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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Week 5 Preview (This is where the fun begins)

I am excited about Saturday. There’s simply no other way to put it. I enjoy going to games at Ross-Ade Stadium as much as any Purdue fan, and the past four weeks have been great, but nothing compares to Saturday.
For those of you that have read this blog, and by the overwhelming response I have readers numbering in the thousands, you know my stance on the Irish. I hate them. Hate, in fact, is not strong enough of a word. I hate Hitler, I hate al Qaeda, but at least they can, and have been stopped because of the intervention of the U.S. military. Notre Dame, however, will continue to persist as a source of hatred until the earth spirals into the sun, long after I am dead.
I hat them because of the media bias, and how whenever they are winning it is treated like the greatest human accomplishment since the polio vaccine. Conversely, when they are losing, we are all supposed to go into mourning as if a President (one we liked, at least) has been assassinated. The best example is Saturday night, when the Irish were lucky as all get out to have won, but we’re supposed to ignore the fact that Michigan State choked like… well, I have saying for how bad they chocked, but it’s not exactly G-rated. Instead we must glory in the resiliency and toughness of Notre Dame refusing to give up when the game was absolutely handed to them on a platter by Michigan State. I hate their special deal with the BCS that 118 other teams don’t get simply by not being Notre Dame (Let’s face it, if Army, Navy, or Temple, the other three ‘Independents’ went 9-3 they most certainly would not get a BCS berth. They wouldn’t even get one at 12-0) I hate how Brady Quinn, who will be an average quarterback in the NFL at best because he can’t handle any pressure, was being all but openly fellated by the ABC crew doing the game. I even hate their damn little leprechaun who dances and prances after every score like a midget on crack.
I especially hate the hordes of Notre Dame fans that come out of the word work when their team is doing well. Hundreds of people who say, "I went to X University, but I am a big Notre Dame and we WE need to, on Saturday…." You know the type. They are as openly despised as any fan in college football. The closest comparison I can come up with is Yankees fans. They are cocky, arrogant, and generally annoying when the team is doing well.
That is not to say that I do not respect Notre Dame as a team. The Irish are better than they have been in years thanks to Charlie Weis. I personally think the man is an asshole, but he is a great coach as far as instilling a winning attitude. I respect him for saying 9-3 last year was not good enough, because, truthfully, it’s not. He has made Notre dame relevant again, which, of course, makes things worse. He is good, but he is not the second coming of Christ that many Irish fans make him out to be. I respect Notre dame because they are a good team. They aren’t national title caliber, but they aren’t exactly IU. They destroyed us last year fair and square, and I am more than willing to admit that.
With all due (Re: very little) respect to IU, this is our rivalry game in football. The way the series has been since Joe Tiller arrived, the only way the Hoosiers will see a bucket is if they go to the Bloomington Wal-Mart and buy one. Notre Dame is Purdue’s football rival, because it is a compelling series that has actually been competitive over the past decade. That is why this is a big game.
But I am excited for a different reason, and that reason is this: As a Purdue fan, I know we have a chance. We have a chance because they have a suspect-to-horrible defense that may be as bad as ours was last year. We have an offense that is moving the ball and a defense that, while not great, is improving each week and is learning to bend but not break. And, we have a chance because we have nothing to lose and everyone outside of West Lafayette already has the Irish rolling into Los Angeles at 10-1 to end the season. Weis even said as much this week that we are dangerous, but after the smoking we took last year, are the players taking it seriously?
I am not saying Purdue is a stone cold lock to win, but I think we will make the Irish at least earn it on Saturday. So much so that I am saying this: If Purdue beats Notre Dame on Saturday; I will not say one more thing about the Irish after my Saturday night recap for the rest of the blog this season. Their season will be effectively over anyway, so why would it matter.
In the mean time, there is a lot more action this week as the Big Ten goes into action full force with five conference games this weekend, including three teams that make their conference debut in Northwestern, Indiana, and Michigan.

