Cal.

"I don't know that they have a problem, only that the scores haven't turned out how they'd like," Slocum said. "They have played a really challenging schedule. Had they played the schedule of some other teams around the country, things might be different right now."

But Colorado coach Gary Barnett said that while others might see the best winless team in the nation, he sees a team with a serious case of self-doubt.

"If we would have kept it close (against Kansas State), we wouldn't have those issues," Barnett said. "But we're a team in disarray, players and coaches alike. I'm taking responsibility for that."

The problem began in the preseason, Barnett said.

"We were too soft on them in camp," he said. "We weren't able to get ourselves physically ready for this conference. I thought maybe we'd gotten away with it, by the way we played our first couple of games, but it's showing up now that we're not a tough enough team, physically or mentally."

No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 11 Texas will have their toughness tested this week, when they meet at the Cotton Bowl.

"Everyone has a certain game they point to," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "There's a lot of people pointing to the Texas game, you can count on that. You can probably count on hearing more about Texas than Nebraska."

The annual grudge match has taken on new meaning in recent years, Texas coach Mack Brown said.

When both teams were nationally ranked, as the Sooners and Longhorns are now, "The team that won the game usually had a chance to make a run at a national championship game," Brown said.

"Now it's more intense because it's a league game."

------ Quote of the week: "I think the biggest thing is that he hasn't played football for a year and a half -- that's the biggest thing, and then the knee injury. I can't think of anyone who's come back from both things without breaking stride." -- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach on running back Ricky Williams, who is averaging 51.4 yards per game.

------ Extra Points: Smith said Missouri tailback Zack Abron, whose fumble against Nebraska was returned 28 yards for a touchdown, would lose playing time if he couldn't hang onto the football.

"You can't jeopardize a team like that," Smith said. "I'm not worried about his confidence. He's just got to protect the ball."

... Kansas coach Terry Allen reiterated his commitment to quarterback Dylen Smith, who threw five interceptions in Saturday's 34-16 loss to Oklahoma. "His confidence level is probably at an all-time low," Allen said, "but his teammates have a belief in him. We need to get him some success."