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Peterson: Remember when a coronavirus pandemic didn't own our college sports world?

Randy Peterson
Des Moines Register

College football conference media days were the rage at this time a year ago. We commented on never-before-seen depth charts. Who was replacing David Montgomery, one of the best ever at Iowa State to take a handoff? Would Oliver Martin be eligible after transferring to Iowa?

We chatted in back hallways with coaches and players. We had casual conversations with conference administers in hotel lobbies.

Loquacious Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy actually admitted not having heard of Brock Purdy. Expectations for Hawkeye quarterback Nate Stanley was high.

We were pumped. Both Iowa State and Iowa were supposed to be good. Both were in the preseason ratings — at the same time — for the first time.

We rock.

High-fives all around.

Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell looks on against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first quarter at Camping World Stadium.

We were giddy for what could be the State of Iowa’s best college football season ever. Our college football teams were being talked about nationally.  Cy-Hawk trash talking was in full-throated high-gear.

We were ready to rumble. We couldn’t wait for the season to start.

Oh for the good ol’ days.

Darn, that seemed a long time ago. Our nation was healthy. Our schools were opening on time and without restriction. College football was right around the corner.

And now?

It’s been a summer like none other, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon. Heck, we aren’t even certain there will be a college football season. We think it’ll start sometime in September, but when will it finish?

The Guys in Ames and The Team Out East aren’t even for sure who their next opponents will be?

Even if games are played, our teams don’t know who they’ll be playing in respective season-opening games. Will the Cyclones tweak the schedule and face Northern Iowa on Aug. 29? Against which Big Ten Conference team will the Hawkeyes face, if and when their season starts?

We’re in COVID-19 limbo. The virus is in charge. Our expectations change daily, sometimes even hourly. Routine is bristling at the mask/no-mask debate. Routine is social distancing.

We’d be predicting won-lost records of football teams during their 12-game regular seasons, in normal times. I’d be considering something like 8-4 for Matt Campbell’s team, but now, it’s not even safe to predict there’s going to be a season.

“We can only control what we can control,” Campbell said, using a cliché that’s as reality as it can get.

***

Then ... and now ...

If there wasn’t a pandemic, we wouldn’t be reading Monday’s press release that stated just six of more than 200 people tested within the Cyclones’ football program had tested positive for COVID-19. Those numbers, by the way, continue to show the how clued into the process Iowa State has been.

Now, we’re giving the Cyclones’ medical team imaginary high-fives for figuring out a plan that, knock on wood, has enabled athletes and staff to be mostly healthy, during a time when workouts at some schools have been temporarily shut down.

Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy (15) passes to a teammate during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

If there wasn’t a pandemic, we’d be reading and hearing about Heisman Trophy favorites — about Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields are 1-2, or 2-1. We’d see Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard a distant third, and we’d scan way down the list and see Iowa State’s Brock Purdy.

Now, we’re wondering if one school’s insufficient COVID mitigation can ruin everything for an entire conference.

If there wasn’t a pandemic, we'd be celebrating the return to the fall college semester.

Now, we in the sports world are wondering how much of the killer virus will be spread randomly when students return to campus and partake in large gatherings after hanging out shoulder-to-shoulder in Campustown establishments.

If there wasn’t a pandemic, we're getting the drip ... drip ... drip of game starting times and the television networks on which they’ll be played. Fans are planning their Cy-Hawk parties. They might even be strategizing road trips.

Now, every fan is wondering if there will be games to be televised — and we all know what happens to athletics department financial bottom lines if there’s no supply of games to put on TV.

If there wasn’t a pandemic, we wouldn’t be reading about Iowa State’s athletics department facing potential $40 million in unfunded expenses if sports don’t happen.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz looks on during pre-game before a game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium in 2018.

Now, we’re crossing our fingers that our schools won’t be so deep in red, that sports will be cut.

***

And finally ...

During no-pandemic 2019, my sports columnist colleague, Chad Leistikow, and I shared a Sunday Register headline on July 28 that read: Prediction Time.

Chad picked the Big Ten standings. I picked the Big 12 standings. Iowa was the pick in the Big Ten West. Iowa State my choice for third.

Now?

We don’t even know for sure who our respective teams will play, when and where they will play, and more important — will they play.

Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been writing for the Des Moines Register for parts of six decades. Reach him at rpeterson@dmreg.com, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete. No one covers the Cyclones like the Register. Your subscription makes work like this possible. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal