Thursday, August 31, 2006

Big Ten week 1 (Where just $250,000 buys you an unbeaten start.)

Welcome back everyone! For those of you who enjoyed my season preview, tell your friends. If this is your first time here, feel free to sit back, have a cup of hot tea, and have a read of the opening entry here. I want to thank you for stopping by and I hope you come back soon.
Were less than 24 hours away from the kickoff of the college football season, and I wanted to take a look at the Big Ten as a whole by previewing each teams opener, then a more national perspective before things get started. And let me tell you, I can't wait for things to get started. I can already taste the first Boiler-rita of the season Saturday around noon at Ross-Ade.
All 11 Big Ten teams are in action this weekend, and to be honest, all 11 teams should probably be favored thanks to the NCAAs "Buy a win bonanza" that the 12th game has created. This is the weekend for the majority of those 12th games, so naturally, expect a lot of dominance over inferior opponents.

Aug. 31 Minnesota at Kent State The big question for the Gophers this year is, of course, what do they do to replace a depleted running game. Laurence Maroney is gone to the NFL and Gary Russell is academically ineligible. The Gophers tend to churn out 1,000 yard backs more easily than the Denver Broncos, and Amir Pennix looks to be the next one. Theres not a lot of depth after that, however. Expect another solid season on the ground, however, as the Gophers always runt he ball very well.
Bryan Cupito is a senior and is a decent game manager of a quarterback, and doesnt make too many mistakes, but he hasnt exactly torn up the Big Ten record books in his career. I think the Gophers will be good, but the rest of the Big Ten will be better. It wont matter in this one, however, as Kent State was one of the worst teams in Division 1-A last year, going 1-10 with that lone win being over 1-AA SE Missouri State. Ouch!
PREDICTION: Though a Big Ten team going to a MAC teams house is usually a landmine, not here. Minnesota 45, Kent State 10

Aug. 31 Northwestern at Miami (OH) How can you predict a game like this where emotion will be sloshing tangibly out of the stadium. It's the rare 'double cancer boy game,' as both teams will be honoring Randy Walkers untimely passing. He truly was a fantastic coach who always accomplished more with less at both schools. Add to the fact that he was a legend as a player at Miami before becoming a coach there and you have a host of storylines. Its almost like people are forgetting they will be playing a game.
Miami has had Northwestern's number in the series, and many people forget that the magical run of the purple to Pasadena in 1995 had a lone stumble against the Redhawks. Thats right, Northwestern run undefeated through the Big Ten, and had a season opening win over Notre Dame, but fell to Miami of Ohio. I think this will be a year where Northwestern rides emotion to a great season, or they will crash hard due to lack of experience at the quarterback position.
PREDICTION: I think this will be the closest game of the Big Ten weekend, but I give the edge to Northwestern. The Miami fans may remember Walker fondly, but the players never played for him like the Wildcats did. Thats enough to put them over the top, despite breaking in a new QB. Northwestern 28, Miami 24

Sep. 2 Montana at Iowa In my opinion, Iowa is the best team in the Big Ten this year. Drew Tate is one of the most solid, steady quarterbacks in the country and he has a very talented running back in Albert Young behind them. Iowas defense is never terrible, and tends to keep them in every game. They get Ohio State at home, no Penn State, and they arent afraid to go into the Big House and win at Michigan. Tate is not nearly getting the attention that Brady Quinn is, but he should because he is a more solid quarterback who has actually beaten a team that has done something, whereas Quinn has struggled outside of Weis "system".
All that is said basically to drive this point home: Montana is a solid 1-AA program, but they wont win in Iowa City, where very few teams other than the Hawkeyes do win. They will be a decent test for a team that needs to put some things together for what could be a very special season.
PREDICTION: The Grizzlies have some bark, but not enough to make a serious game of it. Iowa 45, Montana 16.

Sep. 2 Vanderbilt at Michigan This game is seriously a year late as I would love to have seen what Jay Cutler would have done against the Wolverines. Last years Vandy team was the best in years, and Cutler could soon be starting for the Broncos. If he had simply had the talent of almost any other team last year Vanderbilt would have been a threat to win the SEC.
That was then, and this is now, however. I think Michigan is one of the biggest mysteries in the Big Tent his season. Sure, they have a ton of talent and always recruit well, but they seem to be missing that intangible that makes everything click together. Simply put, they are not as frightening as Michigan teams of the past, and people know it. They are still very, very good and can play with any team in the country, but in turn they dont strike fear in lesser opponents as much anymore as evidenced by the way North Illinois hung around last year at the Big House. They were dangerously close to a 4-7 year last year with all that talent, getting narrow wins over Penn State (final play), Michigan State (OT), and Iowa (OT).
PREDICTION: The theme song for this season may be Mystery by Live, but for this game Hail to the Victors will play early and often. Michigan 52, Vanderbilt 10

Sep. 2 Idaho at Michigan State Dennis Erickson has two National Championships, numerous conference championships, and NFL experience as a head coach. While Sebastian the Ibis is happy with him, he comes to East Lansing with a team that is more like a tropical depression than his Hurricanes of old. Joe Vandal is a far cry away from the heights that Erickson reached with Sebastian at the University of Miami, as Idaho is one of the dregs of Division 1-A.
Michigan State is perhaps the most erratic team in the Big ten. So much so that Vegas needs to place odd on when it will have its annual meltdown. They can beat anyone, but can be beaten by anyone. While most of the college football world prays that the Spartans will continue their recent mastery of Notre Dame in order to quiet the incessant hype from South Bend, Spartan fans would rather just find a team that wont cave at the sight of a close loss.
PREDICTION: Erickson has won in the past at Idaho, but he wont today. Michigan State 48, Idaho 7

Sep. 2 Indiana State at Purdue I covered this in my previous preview, but I will make a few more comments. Of all the Big Ten games this weekend, I see this one as being the most lopsided. Seriously, cant we schedule someone else? I can understand getting a 1-AA team for an easy win, but the worst 1-AA team last season statistically? Was Butler unavailable? What do we have to learn from this?
Everyone plays early and often in this. I know I still have four years of eligibility, and aside from one season of intramural flag football at Purdue, I have never played a down of organized football in my life, but I fully expect a call to put on a uni in the third quarter or so. I have even seen posts on this week about how fast we get our first score, with Dorien Bryant returning the opening kick for a TD being the leading choice.
PREDICTION: The only way I see ISU even scoring is if Purdue turns the ball over inside the 20 or very late against some fourth stringers. If Purdue went first team all the way, theyd crack 100. Purdue 66, Indiana State 0

Sep. 2 Akron at Penn State The Nittany Lions had better take this game seriously as they will be breaking in several key new players and Akron returns a team that despite its struggles last year, still won the MAC. The Zips are not that bad, and moved the ball well against us last year, something that should have been a sign of things to come. They return some talent and may end up making a game of this.
Aside from being a dominating word in Scrabble if you could use proper names, Posluszny is a force to be reckoned with his linebacking mates, and the offense shouldnt be too bad this year. I dont think there will be quite the dramatic fall-off of past Penn State teams, but there will be some fall off. Morelli is the key for them at quarterback. If he steps in and lives up to his recruiting hype, they will be a tough team to beat each week.
PREDICTION: Akron hangs around for a half, maybe even three quarters, but they cant get the win. Penn State 34, Akron 17

Sep. 2 Northern Illinois at Ohio State Do not discount the Huskies. Garrett Wolfe and company played Michigan very tough to open the season last year at the Big House, and will certainly not be afraid of facing the #1 Buckeyes at home. Oho States defense will be in question from the start, and with Texas looming next week, they could get caught with their pants down if they dont come out sharp.
For the Buckeyes, I dont understand the infatuation with Ted Ginn Jr. Yes, he is fast and very dynamic when he has the ball, but I have seen him drop way too many passes, including a few that bounced off of him for INTs, to take him too seriously as a receiver. He is a scary talent when he has the ball, but he has to get it, first. The offense looks dominant. If the running game comes through, the loss of so much on defense may not even matter.
PREDICTION: I think this one will be much closer than people think. Ohio State wins, but they sweat just a little. Ohio State 38, Northern Illinois 24

