Saturday, September 30, 2006

Perfection denied (I will now have that slice of humble pie, with whipped cream, please)

I admit, I should have known coming into today. There were too many ifs to really expect a win, and that is never a good sign. Too much simply needed to go right beyond our control in order to come up with a win, and as I said earlier, Notre Dame is a very good team. I still don’t think they are championship caliber, but certainly top 20. With the youth of our ball club, I should have known it was a very tall order to go up there and win, but I still was dreaming, even into the fourth quarter. I was excited and really felt we were going to pull it off. But in the end, Notre Dame was too good.

I am very pleased with some things, and very disappointed with some things at the same time. This was probably the toughest team on our schedule, except for maybe Iowa next week, and in the end, the result was what was expected all along, so that makes things a little easier to take. I still hate Notre Dame, but I do respect them and realize they are a good ball club. They got the job done today when they needed to, plain and simple. They did what was expected against our young and inexperienced defense, and we simply couldn't score enough to match them. We must look to next year, as far as the Irish are concerned though, as we have a real shot to even the score in West Lafayette next year. So, Let's review this game in a trade-off positive-negative format.

POSITIVE: There was no quit late in this team. Being down 2-3 touchdowns for most of the game, we continued to scrap and drive. We moved the ball well and at least gave ourselves a shot. Last season, we folded faster than Pete Rose at a Poker table in Vegas. This year we certainly never quit. Though we struggled at least the effort was there.

NEGATIVE: The first thing we have to be obviously disappointed about is the fact that we drove deep into Notre Dame territory several times and did not come away with a single point. In a game that was a two-touchdown game, even field goals at that point are huge. With a missed field goal, a fumble, and two turnovers on downs, you simply can't afford to dot hat against a team like Notre Dame on the road. Moving the ball was not a problem, but for the first time finishing a drive was a stumbling block for us this season.

POSITIVE: Two words: Selwyn Lymon. Welcome to college football, son. That was simply an incredible performance by a young man who showed that he might actually be more than we expected when we recruited him. What more could he have done in this game? Seriously? 238 yards, 2 touchdowns, and now we have a very viable receiving option to go with Keller, Orton, and Bryant. I just can't say enough about this kid, and he's only going to get better.

NEGATIVE: Speaking of Keller, he was due for a bad game, so this wasn't really that bad. His fumble was critical, but not as critical as the other two possessions in which we got deep into ND territory. The rest of the receiving corps was solid, but not overly spectacular. Give Credit to Notre Dame for stepping up and getting stops when it needed to. I do have to question our playcalling a bit on third down with the direct snap to Bryant. It was a good idea, but bad execution as we delayed way too long and that tipped off the defense.

POSITIVE: We simply gained experience from our youth. I have said before that this Purdue team is much easier to cheer for because of the effort being there. You get the sense that if this team were older and more experienced, the result would have been different. Once again, we adjusted well and had a good second half in which we only gave up one score.

NEGATIVE: That lack of experience was glaring in several places today. The defense got torched on too many plays in the first half, but at least they were aggressive. We'd get pressure for two plays, then give up a big gain on third down. We had some dumb, dumb penalties that can only be corrected with experience. This was a game where I think talent –wise, the teams were even, but Notre Dame had a huge advantage simply in experience. Next year those tables will shift in our favor. This was the first road game for several of our players, and I think despite everything, we handled it well.

POSITIVE: The passing game was working very well as a whole. We did a great job of taking advantage of the Notre Dame secondary, but we probably could have thrown the deep ball a little more. Painter once again did not turn the ball over, and as he continues to grow experience like Saturday, where he doesn't give up the ball in a hostile environment, will only hope.

NEGATIVE: The running game took a step back today. I know it was in large part due to the fact we were trailing most of the game and had to pass to catch up, but we should have had more than 93 yards rushing. Where was the option today? Today would have been the perfect time to dust it off and bring it back, as they were not expecting it. The few times we did run it was successful, so why not run it to control the clock more, especially in the first half when the Irish had the ball almost twice as much as we did.

POSITIVE: The worst part of the schedule may be over. We weren't going to win the national title even if we had won and somehow managed to go unbeaten. The schedule simply wasn't there and there is no way we sneak in ahead of another unbeaten. This was not a conference game, so this was simply a game for personal pride. Our bowl hopes are still very much alive, needing to only win three of eight, so we weren't hurt there. Also, we're not hurt in the Big Ten race, and we are still very much alive there with a win next week, which is much more important than this game. With the way the Big Ten schedule is shaping up, a win over the Hawkeyes certainly means we will be right there in the race, and the Hawkeyes are a little more favorable of a matchup than Notre Dame. Not much, but a little.

NEGATIVE: My final negative is simply defensive playcalling. Once again, Quinn showed he could not handle defensive pressure, yet we were consistently unable to get said pressure on him. Late in the game, down two scores with seven minutes to go, we twice had third and long situations where we only rushed four and three guys respectively and Quinn had all day to pick us apart, including a dump off 17 yard catch and run to a running back on third and 16. Simply inexcusable and an area we have to work on. At that point, what do we have to lose by not sending the house? Get a chance to win by being aggressive there.

Now we simply need to move on. This team certainly does not look like it will fold after this loss like it did a year ago. We got our shots in, but in the end, as expected, being on the road for the first time and Notre Dame's experience came out ahead. When you look at things from a cold, hard numbers perspective, we held them to 150 yards and two touchdowns fewer than last year, and that is progress. Last year it was a complete disaster and utter ass whipping. This year, we got beat, but we at least made the Irish earn it. It was more of a methodical beating as opposed to a lightening quick beating.

So it is time to move on. The conference race is still right there for the taking. With Michigan State now in full meltdown mode, we can realistically think about being right there for the conference if we come out of October with just a single conference loss. With some minor adjustments and the same amount of effort, we could be right there with Iowa next week. Notre Dame can wait until next year.

I am proud of our guys because they continue to fight and play hard each week. This team is much easier to cheer for than last year, when rightful leaders such as Void and Jones were overshadowed by the attitudes of Pollard and Edwards. We're getting Iowa at the right time, as they have to be suffering a bit of a letdown no matter what happens tonight.
So let's keep our heads up. This loss could be a blessing, because with a win we would have been sky high. We're still right where we expected to be, and there is plenty of football left to exceed those expectations. So keep on going, guys. This is one Boilermaker that is proud to be one today, even in a loss.

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.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Week 4 review (The epic choke heard ‘round the Big Ten)

When looking at the result of this past weekend in the Big Ten one thing is blatantly obvious: Michigan State is never going to be ready to return to the big boy table and seriously be considered as a contender. Every year the Spartans start hot and raise their fans hopes, and every year they collapse spectacularly and plummet from contender to pretender. The first such instance of this came in 1999 when the Spartans rolled into West Lafayette with a spotless 6-0 record and #5 national ranking. In that game, Drew Brees and Chris Daniels put on one of the most impressive passing displays I have ever seen. Brees threw for five first half touchdowns, ran for another in the second half, and finished with 509 yards passing in a 52-28 woodshed beating. Brees’ numbers would have been even gaudier if not for four interceptions, two of which were returned 75+ yards for touchdowns. Daniels set NCAA records with 21 catches and 301 yards to go with three TD’s as he and Brees had a Shinning-like thing going on all over the field.

We should have seen the trend before that, as in the two previous Purdue-Michigan State games the Spartans had double digit leads with less than five minutes to go to only lose each time. Since that 1999 game Michigan State has started all but one season with promise, only to have a critical loss, usually to a team it should have handled easily, derail its season. We’re not exactly talking about USC or Texas here, either. Northwestern, Louisiana Tech, and Rutgers are among the teams that have knocked off the Spartans early on. Suffice to say, Michigan State has become the poster team, even more so than my beloved tortured Boilermakers, for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Remember, last year Michigan State beat Notre Dame in South Bend and collapsed after an overtime loss to Michigan, so much so it later lost to the same Purdue team that got absolutely drilled by the Irish in West Lafayette.

So why are we surprised they did it again Saturday night? Perhaps it is because of the way it happened this time. Through three quarters of the game, only the ABC announcing crew, who seemed to be on the verge of tears that Notre was losing and that Quinn’s Heisman hopes were over, seemed to believe that Notre Dame could pull it out. My Saturday night remarks were made during the game, and everything certainly looked like the Spartans were going to cruise. Even to the point where Michigan State had driven deep into Notre Dame territory with a 16 point fourth quarter lead it had not played great in the second half, but it looked all but over.
Then it all fell apart over one of the strangest six minutes of football ever. First Michigan State gets enough penalties to makes it so they could not even punt, go to where the ball landed, and punt again for a first down distance, a quick but seemingly meaningless touchdown drive followed by a stop 2-point conversion, and even then things still seemed in hand. After Stanton’s fumble and subsequent quick Notre Dame score, the Spartans just panicked. How do you explain going away from the running game that was working with the massive running back they have, and instead throwing the ball leading to the completely dumbass interception returned for a TD. The fact that the game ended with another pick was only salt in the wound at that point.

