Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Week 9 in review (The worst weekend of college football, ever)

There’s a sad and lonely comfort
In the hollow of your eyes
But don’t you let it take you over
Because it’ll eat you up inside.
– House Carpenter, Hurt

I have had a few days to try and digest the results for this Saturday, and it still hurts. We knew Notre dame was going to win because one of the few constants in life is Notre Dame beating up on a Service academy. That result wasn’t so much depressing as realizing they are still on the outside of the national title discussion with one good win (Georgia Tech), a blowout loss, and a bunch of wins over mediocre teams.

What is more depressing is looking at the Big Ten standings, the Indianapolis Star, and pretty much every other college football publication out there and seeing Indiana above us. We have dominated them over the course of the past decade and I know the law of averages states that eventually, they will overtake us, even temporarily. That still does not make it any easier when both teams have identical records, yet Indiana fans are talking about their team with hope, while we are talking about ours with despair. This is something that is just eating me up inside, because I know we are better than this. As the song above suggests, many Purdue fans have that haunted look in their eyes, and I don’t blame them.

The only other time this has happened in recent memory was in 2001 after the bucket game. Even then, there was no hope of Indiana going to a bowl because of losses they had had during the year. This time it is different. This Indiana team is dangerously close to being 7-2 right now instead of 5-4. They are playing with momentum, energy, and they have the benefit of being very young. Getting to any bowl game would be a huge boost for them as a program.

They have a coaching staff that is building a fan base and an attitude of excitement about the program that has been missing for several years. As a Purdue fan, I am tired of Purdue fans mocking IU, saying they have no chance of taking the bucket back this year, and calling their coach, “Coach Hype-ner.” IU’s coach is doing a great job of building a program where it was thought to be impossible to build one, and right now he’s beating us badly in that department. We need to take the Hoosiers very seriously right now. While we need to take care of our own business with Michigan State and Illinois before the bucket game, the tables can turn on us in a huge hurry if we don’t. They may already be turning.

We are plummeting right now. We need a win this weekend in the worst way, and a loss to a team that Indiana thoroughly dominated is the worst thing that can happen right now. A loss this weekend, and no bowl game this year coupled with an Indiana win over Minnesota and a bowl for them will reverse the recruiting edge we have held in the state over the Hoosiers we have had for some time. I know Indiana is not the hotbed for high school football that Texas, New Jersey, Ohio, and other states are, but as a journalist that covers the game every season, I can see it is improving.

I will give Indiana all the credit in the world for not quitting after the Southern Illinois and UConn losses. If they were to play those two teams right now, they would beat them handily. Something happened in that Illinois game and aside from the loss at Ohio State, which Ohio State will do that to all but about four teams right now, they are rolling with that momentum.

I don’t blame them either. Coach Hep has instilled an energy that Purdue has been sorely lacking for years now. Tiller brought that energy with him at first, but somewhere along the line we have lost it. We had a chance two years ago to rise above and cement ourselves in the middle of the Big Ten if not higher, but in the aftermath of The Fumble we have let that event get in our heads and grow to the point that we can’t even compete with good teams on Saturdays anymore.

There is still a chance to turn things around. The talent and ability is there to not only still make a bowl game, but to win each of the remaining four games. We are more than capable physically of beating Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana, and Hawaii. If we win out we still make the 9-4 prediction I had at the beginning of the season, only trading a Michigan State win for not getting the split with Wisconsin and Penn state I predicted. We cannot undo what has been so far, but we can still take a step in the right direction. Qualifying for a bowl game is that step.

This Saturday two teams that are absolutely desperate for a win and something positive will play in East Lansing. Both teams are spiraling downward, but have the ability to not only beat the other, but also thoroughly dominate them based on how the other has played. Michigan State probably needs it a little more than we do, but that is not saying much. One team’s season will effectively be over after Saturday, and honestly I am just not that excited about the game because of the direction we are going. Purdue needs to decide that they are not going to be that team.

Week 9 Big Ten Rankings:
Championship Division:

1. Ohio State – As usual, no change at the top. That was simply a demolition in Columbus on Saturday.
2. Michigan – They certainly did not look as impressive as they should have against Northwestern. Can one receiver really make that big of a difference?

