Fans in Cyclone Country are generally pleased with Iowa State's invitation to the Liberty Bowl to play Tulsa on Dec. 31.
The only negatives to the game are the rematch with the Golden Hurricane and Memphis' sketchy reputation as a city. Both are somewhat valid concerns. But Tulsa earned its spot by being champion of Conference USA so from an Iowa State perspective, there's no real legitimate beef. If anyone has a rematch beef, it's Tulsa. ISU is crashing C-USA's bowl, not the other way around.
As for Memphis' crime problem, well, it's a major American city so that's what you get. Memphis is more crime-riddled than most, but with a little planning and common sense, Iowa State bowl visitors shouldn't have any problems. Do your homework, stay in safe areas of the city, and watch your back. And remember there's really no reason to go to the stadium area itself except for the game on game day.
Iowa State's leadership did the prudent thing and initiated contact with several non-Big 12 bowls that might have at-large openings. It became apparent weeks ago that the Big 12 could have nine bowl eligible teams for eight contracted bowl bids. The Liberty Bowl was certainly one of the most attractive of those potential at-large openings and it stayed open while some others closed.
In the end, it's a good bowl for Iowa State. Memphis is the second closest of all bowl cities to Ames, approximately 650 miles away (Detroit is around 620). There is a history between ISU and the Liberty Bowl as the Cyclones played in the 1972 edition of the game, losing a one-point thriller to Georgia Tech. The Liberty Bowl has a strong brand name and staying power among the glut of minor bowl games that are here today and gone tomorrow.
And the Liberty Bowl wouldn't mind having a contractual tie-in with the Big 12. One look at a map would show that is a relationship that both entities ought to pursue. Plugging the Liberty Bowl into the Big 12's line-up of post-season games in place of the Pinstripe Bowl is just a good idea from every angle.
The game with Tulsa back in September was a good one. Iowa State jumped out to a 7-0 lead, then Tulsa rattled off 16 straight points, then ISU answered with 24 straight of its own. The Hurricane had the ball, down by eight, late in the game when the Cyclones' Deon Broomfield picked off a pass and returned it deep into Tulsa territory. Shontrelle Johnson scored one-play later and Iowa State had a 15-point win that was really a little closer than the final score.
Iowa State fans will travel well to this bowl game, as they usually do. With the Cyclones making bowl games as frequently as they have from 2000 going forward, ISU fans are planning for bowl trips and saving for bowl trips and building bowl trips into their recreational schedules and budgets. No fan base in the country travels better than Iowa State when the numbers are factored on prestige and locations of the bowls. ISU is always the best apples-to-apples pick.
With three bowl seasons in four years, Paul Rhoads has established the best foundation of any head coach in Iowa State history. Much like ISU fans' bowl travel performance has to be graded on a curve to really appreciate, so too does Rhoads' opening act in Ames. 6-6 is what it is and no one in the Cyclone football program is content to be at .500. But it's a nice place to establish a plateau for a peaks-and-plateaus program like Rhoads wants.
With a strong finish to the 2013 recruiting year plus the existing solid depth already in house, the building blocks are going into place one by one. ISU's new football facility is not only highly functional, it's highly impressive, and it will help immensely with recruiting in the coming years. It's bricks-and-mortar (so to speak) evidence of the school's modern day commitment to winning football.
Go to Memphis. Have a good time on Beale Street. Enjoy watching the Cyclones play - and hopefully win - a bowl game. Give concepts like "the next level" a break for a while and just have fun being an Iowa State football fan for the next 30 days or so.