Now the media is crowing over how it wouldn’t have happened if Notre Dame hadn’t given up, that it made plays, that Quinn kept them in it, yada, yada, yada. Well, it’s bullshit. That’s right, B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T. Notre Dame was dead, about as dead as a team can get, and Michigan State still managed to cough up the game. Even Charlie Weis sounded completely stunned at what just happened, and almost every fan in Spartan Stadium sat their with a, "WTF just happened" look on their faces. Credit Notre Dame for being in the right place at the right time, but this was not an "Instant classic" that people are referring too unless it one of the greatest chokes in college football history.

So from now on, it gets this serious for me. Until they prove otherwise, the Spartans are now being lumped in the same category as Indiana as far as the Big Ten goes. They are slightly above, since they have not lost to a 1-AA team this year, but until they prove themselves by holding on later on against Ohio State and Michigan, Michigan State will no longer be taken seriously by me.

Last week I talked about which teams in the Big Ten can already make plans to be going bowling somewhere this winter, based on their performances thus far into the season. This week I think the picture is much, much more clear than last week. Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State only cemented their status of making any bowl by getting to 4-0. Despite losses, I still think Wisconsin and even Michigan State are still good to go, although Michigan State is shakier than ever after last week. Northwestern, IU, and Illinois aren’t sure things for them. Purdue I think moved to near lock status for a bowl with over Minnesota. My Boilers only need to win three of their last nine games, and with the bottom three of the Big Ten still to go on the schedules it’s a fairly safe bet. That leaves one bowl spot left, maybe two to be filled. Illinois, Northwestern, and Indiana can probably forget about it after two non-conference losses, so that leaves Minnesota and Penn State to fight over the last spot. Here is how I rank the Big Ten this week:

Title contenders:
1. Ohio State
2. Michigan
3. Iowa (can make a HUGE statement this week at home)
Almost certain bowl teams:
4. Wisconsin
5. Purdue (by virtue of a weak remaining schedule after Iowa, and Wisky and Penn State at home)
6. Penn State (They have Michigan State at home in the last game, a mortal lock if there ever was one.)
7. Michigan State (only because of the bottom three left.)
Could go either way:
8. Minnesota (need four wins, ND State and IU are two, talent is there to get two more somewhere if Mason doesn’t gack another one)
When does basketball season start:
9. Northwestern (whoops, they’re not good there, either)
10. Illinois
11. Indiana (by virtue having to play in Champaign and that Illinois hung around with Iowa)

I know this tarnishes my glowing view of the Big Ten a bit, but the conference as a whole wasn’t that exciting this past week. Ohio State and Michigan went through the motions and still won easily against two of the teams that could have possibly come up to challenge them. Only if Iowa pulls off the upset this week will it appear that this will be an actual race, unless Purdue uses its weak schedule and a few upsets to get involved since it does not play the two heavyweights. The conference lost all three games it played against outside foes, and while Notre Dame is a respectable loss, the way that it happened wasn’t. Nevada (over Northwestern) and Connecticut (over Indiana) aren’t exactly going to be beating down the door to Glendale this year, either. It did make for a nice week though, as I correctly picked all seven Big ten games before blowing my two national games.

For the second straight week the rock was left undefeated for a dog to pee on it, and this one may have been worse than last week. What was supposed to be a strength for Indiana this year, its passing game, has now become a glaring weakness and James Hardy, the one serviceable offensive player the same old, sorry-assed Hoosiers have, seems more content to find other women to beat than defensive backs. He hasn’t played in the last two games, and it has shown as, despite how badly the Hoosiers have played, he could have made a difference.

And how can IU manage zero rushing yards over the course of a game? It should be interesting to watch every team IU plays from now on drop seven guys into coverage and dare them to throw. At least Purdue’s defensive stats will get a nice boost by playing Illinois’ and Indiana’s inept offenses at the end of the season.

As promised this week, I will unveil my personal top 25. Bear in mind, these rankings are merely based on my own conjecture, so take them for what they are. I’ve only been to four games and by the best team I have seen play in person is Louisville, but the second one is probably Purdue, as Miami is that bad (both of them). I’ve tried to watch a little of everyone else, however, so I am already instantly more informed than every coach in the coaches poll. So here we go!

1. Auburn (more impressed by their win over LSU, than Oho State’s over Texas)
2. Ohio State
3. Michigan (very impressed by the last two weeks)
4. LSU (so they have a loss, unlike many below them, they’ve played someone)
5. USC
6. Florida
7. Louisville (Above West Virginia because of the Miami win w/o Bush, Brohm)
8. West Virginia
9. Virginia Tech
10. Iowa (Can really move up this week)
11. Georgia (What the hell was that against Colorado?)
12. Texas
13. Notre Dame (this feels about right, but the remaining schedule is not as easy as it looks)
14. Oregon
15. Oklahoma
16. Tennessee
17. TCU (very impressed by the defense shutting down Texas Tech to 3 pts.)
18. California
19. Clemson
20. Nebraska
21. Boise State
22. Florida State
23. Georgia Tech
24. Missouri
25. Purdue
Close to the top 25: Rutgers, Wake Forest, Texas A&M

I think there is such a drop-off after the top 16-20 that everyone else behind those teams is fairly equal. My justification for Purdue being #25 stems just from the improvement they have shown me since week one. I also think Wake Forest and Rutgers are very, very close to getting the nod here, but it's my blog, so its my vote. I still think Saturday will be a loss, but I feel a lot better about our chances than I did following the Indiana State game. If they continue to improve, Purdue very well could turn out to be the fourth best team in the Big Ten, and with the schedule being the way it is, they would only play one of the perceived three ahead of them.
So those are my thoughts for this week. I am looking forward to Saturday because for the first time in a long time, the Notre Dame game is a nothing to lose game for us. Everyone expects us to go up there and lose, and even if we do it’s not the end of the world like in past seasons. There is no pressure on us to do anything except compete and learn.

And that’s exactly what was expected in 1997…

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Mission Accomplished (No matter how you slice it, 4-0 is 4-0)

I find it amazing that going in to next week's game one team still has a chance at a National title by virtue of still being unbeaten, and it is not the Irish. As I write this, Notre Dame is getting drilled right now, and they have absolutely no confidence even though Kirk Herbstreit is doing his best to fellate Brady Quinn from the booth. The Irish look mortal today, and Quinn, as usual, cannot handle any kind of pressure. I'm still not predicting a win next week, but with the way this team keeps improving, we have a much better shot than anyone outside of West Lafayette will give us credit for.

We're exactly where we needed to be, and what people expected us to be at. While it was not as graceful as we would have hoped, in reality, the result is the same. We're 4-0, and we still have three VERY winnable games left. A bowl game is looking much more like a probability than it did with about a minute left in the Miami game. Honestly, I think I am more proud of this team than I would have been had we won all four of these games in blowouts. I am proud because even had we lost, this team is much easier to get behind and encourage as opposed to last year's There is heart and effort there, and we know that there is only going to be improvement with the youth. They are nowhere near there ceiling yet, and we could be in line for some very special things down the line.

Think about it: This team has been tested already and has come out clean. They are learning how to win against opponents when the lights aren't fully on like they will be next week in South Bend. One of the reasons I think we have struggled in crunch time over the past few seasons is because most of the time when we have won, we have won going away. We have not gained the experience needed in close games to be able to close them out when the pressure is on. In two of these four games, we have done just that. Even last week with Vinson's pick at the goal line we had a key moment where a pressure stop was needed, and we got it in order to change the momentum. Experience like that can't be taught it must be earned. We have gotten a very good dose of that when the stakes have not been as high as they have been in past years, and that only bodes well for the future.

