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Monday, August 28, 2006

Season Preview (You just don't know how to cook with spices and stuff!)

Fear of living on
natives getting restless now
Mutiny in the air
got some death to do
Mirror stares back hard
Kill, it's such a friendly word
seems the only way
for reaching out again.
Metallica – Welcome Home (Sanitarium)

Welcome one and all to the opening of my Boilermaker football blog. I wanted to begin with a little bit of angst at how I am sure we all felt at times last year. Since that is what every sports publication out there wants to focus on, I’ll hit it at the beginning of this, and then move on. Yes, we sucked last year. It was frustrating, we choked, we’ve never recovered from The Fumble, blah, blah, blah.

Here is the good news: It’s over. Yes, we have had a terrible predilection for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory over the past several seasons, but I am somewhat of an optimist, and it is my hope that things can change. Change often starts slow, because didn’t exactly invade Normandy on December 8th, 1941. It will take time if we are going to develop a winner. Did we take a step back last year? Most certainly! Is it as bad as having Jim "A tie is as good as a win in the Big Ten" Colletto back? Good god no!
So it all begins anew on Saturday. We’re 0-0 again, and last year is wiped clean. This year looks promising as far as attitudes go, but we can all hold hands and sing kumbaya during training camp. It’s time to get things done on the field. We can win at Purdue. We have proven that we can compete with anyone in the country, yet we for some reason have never been able to turn that corner to be consistent. Thankfully expectations have risen beyond the point of "Just happy to get to a bowl." Now is the time to meet expectations.

Now that the past has been addressed, it is time to address the future. Here at this blog you’re going to get responses from someone who is a diehard fan, yet tries to remain as neutral as possible. For example: I despise Notre Dame football with the passion of a thousand hells. If Notre Dame Stadium were to explode tomorrow (keeping every human safe of course, I’m not a sadist) and they were forced to disband the program, I would be more concerned with the German Bundesliga soccer standings. I do, however, recognize they are a good team. They are not the best in the country and I think they get way too much press, but they are at the very least, a very good team that will likely beat us. So, if you’re willing to bear with me for a couple thousand words once or twice each week, maybe post an encouraging comment or two, I thank you in advance.

I am mostly going to be talking about the games themselves and How we are progressing as a team. I can’t make it to every game, unfortunately, but I will be at all but one home game, plus a couple of road games. I’ll also try to throw in some commentary about the rest of the Big ten, and anything else that happens to be going on in college football. (Sidebar: There will be some Miami Hurricanes rants here as well. My wife is an alum and probably a bigger Canes fan than I am a Purdue fan, if that is possible. In our house Sebastian gets the same respect as Pete, although I am reminded that he does have five National titles. Sometimes daily). I plan to write in a lighter style, as I cannot offer in depth analysis or breakdown game film. I am just a fan that is passionate about Boilermaker football who can write a bit. You are forewarned about any historical and popular culture references that come out, as I minored in creative writing and history, and I am big Kevin Smith film fan.

Okay, so I have introduced the blog, I have introduced myself. I guess I should talk about this upcoming season. Let’s look at the offense first.

QUARTERBACK: Let’s face it, kids. Curtis Painter is the man for the immediate future. I know we have some quality backups that have looked good in camp, but they haven’t got any game experience yet. It’s a good thing we have three fairly easy games to start off with, because we’ll need the PT for Elliot and Smith to get their feet wet. Painter was impressive running the ball last year, and I feel that if he can get the deep ball working to our receivers and learn to spread the wealth around, we will be just fine in his hands. Painter is obviously the key offensively, as everything else looks solid.

RUNNING BACK: We’ve got Kory Sheets as the obvious number one, and I know that I am not the only one that saw him wearing #40 last year and thought he would leave Purdue in a few years with some of the more famous #40’s records. He’s changed to #24 this year, and we have to hope doesn’t succumb to injury like our last #24 running back (and fellow KHS alum) Dondre Johnson, who had a very promising career cut short after one season due to injury. Taylor, Camacho, and Heygood are promising in practice, but let’s see them in a game first. I know using JUCO guys is usually feast or famine, and we’re betting an awful lot on JUCO’s this year as a team.