Wisconsin (3-1, 0-1) at Indiana (2-2, 0-0) – Well, after the debacle two weeks ago at Southern Illinois, my whole Cancer boy theory has been thrown out the window. Therefore, it won’t matter in this one that IU’s coach Terry Hoeppner is returning from brain surgery.
What could, and very well should have been a 4-0 start by the Hoosiers against a slate that was as bad if not worse than Purdue’s, IU is reeling at 2-2. It ended last week when Indiana could not gain a single yard rushing against Connecticut. Let’s get this lesson down right now, Hoosier fans: Losing to Connecticut is not bad in basketball, the sport you’re allegedly good at, but not in football. Connecticut wasn’t even Division 1-A in football a decade ago!
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is a bit of an enigma as it has lost two of its last three games to IU. When the season started and I expected to IU to go 4-0 like any respectable team should have gone against it’s schedule to this point, I thought Wisconsin could be a game it could steal because it was in Bloomington, thereby putting the same-old, sorry-assed Hoosiers a win away from bowl eligibility and maybe even in the top 25. I am glad to see I was proven wrong yet again.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 31, Indiana 14 – The one decent player IU has will return this week in James Hardy, so that is good for a score or two, but Indiana can’t be taken seriously until they find some sort of a ground game. Maybe the Hoosiers can get a few of their vaunted basketball players to play football so they can get to the line of scrimmage and simply fall down for positive rushing yards.

Illinois (1-3, 0-1) at Michigan State (3-1, 0-0) – Welcome to the Big Ten pillow fight of the week. I was surprised with the way Illinois stayed in the ball game with Iowa last week. It is still going to be another long season for the Illini, but that is to be expected with the youth that is in Champaign these days. I don’t understand why Tim Brasic is still playing when he wasn’t a good quarterback even before this year and they have a heralded recruit behind him, but I’m not Ron Zook.
Interestingly enough, Illinois has something to play for this season. If they can knock of Michigan State, who has already gone into full meltdown mode early, the Illini can collect wins against Central Michigan, IU, and Northwestern to be one more upset away from a bowl. It’s not likely to happy, but if you’re an Illini fan you take what you can get. Any time it is a question of whether you’re better than Indiana in the Big Ten your program is in trouble. Last year the Illini were probably the worst Big ten team I have ever seen, as evidenced by the fact Purdue’s horrid defense nearly shut them out. They simply have to be better this year.
Michigan State’s troubles have been well documented in my previous entry. Simply put: if it cannot win this game at home regardless of what happened Saturday, they have no business even playing the rest of the season.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 28, Illinois 7 - I honestly don’t think even the Spartans can blow this one. It’s the perfect time to get Illinois too.

Purdue (4-0) at Notre Dame (3-1) – This one should be fantastic. I honestly think Notre Dame is the much better team, but the Boilers have nothing to lose. You have to remember that historically, Quinn has not played that well against the Boilers. Yeah, he went for 440 yards and 3 TD’s last year, but he has thrown for five interceptions against Purdue against 5 touchdowns over his career. He has thrown for 1169 yards in three games against Purdue, but the bulk of those yards came in a 432-yard garbage time 41-16 loss to the Boilers two years ago. He had another 297 yards in a 23-10, 4-interception day against Purdue as a freshman. My point is this: yards are good, but points matter at the end of the day and Quinn is 1-2 against Purdue and only scored 26 points, most after the game was decided, in those two losses. Yards win Heismans, wins win national titles.
Purdue has a shot simply because they have an offense that is better than Michigan State’s as far as being balanced and, though we have choked in the past, the offense has not usually been the culprit. If Notre Dame continues to get off to a slow start and Purdue comes in and throws up a couple of scores early, this could get very interesting. All Purdue needs is 1-2 critical stops to really make this a game, and the defense is certainly capable of that.
The key is Curtis Painter. If he plays like he did last week in not turning the ball over and managing long scoring drives like the one to open the second half, the Boilers have a shot. No one expect them to even compete, as evidenced by the 16-point spread. Special teams also could be a key as Purdue’s kicking game has been much more solid with Chris Summers than Notre Dame’s. Let’s put it this way: having seen Summers kick in high school, he at least has the distance for 50+, while Notre Dame does not. That could be a difference if this ends up being a shootout.
Honestly, Purdue has nothing to lose since it is not expected to win anyway. That I s what makes this so exciting because I feel we have a better shot than we had coming into the season. Yes it’s the first road game of the year and in a tough venue, but if you want to be the best you have to beat the best.
PREDICTION: Notre Dame 45, Purdue 35 – I really think Notre dame will pull away and get this one because it is at home, but the Boilers will learn a valuable lesson and make them earn it. It doesn’t mean I won’t be watching my TV Saturday afternoon cheering hard for the upset. If it happens, great, if it doesn’t, then it wasn’t expected anyway. Don’t underestimate Dustin Keller in this one, but being a very young team on the road is.
Although I would love to personally ruin their season and let them stew over it for months before the USC game.