Sure, we have not been tested on the road yet, but that too will come. We need to make it a goal to pick up at least one of these next three games on the road, or we are backed into a must win at home again. Northwestern is the obvious choice, as it has not been impressive in two wins so far, and its two losses weren't to great teams. Iowa, however, hasn't set the world on fire yet and they may have a letdown from next week's game with Ohio State. Notre Dame is also looking much more vulnerable than they have all year, and could be ripe for an upset. We need to get one of those three, and simply concentrate on improving regardless of what happens.
Yes, we gave up a lot of yards again today, but I am perfectly comfortable with giving up yards as long as we stiffen when we need to. How many times already this year have we given up drives to other teams that have resulted in no points? The drive right before halftime is a perfect example of that. We got the job when we needed to, and Pender made a great heads up play to not knock the ball down, but tip it to Hall for an easy pick. Suddenly an almost sure three points, and possible seven that would have given Minnesota the lead at halftime, was nothing.
I am really impressed by the smarts of this team, as given in the above example. Another critical play occurred late on Taylor's big First down run with less than two minutes left. He could have been driven out of bounds, which is clearly what the Minnesota defenders wanted to do, but instead he had the presence of mind to fall down in bounds. The result? We were able to run another critical 20 seconds off the clock. He sacrificed the potential for more personal yards for the sake of the team. I think that one play says volumes about the new attitude we have in West Lafayette. It's an attitude of togetherness that has been missing for a long, long time.

Of course, this play may not have had a chance to happen if not for Minnesota's choice to punt the ball back to us. As proud of the defense as I am, it once again showed trouble closing a team out in the fourth quarter after the infamous 4th and 20 play. The defense continues to improve, but if I am Glen Mason, and knowing the way we moved the ball today, there's no way I punt it back to us with two minutes left. We owe him a big Thank You card for that.

Credit needs to be given for the offense as well for executing and getting the job done. And was that the same conservative Joe Tiller we know and love going for it on 4th down with a chance to put the game away? With our offensive line, we simply do not deserve to win if we can't get that yard against Minnesota. Plus the new offensive coordinators got their jobs done by calling a great ball game. We only ran about two options plays if I remember correctly, and that keeps them in reserve for later.

Painter has come along nicely and his two TD throws to Bryant and Taylor were things of beauty. He did exactly what he needed to do in not turning the ball over. As he continues to improve he will start to hit open receivers like Sheets on third down in the second quarter. No over throw there means seven points in stead of three. I like that in this game there were several times that we could have broken things open to win easily, and the defense would not have mattered. As we learn to execute better that can only be a plus.

I like that we constantly kept the Gophers at arms reach throughout the second half by being up two scores most of the time. They only had one possession with a chance to take the lead, and we forced them into a three and out during that chance. They never again got the ball back. That is a credit to our offense maintaining pressure throughout. They also scored on two long drives that took up a lot of clock, which is critical if we're going to pull an upset or two later in the year.

There are so many little things to be found in a win like this. We once again came up with a blocked field goal that really turned the momentum around. Again, a heads up play when Minnesota was standing around, Erwin comes in and grabs it for a brief return. He didn't take it to the house, but it was a heads up play that meant a 20-25 yard shift in field position. This was huge in setting up our go ahead TD. On the Hall interception, he took a knee instead of trying to be a hero with a return. Painter even did a great job of managing the clock in order to milk as much of it as possible. It is these little things that sometimes get lost in the shuffle that are so welcome after years of fundamental breakdowns.

Again, this was the perfect team for us to play at this time, and it answered a lot of questions that have risen. This team has come a very long way since Indiana State came in and hung 35 on us. That team would have gotten drilled today. Instead, we have grown and are showing so much more effort that it alone is making a difference. We improved today even from last week, and we'll continue to improve as things go on.

So now we look ahead to the rest of the season with a much brighter outlook, and it is amazing to see we are, as I said earlier, right where we expected to be. Coming into the season, we expected a 4-0 start, and we got it. From this point on we expect things to get tougher, but they are not impossible. This team grew up when it blocked Miami's game winning field goal attempt, and it decided in that instant to turn things around. We have Notre Dame next, and as much as Brent Musberger and Herbstreit want then to, their defense cannot stop anyone right now. They will get their points and yards against us, but we have a much better chance up there than originally thought. I still don't think we'll come up with a W up there, but it is a larger possibility than before.

I still think Iowa is an almost certain loss, more so than Notre Dame, but now Wisconsin and Penn State look like much more winnable games. Unless Michigan State goes into a trademark swoon, it too is probably a loss, but Illinois, Northwestern, and Indiana are still likely wins. Hawaii is a toss up, and I don't feel comfortable needing that game to get to a bowl.
So we will see. Notre Dame week begins right now. As my brother-in-law has said before, "We'll be there, they'll have the ball, everyone will be in the stands, they're keeping score and everything. We might as well try and win the thing."

Meanwhile, I'll go back to watching the ABC Saturday night crew do everything except propose marriage to the entire Notre Dame football team. This is almost getting obscene.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Week 4 Preview (Man up, Dawg!)

It’s conference time. Most of the teams in the Big Ten have salted away enough non-conference wins that they can now realistic look at the conference slate and say, "Hey, we’ve got a bowl game locked up with just these games." While I doubt we’ll have another year like a few years ago when Wisconsin went 2-6 in the Big Ten and still qualified for a bowl thanks to a spotless out of conference record, it is conceivable with the new 12 game schedule to get eight and even nine teams bowl eligible now. The Big Ten did send eight a few years ago when only Illinois, Indiana, and Penn State stayed home for the holidays in 2003. If teams continue to schedule cupcakes (and not get bitten by them, will we eventually have year where nine and maybe even 10 teams go bowling? If Indiana and Northwestern had not already choked against 1-AA foes and assuming they would have already come out of this Saturday with a win, this could have been that year.

As it stands now, six teams are already halfway to bowl eligibility and still haven’t stepped on the field in conference play yet. Most of those, like Michigan (Ball State), Wisconsin (Buffalo), and Ohio State (Bowling Green) still have a relatively easy non-conference game left to fatten up on as well. Iowa still has Northern Illinois who may post a challenge, but the Hawkeyes will still likely win in Iowa City. Considering everyone but Michigan and Minnesota don’t play a horrible Illinois team means another win for everyone else. With the remaining schedules of the 3-0 teams, only Purdue looks the shakiest to get to bowl eligibility. Thanks to a 13th game in ending the season at Hawaii, the Boilermakers must get to seven wins.

As I have mentioned before, this is a critical weekend for the Boilermakers. They haven’t exactly been impressive in beating teams that are a combined 1-8, but they have gotten he job and with a team this young, that is really all you can ask. They have improved each week and they are ready for a crack at a Big Ten team. Since Illinois, Northwestern, and Indiana lie later on the schedule, and the Boilers have likely already passed them anyway, there is only one team they can perfectly match up against right now, and that team happens to be the one coming into Ross-Ade Stadium for homecoming in two days: Minnesota.

Before I get to that game though, I wanted to finish my thought on the bowls. This year, the Big Ten once again has seven spots to fill. If things break like they did in 2003, when Ohio State and Michigan both grabbed BCS bids, the potential is there to get eight teams in like that season. That year, Northwestern snuck into the last spot at 6-6, beating out several other more deserving teams because of that Motor City bowl contract.

Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State (by virtue of games left against Illinois, IU, and Northwestern) and Wisconsin can probably safely assume they will be making trips to the postseason to take the first five slots. Penn State has Temple remaining, and I can easily see them getting three more wins in conference to be #6. Illinois has too much ground to make up, needing to go 4-4 and get a win over Ohio to qualify, which likely won’t happen. That leaves Purdue, Minnesota (likely win left over North Dakota State), Indiana, and Northwestern needing to go either 3-5 or 4-4 in conference to qualify for a spot. So when we look at that, and seeing that Indiana and Northwestern are likely underdogs this weekend in non-conference action, as well as for the rest of the year, this weekend’s Minnesota-Purdue is huge for both teams. Before we get to that though, let’s look around the rest of the conference.
Northwestern (2-1) at Nevada (1-2) – Northwestern has not looked very good so far this year. They barely snuck past a bad Eastern Michigan team, lost to a 1-AA team, and won on the road against a Miami (OH) team that seems to play better on the road. To entertain any hopes of a bowl game, made tougher when the Wildcats don’t face Indiana or Minnesota who are considerably closer in weight class, they have to win this game.
Going on the road out west is always tough for Big Ten teams, however. The fact this is also on a Friday night, getting them even more out of their normal rhythm could become a factor for the Wildcats as well. Nevada plays well at home too, having won six straight in Reno, and just knocked off an unbeaten Colorado State team. The losses have been to Fresno State and Arizona State on the road, so they aren’t bad losses by any means. Combine that with an unorthodox pistol offense, and the Wildcats could be in trouble.

PREDICTION: Nevada 24, Northwestern 10 – Northwestern has yet to do much offensively, and that doesn’t bode well for a long road trip. This one just feels like it could get out of hand.