RECEIVERS: When a quality guy like Andre Chattams is buried on the depth chart, It’s a good sign. Orton, Bryant, Ingraham, Lymon, Keller, and Chattams are all guys that I would be happy to throw to. If Painter can spread the ball around instead of focusing on one guy (see: Hance, Brandon with Stubblefield, Taylor and Kirsch, Brandon with Bryant, Dorien) we will have a VERY capable offense that can score with anyone.

OFFESNSIVE LINE: Much like Manu in Necessary roughness, "They will not touch you, Mr. Painter. You cannot ask for a better line to run or throw behind, as these guys are the engine that drives us. I am concerned about the depth, but three cupcakes to start the year will help develop some in case of injury. The last time we had a line this good, they started playing on Sunday and getting Super Bowl rings.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Here is where we start to get question marks. Can Spencer carry the DE’s? Are Magee and Baker as good in the middle as advertised? Can we generate enough pressure to not be picked apart like last year? Can we clone Shaun Phillips and Rob Ninkivoch? I know that this is another area where we’re needing some JUCO guys to come in and play well. All I can say right now is let’s roll that dice.

LINEBACKERS: Bick’s health status is certainly a blow, but linebacker is probably our most secure position on D. Plus, let’s face it. If you lose seven starters from a defense that was horrible in the first place, is it really a bad thing? Ferguson looks very promising, and Avril and Keglar have experience to be leaders. They won’t set the world on fire, but they should be fine.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: I’ll say it since no one else will, I don’t have a freakin’ clue how good we’ll be. We will be young. The JUCO guys will either be saviors, or be spited all season long. Brandon Erwin is certainly promising if they are throwing around Stu Schweigert references, but let’s hope he doesn’t lay the ball down in the end zone after a pick. Torri Williams has inherited Larry Bird’s back circa 1992, so that will always cause a problem. If they are even 50% better than last year, I guarantee we’ll be okay. With our offense we just need a D that can slow down an opponent and get a couple stops. We don’t need shutouts.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Ben Jones era is over, and everyone is new. Armstrong should be fine punting, and as far as placekicking goes, I think it will develop in time. I saw Chris Summers in a high school game last year and he has a cannon for a leg. If he develops the accuracy to go with it, we will be just fine as he also has a quick release. At least we’re not wondering how that Lacivec kid is going to do.

SCHEDULE: Again, no Michigan or Ohio State. That’s good, now lets prove it by not wasting this opportunity. The last time we had a season (before last year’s debacle) without those two we went 9-4 and upset the #4 team in the country, while playing close games at USC, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin. The only true blowout was at Penn State 31-13. I think we are very capable of doing that, and possibly more if we get a serviceable secondary.

Indiana State – (W) - Anything less than a 7-TD win needs to be considered a loss. There is absolutely no way this should be a game for longer than it takes for us to get the ball. Enjoy your paycheck, Trees.

Miami (OH) – (W) - They scare me just a little because they are a solid MAC team, and I remember what happened with Bowling Green a few years ago. They appear to be down, but we can’t overlook them.

Ball State – (W) – This should be another relatively easy win to get to 3-0, but they have a veteran quarterback and could hang around for longer than we expect. They can also be on an emotional high if they beat IU at home the previous week. Contrary to popular belief, IU still does play in the Big Ten in football and some programs would consider it an achievement to beat them because of it.

Minnesota – (W) – This should be the first game where we get a true test. I was up there last year and when a QB like Cupito 271 yards and 3 TD’s, including two in the clutch, it’s a problem. He’s not great, but he’s an experience game manager type of QB. They won’t run for over 300 yards against us again, as all their losses at RB will severely hurt their philosophy. They will pass more, and it will be a good test for us. I still see us winning comfortably, but not blowing them out.

Notre Dame – (L) – I haven’t decided yet if I even want to watch this game, because if the Irish are undefeated at this point the hype will be unbearable to point I will want to slice my own ears off so and use them to gouge out my eyes so I won’t have to see and hear them anymore. The Domers are predicting a blowout. I am saying we lose, but we at least hang around for a half to 3 quarters before they pull away, 42-28.