Northwestern (2-2, 0-0) at Penn State (2-2, 0-1) – this is an interesting game simply because last year’s was such a back and forth classic. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, their offense isn’t nearly as effective as last year’s. If it can’t handle going into a tiny stadium in Reno, Nevada and losing to a WAC team, then what are we to expect in front of 100,000+ fans in Happy Valley?
Of course, Penn State hasn’t exactly been effective offensively as well. It has some quality receivers, but Anthony Morelli is going through the typical growing pains at quarterback that are to be expected. Penn State’s defense also isn’t that bad as it only allowed 14 points to a very good Ohio State team last week. That has to bode well going against a struggling Northwestern squad.

PREDICTION: Penn State 24, Northwestern 7 – The Nittany Lions get a much needed win, as they will be battling Purdue and Wisconsin for middle of the road superiority this season in the Big Ten.

Michigan (4-0, 1-0) at Minnesota (2-2, 0-1) – This is the battle for the little brown jug, the oldest continuous rivalry trophy in the Big Ten. Not many people know about it, however, as Michigan had won 16 straight against the Gophers before Minnesota won on a last second field goal in the Big House last year to take it back for the first time since 1986.
I simply have a hard time believing Minnesota has a shot in this one after struggling against Purdue last week. While I tend to look at my Boilers with rose-colored glasses, I know we haven’t exactly set the world on fire with our 4-0 start. Michigan is still Michigan, and is playing like it so far this year. Minnesota has the advantage of having the game at home and being able to control the clock with a solid running game, but if it can’t win at Purdue, what make’s you think it can win against possibly one of the best teams in the country right now?
PREDICTION: Michigan 34, Minnesota 21 – This will be a game where the dominance of the top of the Big ten will simply come out on top of the bottom of the conference.

Ohio State (4-0, 1-0) at Iowa (4-0, 1-0) – This is the big one of the week. Two of the Big ten’s four unbeaten teams face off against each other in Iowa City. Iowa has surprisingly struggled this year except against Montana, but they are certainly capable of knocking off the #1 team in the country. I view this game as critical for deciding the Big Ten simply because if Iowa loses, I don’t see anyone else aside from Purdue, who does not play Michigan or Ohio State and only needs to upset the Hawkeyes, as having a chance of catching either the Wolverines or Buckeyes.
Iowa is notoriously tough at home. They spanked Ohio state the last time the Buckeyes came to Iowa City, and drew Tate is a quarterback who is underrated simply because he knows how to win and doesn’t put up gaudy numbers lie the Quinns and Smiths of the world. He’s a savvy leader, and I never want to bet against him at home.
Truthfully though, Ohio State has already gone down to Texas and won handily. While Texas isn’t the Texas of last year, that’s still impressive. Still, there is something to be said about playing a conference game on the road, as opposed to a non-conference game.
PREDICTION: Iowa 24, Ohio State 23 – I’m giving the edge to the Hawkeyes simply because they have not had the breakout game they are expected to have this year. Since I don’t have the cajones to cal the Purdue upset, I am calling this one. I hope I am wrong on both counts simply to get Purdue a win.

NATIONAL GAMES OF THE WEEK: I would be remiss if I did not say something about my wife’s Hurricanes in this spot, so I am picking them as one of my games of the week. So far my Miami has shown absolutely zero hear this season in starting 2-1. Now they have a ht Houston coming in ready to pull an upset and make a little noise for itself. If Miami has any spine whatsoever, the Canes will win this game in the Orange bowl easily. If they lose, look for the Canes to struggle to any bowl, as it’s offense has been so bad that it can’t score in the second half against a 1-AA opponent this year. I pick Miami 31, Houston 24 in this one.
For my second game of national intrigue, I am going to go with Oregon at Arizona State. I love the Pac-10 for it’s offensive tendencies, and I don’t think this one will be any different. I made the mistake of going with the Sun Devils last week, not this week. Oregon 31, Arizona State 23.
NEXT UP: Reactions from the Shillelagh battle Saturday night.

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