Iowa (3-0) at Illinois (1-2) – Iowa goes to Syracuse and struggles without Drew Tate, winning only in double OT thanks to a great defensive stand against a Syracuse team that had not won in a year. The same Orange team then goes to Illinois and easily handled the Illini in last week’s CRIPPLE FIGHT! special. Drew Tate is back this week, and Iowa is light years better with him than without him.
It’s not like Memorial Stadium is intimidating as a road venue either. I am more scared of the cramped corridors and dim, dingy restrooms than of the Illini football team. If this game was being played at halftime in said corridors, there’s no way Iowa could move the ball amidst the trapped masses. Unfortunately for Illinois, this game gets to be played in the wide open spaces of the field.
PREDICTION: Iowa 49, Illinois 3 – I am sure the Illini will manage a sympathy drive for a score or two, but this game may be one of the largest mismatches of the Big Ten season.

Minnesota (2-1) at Purdue (3-0) – In my opinion this will be the most exciting game of the week. I don’t know what we can take from the fact that Minnesota smoked a Kent State team that went in and beat Miami (OH) 44-0, but the Gophers weren’t seriously challenged in that game. Were they just hot at the right time? Who knows? With a bye week against Temple last week, the Gophers have only been truly tested once in a 42-17 road loss at California. Again, Big Ten teams playing on the west coast never do well.
As previously stated, my Boilers haven’t set the world on fire either, but they appeared to have turned the corner last week. The National media only saw the final score and yardage and assumed Purdue had to struggle again to be another sub-par opponent. What they don’t see, however, is that the game was 38-13 with less than 10 minutes to go. The Boilers let off the throttle and gave up two long drives for 15 points to cosmetically make things better. A turnover and two costly penalties also led to Ball State’s 10 first half points, and once again the defense stiffened when it mattered most with a goal line interception in the second quarter. With an offense like Purdue’s if the defense can just give up field goal drives as opposed to touchdown drives it will be in a lot of games.
As usual, Minnesota will be running the football, but do not underestimate Bryan Cupito. Drew Brees’ Big Ten records are safe from the senior, but he’s a game-manager who can control the tempo. If he is on and can get the ball to his receivers Minnesota will be in it all day. This game has to the potential to be an epic shootout like the record-setting 59-56 Gopher win in Minneapolis in 1993.
I like the way Purdue is improving right now, and I get the sense that we’ve been holding back on a lot of defensive schemes just for this game. There is also the motivation last year. Purdue’s double-OT loss in Minneapolis started the downward spiral last season, as the Boilers had an eight point lead very late only to give up a tying TD drive and 2-point conversion, as well as a 7-point lead on 4th and goal in the first overtime that would have won the game with one play. GBI talked about Purdue felt lucky to be in last year’s game, but it is crap. Minnesota was lucky to win it as Purdue had the game and threw it away, plain and simple.
This is a tough one to call, and ultimately it will come down to turnovers. If Curtis Painter can take care of the football this week, Purdue has an excellent shot. He was cash money in the second and third quarters last week, but can he do it for a full game?
PREDICTION: Purdue 45, Minnesota 42 – It will be a shootout, but I think Purdue turned a corner last week. They know this is close to a must win. A win puts us 4-0 and likely headed somewhere in December, which is a plus, a loss and you’re likely looking at a critical Northwestern game with a 3-3 record in three weeks. A young defense will feed of the home crowd and do just enough.

Wisconsin (3-0) at Michigan (3-0) – Both teams are 3-0, but a very different 3-0. Michigan was dominant over a team that I thought it would struggle mightily against last week. Is Michigan really that good, or is Notre Dame as overrated as many thought? The jury is still out there. Wisconsin will look at this game as a chance to prove it belongs at the big boy table this year. With no Ohio State on the schedule for the Badgers, a win could mean serious thoughts of a Big Ten title.
Seriously though, the Badgers have been just as underwhelming as anyone outside of Columbus or Ann Arbor so far. It’s starting look like there is a big gap between the top two and everyone else that only Iowa may be able to leap. Are the Badgers merely the best of the rest, contended to dogfight everyone else for 3rd or 4th place? We’ll know after this game.
PREDICTION: Michigan 28, Wisconsin 17 – It will be methodical, but the Wolverines get the job done at home. There will be some let down from last week, but not enough.

Connecticut (1-1) at Indiana (2-1) – As mentioned previously this week, I am no longer taking the same old, sorry-assed Hoosiers seriously until they give me reason to do so. They have another shot next week with Hoeppner coming back for the Big Ten opener, but if they get this game and two Big Ten wins they will have to be kicking themselves for getting pushed around by Southern Illinois.
Seriously, how can you get out-rushed 244 to 76 by a 1-AA team? Does IU have Special Olympians for running backs? This just boggles my mind that a Big Ten team (arguably) cannot run against a 1-AA team. And don’t give me this 85-scholarship limit crap. The bad teams under DiNardo and Cameron would still have won going away this past Saturday. It just so happens that Connecticut specializes in running the ball.
PREDICTION: UConn 32, Indiana 20 – With D.J. White not coming back Kelvin Sampson’s team will struggle… Oh wait, this isn’t a marquee basketball match up. Although apparently if Uwe Blab suited up for this year’s football team he could simply fall down for more yards than the any current same old, sorry-assed Hoosier running back can gain.

Penn State (2-1) at Ohio State (3-0) – Ohio State took a half off last week and still won easily over Cincinnati, while Penn State got fat against Youngstown State. Honestly though, the Nittany Lion offensive attack has been way too erratic to pose a serious threat, especially since this game is in Columbus.
Penn State’s defense hasn’t done too much yet, as it needs to clone Paul Posluszny in order to be good enough to stop Ohio State’s offense. The Lions may hang around in this one, but Ohio State is fast becoming a scary good team, while Penn State hasn’t been that impressive yet. Much like the Wisconsin-Michigan game, this one will be big to see how well the top two can be tested this year.
PREDICTION: Ohio state 35, Penn State 14 – Again, much like the Michigan-Wisconsin game, Ohio State will go out and simply get the job done, no more, no less. It has Iowa to look forward to next week.

Notre Dame (2-1) at Michigan State (3-0) – This game should be just as entertaining as the Purdue-Minnesota game, only with much more at stake. Michigan State has already essentially punched a bowl ticket, but they can lock it up even more with a win and prove that they want to be a big boy this year too. Notre Dame is reeling after the whipping it took, and with a loss this week, the national title dream will be delightfully over even for the most deluded of fans.
Brady Quinn played like the real Brady Quinn last week, as any time he faces a real, live defense he struggles. Michigan State’s pass defense isn’t that great, and for some reason, the Spartans play a lot better in South Bend than at home against the Irish. Also, curiously enough, Charlie Weis is still unbeaten on the road for the Irish. This game will say a lot about both teams, and the real question is: Is it time for Michigan State’s annual meltdown?
PREDICTION: Notre Dame 31, Michigan State 30 – I want to pick the Spartans at home, I really do, but I just can’t. I’m not all that convinced yet and I think Notre Dame has the better overall team.

NATIONAL GAMES OF THE WEEK: There’s not a whole lot that is blowing my skirt up as far as national games this week, but if I had to pick two one would be Arizona State at Cal. I’m not totally sold on the golden bears yet, and this could be a statement game for the Sun Devils in the Pac-10 race. Arizona State 31, Cal 27.
My second national game would be Hawaii at Boise State. Our season ending game at Hawaii is far from a slam-dunk as it feature a crazy passing attack that will keep them in every game. The Warriors hung tough at Alabama a few weeks ago and could surprise on the blue turf of Boise. Hawaii 35, Boise State 32
Homecoming reactions on Saturday night.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

National week 3 in review (Okay, wheat goes over here, and chaff goes over there…)

I have no had a couple of days to digest some of my thoughts on this week, and while I must pay homage to ESPN and refer to it as ‘separation Saturday’, I prefer to think of it more as just a great day for college football. By no means did a team win a national title on Saturday, as with injuries, fluke plays, and sheer bad luck a team can fall apart at this point. Several teams, however, lost a chance at the title.

Right at the top of that list has to be Miami. The Hurricanes pulled a Purdue and completely messed themselves at the first sign of adversity, this after making asses of themselves by stomping on Louisville’s logo. The old Miami would have done that then gone out and taken care of business. Instead, they folded up and were shut out in the second half of a big game yet again. This was very much like their bowl game against LSU last year, where they started with a good drive, and thought the day was over. Even if the Canes turn things around and win the ACC it won’t make the situation better, as that offense is downright putrid against even mediocre defenses.