Iowa – (L) – this team scares the bejesus out of me and has more potential to blow us out than Notre Dame. Drew Tate is a solid QB who has actually beaten a team with a pulse, unlike Quinn, and they have a better defense. We never play well in Iowa City, and we always seem to have a play where we are about to score, only we turn it over for a defensive TD. Remember in 2002 when, in a close game, we were trying a short field goal and they blocked it, picked it up, and returned it to the house. That’s a 10-point shift. They also blocked a punt for a TD in that game and had a 95-yard TD pass.

Northwestern – (W) – This is a cancer boy game in a season full of them for the Wildcats. My definition of a cancer boy game is when a team rallies around an injured teammate or sick relative for inspiration. This is NOT meant as a diss to last year’s promise from Charlie Weis to the kid in Mishawaka. I came up with this term during the Rose Bowl season when we lost cancer boy games against Penn State (Adam Taliafero) and Washington (Calvin Williams and that assistant coaches’ wife for UW). I use it merely as a term to define an attitude, not to make fun of people with cancer. My own mother is a cancer survivor, so calm down already if you’re all riled up. Anyway, we will need this game to break a likely two-game skid. I think it is very winnable, as breaking in a new QB will make Northwestern struggle.

Wisconsin - (W), and Penn State - (L) – I am putting these two together because this will be a critical two game homestand where I feel we can and will get at least one win, but not get both. We should be able equal with both of these opponents, and I honestly cannot make the call either way. I say we split, but I hope we can get both.

Michigan State - (?) – I am not even going to try and call this one, because I have no idea. Michigan State is very dangerous with Stanton, but they may be in their annual meltdown mode at this point, which is worse than ours. Bear in mind our only loss to them under Tiller was during the Rose Bowl year when we had a bad loss to a bad team, but we have handled them quite nicely when they have been solid. It’s always a wild game, too. Surprisingly, we beat them last year and they beat the all-powerful Irish, a team that destroyed us, so news media please, what am I supposed to think?

Illinois – (W) – We keep the cannon, but we have struggled in our last two trips to Champaign. Don’t look for them to go away easily, but I think we’re the better team by 2-3 TD’s. This is a game we should win comfortably, but we always have one of those each season that we end up losing (Minnesota 2005, Northwestern 2004, Bowling Green 2003, Wake Forest 2002, Indiana 2001, Michigan State 2000…)

Indiana – (W) – I am going to be blatantly honest. I think Hoeppner is doing exactly what needs to be done at IU if they are ever going to be respectable. They have a decent QB, a great receiver in hardy, and they are getting an attitude that they can at least compete. They will catch someone who is napping this year, and with four very winnable games outside of the conference and a game against Illinois, they may need to only do it once to get to bowl eligibility. As well as they have played Wisconsin in recent years, it is even slightly possible they could start 6-0 and have it out of the way already. As we have seen in the past, confidence can get teams on a roll, and losing it can send them into a spiral. I think we’re better than the Hoosiers still, but I would honestly not be surprised if they came to West Lafayette with six or seven wins. We need to take them very seriously.

Hawaii – (W) – Okay, who wants to place bets on who will score more combined points. This game, or one of the games that the basketball team will play in the Maui invitational that week? They like to pass, pass, pass to setup the pass, and then pass to set up the play-action pass with a solid QB, while we couldn’t stop the Afghani air force last year through the air. Their weakness is defense as well. Remember 1994 when we lost to Minnesota in the highest NCAA regular season game ever, 59-56? We may break that record here. It should be fun. I am going out for this game, but I hope all you Boilermaker fans can stay awake and enjoy this 11:30pm local time kickoff.

So that is my preseason take on this year. I am hoping for 9-4, as I think it is very possible and should be expected. I fear we cannot lower expectations for the sake of saying we need to recover last year. We need to expect this with this schedule and this team. I truly only see two games where I would be shocked if we one, so it could go even higher.

In closing, I would like to thank you for putting up with me for over 2,800 words today. You don’t have to come back if you want to, but I promise to try and be more humorous from now on since we have the standard, boring season preview out of the way. Next up: the state of college football as a whole coming into 2006, sometime later this week! Until then, BOILER UP!

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