Sep. 2 Western Michigan at Indiana I keep saying it and I hope people are listening: we need to take the Hoosiers seriously this year. Football is a game of momentum, and with a very winnable early slate of four games, IU could be 4-0 going into the Big Ten season. Granted, they arent exactly playing USC, Florida, Miami, and Texas, but 4-0 is 4-0, and for a program that has been down as long as they have, its a huge boost to know you need only two more wins in the last eight to reach a bowl.
The thing is, they could get those two. Powers is coming into his own and James Hardy is a top-notch target to throw to. The defense has to be better, as they couldnt get much worse last year, and if they get some semblance of a running game, things could come together. The Hoosiers always play Wisconsin well, and they come to Bloomington. Illinois and Minnesota could be winnable, and if Michigan State is melting down by October 28th, you just never know. They wont win the conference, but they wont be the worst team, either.
PREDICTION: I know almost nothing about Western Michigan, which means they probably wont make much noise this year. Big Ten teams shouldnt lose at home to MAC teams either (though I am aware it has happened before). Indiana 35, Western Michigan 17

Sep. 2 Wisconsin vs. Bowling Green at Cleveland Browns Stadium This is another Big Ten at a MAC team opener that has been dangerous so many times in the past. John Stocco is another one of those solid, game-manager quarterbacks that doesnt light you up, but doesnt make many mistakes either. They had the smoothest transition possible from outgoing coach to incoming coach, and the Badgers rarely disappoint when it comes to simply being competitive. Of all the teams in the Big Ten, this one seems to be making the least amount of noise.
This Bowling Green team is not the same Bowling Green team of years past that had a high-octane, score at will offense. They are very young, and with that youth they are sure to struggle, even opening with all the hype of "hosting" a Big Ten team. Then again, you never know what can happen, as one of the most successful Wisconsin teams ever with Ron Dayne went into lowly Cincinnati and lost.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin rolls fairly easily, as defense will be at a premium here like it was last year. Wisconsin 42, Bowling Green 27

Sep. 2 Eastern Illinois at Illinois This is our final "purchased" win of the week, and another case of what will we truly see from Illinois. Many are predicting Illinois to be the worst of the Big Ten this year, and I tend to agree. That doesnt not meant hey will be totally horrible, however, as I think this is one of the most evenly matched conferences in years. In my opinion, only Illinois, Indiana, and Northwestern are half a step below the rest of the league, and with all the purchase wins that a four game non-conference schedule allows, plus the wealth of various bowls, its not hard for any team to get to a bowl.
That said, much like the rest of the 1-AA games this week, we cant truly judge a team unless the game is horrifically close. If any of the 1-AA Big ten games are close into the second quarter this week, alumni will be panicking all over the Midwest.
PREDICTION: I hope the Illini have plenty of fireworks to shoot off. Illinois 52, Eastern Illinois 3

So I predict the Big Ten to go 11-0 this week, and they very well should, as each school should be the better school in each match-up, outside of maybe Northwestern-Miami. Id like to close with my:
NATIONAL GAME OF THE WEEK: Contrary to what the media wants us to think, it is Notre Dame against Georgia Tech simply because the all-powerful Irish are playing. Ill make a quick pick here: Georgia Tech 28, Notre Dame 27. The Yellow Jacket defense can hang with the Irish, and Touchdown Jesus cant save you in Hot-lanta, especially if the weather is bad as might be expected.
My real national game of the week is Florida State at Miami. These two teams simply do not like each other, and this week Florida State seems to be getting an inordinate amount of attention. The Seminoles still have to come into the Orange Bowl and win, something they have struggled to do mightily throughout this series.
This game shouldnt be as ugly as last years, but I am concerned about two things for the Hurricanes: 1. They are missing Tyrone Moss who is suspended, and with soggy weather like Miami has had recently they need a running game, and 2. They need an offensive line and time to throw the ball.
PREDICTION: In the end, I think the Seminoles are cursed in the orange Bowl, and last years special teams breakdown by the Canes was a fluke, and not payback for all the missed kicks. Miami 28, Florida State 26, as my wife dances in the living Monday night, playing our musical Sebastian and celebrating Wide Left II
NEXT UP: Week 1 reactions in a more humorous tone, because it's much easier to have a humorous reaction than try to be funny while guessing.

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!