The second team that got knocked out already is Notre Dame. There are some saying that they will still be right there if they run the table, beat an undefeated USC team to end the season, and there are a bunch of one loss teams. There are some who have even said Notre Dame could leapfrog over an undefeated West Virginia or Louisville if it finishes with just this one loss and the other team is Ohio State. If they get in the title game that way, it will be a travesty against college football, but we all know the media factor would make it happen. Michigan went in and truly proved me wrong by viciously ending the hype, but they also exposed the true Notre Dame for what it is. Brady Quinn cannot handle any kind of pressure whatsoever before he starts to fold up, and a solid offense can roll on that defense all day. All you have to do is control the clock and get pressure and they crack. It was refreshing to see Quinn revert to the whole ‘throw three picks early, then get his stats’ late mode. And CFBNews still made him a top 10 player of the week because he managed to pad his stats once the game was over. Lest we forget he personally had two turnovers taken to the house. True leaders and good quarterbacks don’t fold in the face of the slightest pressure, Brady. Rick Mirer and Ron Pawlus would be proud.

I honestly feel better about facing the Irish in a week and a half. I feel like Purdue’s offense can move against the Irish defense, and it could be a shootout. I am not predicting a victory, but I think Purdue can keep it close for a half to three quarters at least. Certainly not the blowout we experienced last year and what many Domers are predicting. Notre Dame choked, and there is no other way to say it. Let them have their delusions of grandeur that things will turn around. This is the type of loss that often causes Notre Dame to unravel as they have the past several years. Your season is over, enjoy the Gator Bowl again.

This also proves that I was wrong this past week in my point about attitude. I felt Notre Dame would roll simply because they were being Notre Dame again. I didn't take into account that the true Notre Dame of the past 15 years has been prone to fall apart and not truly be a national player, despite a lofty start. I was also wrong about Miami having attitude, as it lasted for all of the first 10 minutes when they fell apart. Michigan had more of an attitude and used it to punch Notre Dame in the mouth early. Louisville took offense to Miami's early attitude and survived an early bloody nose to crush the Canes. This goes to show that sometimes too much attitude can be harmful.

We are starting to see, even this early into the season, quite a few teams that are overrated and underrated. There are some teams that are showing improvement each week and will be dangerous down the road, where others seem to be riding high on past accomplishments and really have not done that much aside from what is expected. I think this week proved that in addition to Notre Dame being grossly overrated, Oregon might be a bit when they really lost in a win. You can toss Florida State and Miami into that overrated category together, as their game may not have been so much of a classic as two really bad offenses going at each other.
Some of the more underrated teams have to be Clemson, who is only a tough double overtime-special teams breakdown-punch in the groin loss from being unbeaten and controlling the ACC divisional race. Louisville was vastly underrated after seeing them in person. They smoked Miami with backups playing in place of two Heisman trophy candidates, and since they essentially have a one game season with West Virginia now, I give them the edge in Papa John’s Cardinal stadium there. Throw Michigan State into this category as well, with a better than expected win this past week.

In looking at the rest of my picks from last week, I think it offers proof that I cannot accurately pick college football games consistently. I went 9-4, but missed on most of the larger games with Louisville-Miami, Notre Dame-Michigan, and Michigan State-Pitt. Over the rest of the nation things broke in an interesting way. Auburn took the lead in the brutal race for the SEC for now, while Oregon was lucky as hell to knock off Oklahoma. Florida State proved that yes, you do need an offense to go with defense and special teams in order to win in college football. They are now successfully out of the title hunt, as well as Tennessee after blowing it late against Florida.
It is still too early to tell for a lot of teams, however. Teams like Purdue, Missouri, Wake Forest, and Arizona St. are undefeated, but haven’t played anyone yet. I will have my own top 25 ranking after this week because most of the non-conference games will be over and many teams will have already played their first conference games, allowing for a better judgment of who the best 25 games are.

In one of the funnier result of the weekend, you have to look at the Indiana-Southern Illinois game. I know that since the beginning of the season I have been praising the Hoosiers as a team to watch and that with their weak schedule they could sneak into a bowl game. I will no longer be making that mistake.

It is downright embarrassing for a Big Ten team to lose to a 1-AA team. This one may be worse that Northwestern’s loss to New Hampshire a few weeks ago. New Hampshire came in and dominated the tempo from beginning to end. Indiana was comfortably in front and managed to choke the game away. If you cannot get motivated to beat a 1-AA team in a game you are trying to win for your coach who had brain surgery, then it is time for you to no longer be trusted with division 1-A football. This loss was pathetic even for Indiana. I don’t care that they are ranked 16th in the 1-AA poll, you’re a Big Ten team and this was one of the gimmes you scheduled to try and get to a bowl for the first time in more than a decade. There’s no excuse for losing it when you throw in all the factors involved. The Hoosiers will, from now on, be referred to as the "Same old, sorry-assed Hoosiers." Don’t let the Saluki pee on your rock before they leave town, guys.

The Big Ten is starting to look like a very exciting 3-team race as long as Iowa has Drew Tate. Each of the three plays the other two, one at home, one on the road, so if they go through everyone else on the schedule, We could have a three way tie at 7-1 for the conference assuming the home team wins each game. What makes things even more interesting is that if Purdue continues to improve, I see us as having at least a chance in every game other than the game at Iowa. With no game against Michigan or Ohio State, and a lot of luck, Purdue could be right there as well. Michigan State also had an impressive win this weekend to get into the discussion.
With conference play starting this weekend I think we can divide the conference into three clear categories with the way the teams look right now, in order of strength in each category.

Championship favorites:
Ohio State
Iowa (assuming Tate stays healthy, if not, they are demoted)
Bowl teams: (Probably won’t win the conference, but will give the above three fits and dogfight amongst themselves, this group is very balanced with each having flaws)
Michigan State
Penn State
Minnesota (Got waxed by the one real team they’ve played, dominated the JV teams)
France in 1940: (Just waiting to get rolled by everyone else in the conference)
Illinois (At least Indiana has beaten some 1-A teams)

With four conference games this week this structure can change quickly. The Purdue-Minnesota game is probably the most important for both teams. For Purdue, a win would get them to 4-0 and make bowl eligibility a strong probability with the entire France 1940 group remaining on the schedule late, giving the Boilers time to improve even more on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin and Penn State at Michigan and Ohio State, respectively, that will be attempts to reel in those two power teams early and open it up for everyone else. Only Iowa having a light practice at Illinois should be a blowout. Connecticut faces IU, Northwestern goes to Nevada, and Michigan State hosts Notre Dame. Of those, only Michigan State has a chance to make a statement and move up.

NEXT UP: Week 4 Previews for the entire Big Ten on Thursday

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Week 3 reactions (Taking your beating like a man).

On a most schizophrenic Saturday I have been able to witness both ends of the spectrum within my household, and for good measure it is the absolute opposite of what I am used to. My beloved Boilers continue to show improvement, as they handled things very, very well against Ball State today. While my adopted team, whom I saw for the first time in person, went out and laid a collective egg in what was a huge game for them, the type of game that they normally step up and win. I'll hit on both here, beginning with Purdue.

I was not there today and I only got to hear about half the game on the radio, but from what I have ready and from the highlights I have seen, I must say I feel better. Not great, but better. We seem to be improving from week to week gradually, rather than in leaps and bounds. That is to be expected though, and I will take it. No matter which way you slice it, we are still a very, very young team, and I am encouraged that they are showing improvement, rather than none at all. That is what these game against lesser competition are for, to get wins when we may not be as sharp as we need to be later. It's a marathon, not a sprint, to borrow an old cliché.
Painter had a solid day, cracking the 400-yard mark for the first time. He's still just a sophomore though, and we're going to have to learn to live with a couple of ill-advised interceptions. We gave up scores following them today, but responded to the early score and the late one did not matter. When you consider that 15 of their 28 points came with less than 8 minutes to go and we were ahead comfortably, and that is a very good sign.

Defensively, we are maturing greatly. Once again, we bent but did not break early and got a stop with Vinson's pick at the goal line. It is very telling how we are learning to stiffen up and get stops at critical junctures such as that. The last two TD's were throwaway TD's that served only to make the score closer. When you consider we were facing a solid, veteran quarterback who had played well of late, that is not too bad. This game served its purpose and got us the win we needed, as well as a huge dose of confidence.

And what else can I say about the play of Kory Sheets. I know I have not spoken of him too much so far, but he is putting up the kind of campaign that we have only dreamed of from a running back. He is already halfway to Alstott's TD record, and at his current pace he could have it by the end of the season. He has been a solid, consistent cog for us and as long as he stays healthy, we are going to have the privilege to watch him keep doing his thing.

I am also very pleased with Curtis Painter's play, specifically in the way he spread the ball around today. This is going to be critical to our success this season, and I like that Ball State was expecting us to run the ball, and we ended up having a banner day throwing it. Dustin Keller proved to be a dangerous weapon, and Selwyn Lymon had a solid day in finally getting involved in the offense. As Painter continues to develop with four solid weapons to throw two as well as a solid running back, this offense is only going to get more and more dangerous.

Most importantly, this team is gaining confidence. A confidence that many of our teams in the past five years have not had due to losing so many close games. We are learning how to win in a variety of ways against that are ripe for experimenting on. Ball State was a worthy opponent and we did exactly what we needed to do against them. In our bowl eligibility countdown, we have three down, and four to go, with perhaps our most critical swing game next. When you consider we have gone from only leading a bad 1-AA team by 5 with 20 minutes left to leading 38-13 and being comfortably in front of a team that we had reason to worry about.

It is all about improvement over time with these guys, and I am pleased we are doing just that. As long as we show more and more improvement each week, this season will be fine. Now it is Big Ten time, and since Illinois, Northwestern, and IU are later on the schedule, we have the next best opponent to improve against in Minnesota. The Gophers played no one today and won large as expected. They got blown out by their only opponent with a pulse, so it's important for us to focus, play our game, and get the job done.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the game I attended today. I must say, the walk to the stadium was one of the most fun experiences I have ever had, as we got in a group of more than 100 Hurricane fans that chanted and yelled the whole way. WE came in loud, proud, and en masse and many of the Louisville fans had the "What the hell is going on," look on their faces. We were proud, cocky, and generally acted like we owned the place.
Hurricane fans are a rare breed, as their five national titles in the past 25 years tend to add tot heir already natural swagger. The fans have at least as much swagger as the team, and it was refreshing to be part of such a confident atmosphere as opposed to the "what will happen next" attitude most Purdue fans have. And for about 10 minutes of the game, it was the same in the stadium.

Then the fumble happened.

The fumble was not nearly as drastic as Orton's fumble two years ago, but it was just as profound. Miami was already up 7-0, the defense had been dominate on two drives, forcing a punt and a fumble, and the Canes were on the 8-yard line about to go in for a crowd-quieting 14-0 early led on the road. They lost a fumble and, essentially, it was over from there. Two drive for missed field goals and 31 unanswered points later we were walking out of the stadium to the taunts of Louisville fans everywhere.

A quick sidebar: I have been several Big 10 stadiums following Purdue, and I have never run into fans as rude as Lousiville's. I know part of it was a byproduct of the attitude Miami had for coming in, but for a program that has accomplished less on a national scale than IU has over time, they sure are full of themselves. Some fans like the ones that in front of and behind us were gracious at least, but we were in the middle of the Miami section and there were tons of Louisville fans who had purchased tickets from Miami fans, ergo they did not have season tickets, and they were derisive, yelling in peoples face, and were generally insulting. On our way back to our car we ran into more taunts and insults, to the point where we had to be silent and walk quickly just to get the hell out of there. It is one of the few times where I left a game early for my own safety. It was that bad.

Back to my analysis. Once that fumble happened, Miami turned into Purdue of the past few years and folded. They came out with the appropriate swagger and dominated the early going, but clammed up at the first site of adversity, which was stunning. I will give Louisville credit as it is a very good team, but Miami played a terrible game for the last 50 minutes. Now the Canes find themselves in the unenviable position of being 1-2, and while the two losses have been to good teams, Miami has not looked good in either loss. It was impressive to see them in person, however. I still think Purdue could learn a lesson just from Miami's attitude.
Louisville fought hard. Its defense came to play and really settled down after the first ten minutes, while it's offense was relentless and simply kept attacking down field. If you attack enough times, it will eventually work, and that is what happened. Sure they have lost Bush for the year and now Brohm for 4-6 weeks, but they have a one game season left with West Virginia alone.

There will be changes soon for the Canes. Coker is not a bad guy as a coach, but in a program with such high expectations playing badly in your last four losses and generally looking unprepared against beatable opponents is not a good thing. The Canes have come in with their attitude each time against Georgia Tech, LSU, Florida State, and Louisville and has been flat out embarrassed each time. Once again Miami's offensive line was a question mark, and I wonder how good it would be with Purdue's line.

So we sit here after three weeks and Purdue is 3-0, as was expected against inferior opponents, but my wife's Canes are 1-2 and searching for all kinds of answers. Who knew that at this point in the season Purdue would have more of an upside and still be technically alive for the national title (by no means am I expecting it) and Miami's season is effectively over with its "title or nothing" expectations.

So that was my Saturday. I will touch on the rest of "Separation Saturday,", as we are required by ESPN to call it, in the rest of my weekend in review. I will say this, however, I want to nominate Lloyd Carr for sainthood, and God Bless everyone at the University of Michigan.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Week 3 preview (What doesn't kill us only MAKES US STRONGER!!)

This is the year where hope fails you
The test subjects run the experiments
And the bastards you know, is the hero you hate
But cohesion is possible if we strive
There’s no reason, there’s no lesson
No time like the present, telling you right now
What have you got to lose, what have you got to lose
Except your soul...who's with us!!!!!!! – Pulse of the Maggots, Slipknot

First of all, I know we could never come out to that song because I doubt Purdue would change, but to those of you who have heard it, would it not be a better ‘fire up’ anthem than When Worlds Collide? Can you imagine coming out of the tunnel with the air raid siren that it has and having the entire student section jumping in time with the marching beat at the beginning? I don’t know about you, but that would get my blood going on Saturdays.

And that brings me to my point about this week’s games, not only in the Big Ten, but also around the country. When you have teams that are evenly matched, or a team coming in wanting to pull an upset, attitude can mean everything. Why has Purdue struggled not only in big games, but also in games against supposedly inferior opponents? We have lacked the proper attitude, a ‘swagger’ if you will. Our talent level has never been as high in West Lafayette as it has been the last four seasons, probably peaking in 2003 when we had a team that, in my opinion, was better than the Rose Bowl team. Yet we have constantly struggled to close out close games and have lost to teams we should have no business losing to.

I would argue that we could have benefited more last year if we had a team-wide attitude that Pollard, Kirsch, and Edwards, our so-called ‘troublemakers’, had. Am I condoning their actions? Somewhat. I am saying that if we as a team had collectively had their attitudes, and they had been more integrated into the team as a whole, we would have been better off. We cast them as outsiders instead of taking their attitude team-wide, which naturally made them rebel and cause friction. In football you have to have the "I am a certified badass," attitude.

Why has Miami (FL) been at the top consistently for the last two decades (minus the sanctions of the mid-90’s)? They not only have had boatloads of talent, but an attitude of "We are better than you, we are going to kick your ass, and you will enjoy it because you cannot stop it." From watching their games over the past four seasons as well as Purdue’s the difference is dramatic. When Miami does not have that attitude, they often lose with superior talent. We have never had that attitude as a team, and it has cost us in games like Minnesota last year, Northwestern the past two years, Wisconsin two years ago, and in probably every single bowl game since 2000 outside of the Rose Bowl, where we have been the better team coming in, but have not gotten the job done.

I say all this because in all of this weekend’s games, attitude will be a huge factor. It is why Notre Dame is getting better and better. It is why Michigan has struggled recently. It is why Ohio State went into Texas and won. And it is why we need to come together and dominate right now.

Michigan (2-0) at Notre Dame (2-0) – This is our only hope for Notre Dame to have a loss before they play USC. This is our last great hope that the hype will be ended, saving us from a long national nightmare. Michigan is the last team before the Trojans that I feel has the talent to come in and go toe-to-toe with the Irish and beat them physically. Anyone else on their schedule and it would be because of a fluky offense or the Irish beating themselves. Michigan State is way too shaky this early in the season to do it next week, and Purdue would have to play an absolutely perfect game to have a chance.
The thing is, Michigan has not had the necessary attitude for some time. I think, when you look across the board as a whole, Michigan has the physically better team, but they are lacking in attitude. Notre Dame has that attitude in bunches right now, and it has been proven in the past that they ride that emotion well until they get cocky, wear green jerseys, and someone beats them because of it. They simply crushed a good Penn State team last week, and they are riding high right now.
PREDICTION: Notre Dame 38, Michigan 21 – I hope I am wrong, but I don’t think Michigan has a prayer in this one. I get the sense Notre Dame is starting to roll and it will take something wacky, say a fluky wishbone offense and high altitude in a late season visit to Air Force, for them to lose right now.

Cincinnati (1-1) at Ohio State (2-0) – This one should be no contest. The Buckeyes just went into the home stadium of the defending National Champs when they were still ranked #2 and walked out with an easy win and we’re supposed to expect Cincinnati to hang with them? Cincinnati has a win over 1-AA team and lost to Pittsburgh. Their offense right now probably couldn’t score in a women’s prison with a fistful of pardons, much less against Ohio State’s D in Columbus. This is a short preview.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 45, Cincinnati 3 – The Buckeyes roll in this one. I mean come on. Cincy ducked out of playing us two years ago in Ross-Ade, making Syracuse come in its stead.

Michigan State (2-0) at Pitt (2-0) – this is one of the more interesting games of the week for the Big Ten, as the Spartans want to prove their early struggles with the likes of Idaho are in the past. I want to point out again, what is to get excited about them other than Drew Stanton? You never know when this team is going to fold each year, so will it be this week?
Pitt is one of those quiet teams that have played very well on both side of the ball to this point. They are a bit of an enigma and they also want to get some respect for their conference with a win over a Big Ten team. They also have a former NFL coach who is defensive minded calling the shots. The days of Larry Fitzgerald may be over, but remember, Pitt went in to Notre Dame and crushed them two years ago. They did lay a huge egg last season, however, so can they be trusted?
PREDICTION: Pitt 35, Michigan State 32 – This should be a very good game, but I give the advantage to Pitt being at home. If it were reversed, my pick would be Michigan State.

Syracuse (0-2) at Illinois (1-1) - When looking at this game I feel it is like the episode from Season five of South Park where Timmy and Jimmy get in a fight, and Cartman goes running around the town screaming, "CRIPPLE FIGHT!!!" I mean come on, Syracuse could not get two freakin’ yards in seven straight plays last week. It had a good Iowa team come into its house and pretty much do everything it can to hand it the game, and it still can’t get the job done.
Illinois is even more of a joke. When you can’t score against Rutgers of all people, I think it is time for demotion to 1-AA for at least a year. With all due respect to the Scarlet Knights, who are coming around nicely, they had been to exactly one bowl game before last year. That’s fewer than football powerhouses like Indiana, Baylor, Duke, and Vanderbilt have been to. They are improving, but we’re not exactly talking about the Bears’ defense here. They scored 3 points against our defense last year, for crying out loud! Seriously, this team won the Big Ten just five years ago?
PREDICTION: Syracuse 14, Illinois 7 – I sure hope this game is not televised anywhere. At least Syracuse was competitive against Iowa.

Iowa State (2-0) at Iowa (2-0) – Wow! I guess Iowa really does rely on Drew Tate and his leadership. How else can you explain its near embarrassing loss last week? He really needs to come back this week for the Hawkeyes to have a chance. Iowa State has surprisingly won six of the last eight games in this series, and when you look back, the Cyclones were the only team to beat Iowa in the 2002 regular season, preventing the Hawkeyes from being the second undefeated team from the Big Ten that year.
With Tate, I think the Hawkeyes are a very serious national title contender. Without him, they are very beatable, however. Fortunately for Iowa, Iowa State’s pass defense may be one of the few in the country that is worse than ours. It should give us an idea of how well we will match up in a few weeks when we visit Iowa City. The Cyclones aren’t afraid of playing in Kinnick Stadium though, as they along with Michigan are the only two teams that have walked away with wins there in recent years. This is all hinging on how well Tate plays.
PREDCITION: Iowa 31, Iowa State 30 – never discount a rivalry game, as Iowa State can play a bit, but Tate will be the difference.

Ball State (1-1) at Purdue (2-0) – This is exactly what I mean about attitude. On paper, Ball State has absolutely no business coming in to our house and thinking they can compete. We blasted them 59-7 two years ago, and we need to remember that. Yet because of our own timidity and struggles on defense, they think they have a shot to come in and hang with us. Our defense was better last week and will continue to improve, but it has to show that this week. Simply put, we’re in serious trouble this year if we allow much of anything on the ground to the Cards. Yes they can pass, but their running game has pretty much been non-existent against Eastern Michigan and IU. Our run defense has to be better than theirs.
Also, Ball State cannot defend the option, which is our preferred offensive set. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time to go Oklahoma 1972 on them and just run the ball down their throats. Keep running until they stop us, and why risk getting too crazy in the passing game? If we allegedly have one of the best lines in the country, let’s freakin’ use it! Just come out with the attitude of "We’re running the ball, stop us." This purpose is twofold, as it allows the offense to gain confidence in all aspects (we can still pass 15-20 times) and it keeps the defense off the field. They can’t score if they don’t have the ball, right? I don’t care we get it done, just take care of the ball and put it in the endzone.
Purdue needs to come out and make a statement in all aspects of our game. 3-0 will psychologically look infinitely better as we were stuck on two in the win column forever last season, so Saturday is critical. We have to have an attitude when Ball State comes in on Saturday, and make them feels sorry for even considering they could compete with us. On defense we need to sit back and drop seven our eight into coverage in order to gain confidence, and on offense it is time to just cram the ball down an opponents’ throat.
PREDICTION: Purdue 49, Ball State 21 – The defense isn’t perfect, but better as we make the statement I am asking for. I won’t be there guys, and the last time I missed a home game was the previously mentioned 59-7 game when I was in Colorado. It’s time to wake up and step up.

Eastern Michigan (0-2) at Northwestern (1-1) – Northwestern has to be wondering what the heck happened last week. I am as well. Miami’s (OH) passing attack didn’t exactly look that bad to me, yet Northwestern kept them in check on the road. New Hampshire comes in and goes wild on them. I know New Hampshire is a top-notch 1-AA team, but how can you explain that?
Eastern Michigan hasn’t done much against Michigan State and Ball State so far, but who knows which Northwestern team will show up. I know Eastern Michigan is not a good MAC program, but this will be a very telling game to see how Northwestern will do the rest of the year. If they struggle against a team that is probably worse than New Hampshire, then it’s times to look forward to a season ending battle for last place with Illinois.
PREDICTION: Northwestern 21, Eastern Michigan 10 – The Wildcats can’t lay an egg two weeks in a row at home. This is simply a must win at any cost for them.

Temple (0-2) at Minnesota (1-1) – This is another no contest game. Temple is playing at about a 1-AAAA level right now. Minnesota should have a pretty easy time of it before they head to West Lafayette for a conference opener that will be just as important for them as it will be for us. It will be interesting to gauge their defense against a sorry team like Temple to see how we will do against them. Offensively, I have never played a down of organized football in my life (I grew up a basketball player) and I could probably step in and run for 100 yards with Minnesota in this game.

PREDICTION: Minnesota 48, Temple 3 – That’s three pity points for the Owls. I hate prediction shutouts, plus remember how well my 66-0 shutout prediction turned out two weeks ago.
Youngstown State (2-0) at Penn State (1-1) – I remember a few years ago, during the 2000 Rose Bowl year, when Michigan blew a second half lead in losing to us 32-31 on Dorsch’s last second field goal. The way Michigan played in the first half of that game there was no way we could have won, but the second half was night and day different, as we somehow held them to just a field goal and came back to win. The next week Michigan was pissed for losing and played like it, absolutely destroying Indiana 58-0 at Michigan.
I say that because Penn State has to be pissed with their play Saturday at Notre Dame, and Youngstown State, despite being one of the best 1-AA programs over the years, is a hapless victim wandering into Happy Valley. I would not want to be their quarterback against those linebackers.
PREDICTION: Penn State 52, Youngstown State 7 – Do Nittany Lions eat Penguin? Apparently so.

San Diego State (0-1) at Wisconsin (2-0) – Simply put, the Badgers don’t lose non-conference games at home. If San Diego State could heal Marshall Faulk and bring him back for this game they might have a chance, but it’s not bloody likely. Wisconsin hasn’t played too overly well so far, so the Aztecs (one of the cooler names in sports) might be able to hang around for awhile, but I don’t see them seriously threatening.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 35, San Diego State 20 – This game is never really that close, as it’s on of those ‘keep the other team at arm’s length all day’ games.

Southern Illinois (1-0) at Indiana (2-0) – I will give the Hoosiers, and many of the other Big Ten teams credit. At least when they are going out and snagging games against 1-AA opponents they are getting good ones. The Salukis are ranked 16th in the lower division poll, and IU struggled with Nicholls State last year when they barely made it to the game because of hurricane Katrina.
All that being said, however, they don’t stand a chance. Please refer to my opening few blog entries when I say this, as I do not say it to make light of the situation or make fun of the Hoosiers and their situation with coach Hep, but this has cancer boy game written all over it. There is no way that IU loses this at home.
PREDICTION: Indiana 27, Southern Illinois 10 – The Hoosiers get halfway to their coveted bowl eligibility, and a chance to improve things in order to get the three more wins they need.

This week there are literally tons of games to pick for my two national games, and I already know that one of them will be the game I am attending, Miami (FL) (1-1) at Louisville (2-0). This is another attitude game, as the Hurricanes failed to bring the proper attitude in all three of last year’s losses, as well as their season opener against Florida State. To make things worse, Louisville is already barking about having attitude itself, and they are on the same level as Miami, if it hasn’t already passed them by. From my experience, that is usually a big mistake. The Canes usually get up for big games on the road, and not only beat Virginia Tech last season when they started talking, but ripped out their souls in Blacksburg. It’s times for the Canes to break out the fatigues again. Why does everyone hate them? Because they are usually cocky AND they back it up. That’s my kind of team. It’s time to get back that, and if they do Louisville doesn’t have a chance.
The game is being played in Louisville though, and you can’t take away from that. The Cards are very, very tough at home, having won 13 straight at home and 17 of 18. Brandon Merriweather thinks that’s cute though, and mentions that the Canes once won 58 in a row at home, and it still ended. This should be a fantastic game, well worth the money. Miami (FL) 27, Louisville 24

For my second national game I want to go with LSU (2-0) at Auburn (2-0). This is a #3 vs. #6 game that will have huge implications in the national title race. Both teams are fairly even, but I get the sense LSU is out for blood after the way they have dismantled opponents lately. By the end of the day, the winner could be #2 in the polls and control their own destiny. I give the edge to Auburn, playing at home. Auburn 10, LSU 7.

NEXT UP: Week three reactions for both the Boilers and the Canes on Saturday night.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

National week in review (Cupcakes? CUPCAKES! SWEET CAKES FOR ALL!!)

I want to begin this entry with a more serious tone and express Get Well Soon wishes to Indiana University football coach Terry Hoeppner. As it broke this afternoon, Coach Hep is scheduled to undergo emergency surgery tomorrow on a possible recurrent brain tumor. He had successful surgery this past December and has recovered to lead the Hoosiers to a 2-0 start. As a Purdue fan growing up I have been condition to cheer against all things IU, but this transcends my feelings toward the university's sports teams, obviously. Coach Hoeppner is a wonderful coach who had tons of success at Miami of Ohio (some of his players, of which, were still around to nearly topple us on Saturday). When IU hired him I immediately became concerned because I felt that if anyone could make IU football into a winning program, it would be him. It hasn't happened yet, but he has them pointed in the right direction by instilling an attitude and belief that they can compete with anyone. He has already worked wonders by making IU football relevant again in the state of Indiana, at least recruiting-wise, and with their schedule this year they could sneak into bowl contention, which would be huge for them.

So, Coach Hepp, I give you my prayers and best wishes for a speedy recovery from my little corner of Boilermaker Country. Get back on the sidelines soon so we can actually have some competition again for the bucket.

As a prelude to what will probably be one of the most exciting weeks of the season, with tons of big games all over the country, this week was quite a dud. The two biggest games, Notre Dame-Penn State and Ohio State-Texas were both pretty dull affairs in which the winners were comfortably ahead for most of their respective games and were never seriously threatened. I had the Texas-Ohio State game on in my home and I barely noticed Ohio State taking the lead as I worked on some more writing, so riveting is not exactly the word I would give to that game.
For the most part, everyone else feasted on cupcakes of a stronger variety than last week, and a few, like Northwestern, ended up getting poisoned cupcakes. As a Purdue fan, I am obviously very excited at the prospect of playing the Wildcats now. With all due respect to New Hampshire, which is rated #2 in the 1-AA poll, it is flat out embarrassing for a Big Ten program, especially one playing an emotional home opener, to lose to a 1-AA team by 17 points. Every other big ten team, in fact even the remaining non-conference opponents on Northwestern’s schedule, have to be licking their collective chops at the prospect of facing the Wildcats. They are going to have to recover in a hurry, as they have road trip to a respectable Nevada team in two weeks before beginning the Big Ten slate that misses only Indiana and Minnesota.

A second surprising result from the weekend is Iowa needing double overtime to get past lowly Syracuse. I know Drew Tate missed the game, but he can’t mean that much to the Hawkeyes, can he? His return will be critical this week against Iowa State, who has been a thorn in the side of Iowa for several years now. The rest of the Big Ten should take notice and think they have a better chance against Iowa now, although the Hawkeyes deserve credit for their goal line stand in the second overtime to get the win. 7 straight stops are very impressive against anyone.
Both Minnesota and Illinois got drilled on the road for the conference’s other two losses. Minnesota was playing Cal close for a half and let things get away, while Illinois was just dreadful. Minnesota showed that they have to be able to run the ball to be successful, while Illinois couldn’t do much of anything. They did not even convert a third down against the Scarlet Knights. It certainly looks like the Illini will camp out at the bottom of the conference standings for the rest of the season with Northwestern.

All this makes the Minnesota game for the Boilers in two weeks even more critical than before. I think it is critical not for us, but for the Gophers as well. They will likely need a victory over us to help their bowl aspirations, and assuming a win over Ball State (not as easy of an assumption now), it will be huge for us to get a win with games remaining against Illinois, Indiana, and Northwestern. I will say it right now: if we are 3-0 going into the Minnesota game, it will be the most pivotal game of our season. It doesn’t help us that we will have what looks like a tough game over Ball State this week, while they have a home game against 1-AAA Temple, which has to be the worst college football team in the country right now when you consider even Butler won this weekend.

When you look at my picks, my horn is out of tune just a little this week, as I went 9-4, missing big on the Minnesota over Cal upset and the Fresno State over Oregon upset. What is surprising is how close many of the games were, and how the games that were supposed to be close were blowouts.

Those of you who have read George Orwell’s 1984 Know what I mean by the phrase, "Doing our duty to the party." Since it is one of my wife’s favorite books we have adapted the line to our sports viewing. I won’t go into details specifically, but essentially we use it to refer to any Yankees-Red Sox game or any mention of Notre Dame football to refer to the sheer overwhelming media build-up and hype that those respective subjects get. After Notre Dame crushed a Penn State team that I though had a better defense than Georgia Tech, mandatory duty to the party will now increase sevenfold until the Irish are stopped. In typical fashion, they went from "What’s wrong with them! They’re human!" stories after an explainable close call on the road to "Greatest team in the history of the sport and it’s a crime against humanity of our TV’s aren’t tuned to NBC on Saturdays" in the span of a week.

The thing is, they may indeed be that good. I did not see any of their game, but the fact they won that convincingly shocked me a bit. I am honestly not expecting much out of Michigan this week as something just does not feel right about them, and I think that Michigan State and Purdue have way too many holes to mount a serious challenge. Like it or not, they are very, very good this year and if that defense continues to step up, they can play with anyone in the country. It will take someone outside of USC or Michigan playing a perfect game to beat them.
Elsewhere nationally there was not much news. I found Troy State’s near upset of Florida State to be the most shocking event of the weekend. How can the Seminoles go into the Orange Bowl and completely shut down Miami for a half, then struggle at home with Troy State? As a new Cane fan, I am even more upset now over last Monday’s debacle.

Of course, many other teams found plenty of offense in blowouts this week. The Hurricanes themselves had a nice scrimmage against FAMU, getting Javarris James some good work in the process. LSU crushed an Arizona team that keeps doinking its head on the corner it is trying to turn. Stanford proved that it is an embarrassment to the Pac-10 by losing to San Jose State. And several other teams beat up on Directional-U.

One of the more telling victories of the weekend was probably Indiana over Ball State. If you put much stock in come from behind close victories, the Hoosiers have to feel good about coming out of Muncie with a win. The Cardinals were playing their first home game ever against a Big ten squad, and it was a winnable game at that. The Hoosiers recovered nicely and came back for what is a good win for them. They get Southern Illinois next week in a game against a good 1-AA team, but still winnable for them, before a crucial game against Connecticut. Indiana is a team that I think will be much like Purdue this year, one that feasts on a winnable early schedule and sneaks into bowl eligibility by the end of the year.

For the most part, however, college football really shifts into high gear with all the fantastic games coming up this week. As previously noted, for just the fourth time in the Tiller Era I will not be in Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday. I have sold my tickets in order to purchase tickets to see my wife's alma mater, the U, for the first time as they are actually close enough for us to see a game at Louisville. This is my first college football game I will attend that does not involve Purdue, so I am curious to see this "swagger" in person. I will be listening on radio to as much as I can of Ball State-Purdue, but for one Saturday at least, I will be sporting orange and green over my traditional gold and black. So until my preview later in the week, BOILER UP!