Bowl Division:
3. Wisconsin
– The Badgers get pulled back to the pack this week with a way too close game against Illinois. The road to Orland and the Capitol One bowl goes through Madison this week against Penn State.
4. Penn State – Maybe their defense really is that good. I will give the Lions credit, they played very well and that linebacking corps was all over the field. Still, horrible play calling and execution had a lot to do with Purdue’s struggles.
5. Iowa – this was my pre-season pick to win the Big Ten. Now they may be lucky to make it to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl. This certainly does not look like the team that destroyed us right now.

Bowl Playoff Division:
6. Indiana
– Things are that serious. Indiana has beaten one team above them, and two of the ones below them right now. This is not the same team that struggled early on, and even the Western Michigan win looks good with the Broncos being 6-2 and leading the MAC. They control their own bowl destiny, and a 7-5 finish is very possible.
7. Purdue – we have a very tenuous hold on this spot only because right now Michigan State has more injury issues and is playing worse than us. What is worse that because of the Hawaii game a bowl is still not assured with a win Saturday. I’m just not excited about us anymore, and that is bad.
8. Michigan State – They are honestly very lucky to be here. Still, I don’t want to play them right now because the way we are playing, they could have a breakout game and demolish us. Still, they are a team we SHOULD beat.

It’s basketball season time Division:
9. Illinois
– I am moving the Illini up because they have played well in each loss. For a 2-7 team they have played some decent teams like Wisconsin, Penn State, and Iowa close. They will be dangerous for us next week, and next year could be a breakout year.
10. Minnesota – the Gophers need to do us a favor and lose to IU this week, so the Hoosiers won’t be playing for a bowl against us. This may be the best team ever to go winless in the Big Ten, as no NW of Illinois on the schedule hurts them.
11. Northwestern – Not a bad job by the Wildcats going into Michigan and holding the Wolverines to 17 points. Still, it’s been a long season in Evanston.

On a more national scale, I was dead wrong about the Canes this past week. I found it ironic that there was a posting on the Purdue football board about who said what between Larry Coker and Joe Tiller. Things are progressing nicely for a stumble-fest in the Champs Sports Bowl between my wife’s Canes and my Boilers. I’ve always wanted to see us play Miami, but this year it could be a real comedy of errors. Needless to say, things aren’t too happy in my household football-wise right now.

Adding to that misery is the fact that my wife is an Oregon Ducks fan, and Oregon’s main rival is Oregon State. The Beavers did a huge favor this weekend for the triumvirate of Big East unbeatens by knocking off USC. One of those unbeatens is the same Louisville team we saw demolish the Canes in person. Oregon State’s win was very impressive, as it was a true example of a team coming together and playing together to beat a much better, more experienced team.

It kind of makes you wish for Mike Riley to come to West Lafayette, doesn’t it?

National Rankings:
1. (1) Ohio State
2. (2) Michigan
3. (4) West Virginia

4. (5) Louisville (That will be a great game Thursday night)
5. (6) Texas (It gets really messy after this)
6. (3) USC
7. (7) Arkansas
8. (8) Auburn
9. (9) Florida
10. (11) Tennessee
11. (12) California
12. (14) Rutgers
(Expect a huge jump if they finish unbeaten)
13. (13) Notre Dame
14. (15) Boise State
15. (16) LSU
16. (17) Wisconsin
17. (10) Clemson
18. (18) Texas A&M
19. (21) Boston College
20. (22) Wake Forest
21. (20) Oklahoma
22. (24) Georgia Tech
23. (25) Oregon
24. (NR) Virginia Tech
25. (NR) Hawaii
Dropped out:
(19) Missouri, (23) Tulsa

I didn’t have many changes in this week’s rankings, but with there being only six undefeated teams left, it is starting to look like there will be a one loss team in the championship. You can go to hundreds of different places that are hazarding a guess as to who that would be, but I will be honest. I don’t have a freakin’ clue. When a team like Wisconsin can finish with one less and not even be in a BCS bowl because of the rules, how are we supposed to even guess?

NEXT UP: Week 10 Preview on Thursday. It’s going to take me that long to get over the sick feeling I have from Purdue.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Insert title here

There are a number of words and phrases I wanted to use with today's title. "Embarrassed," "Rock Bottom," "Fire Joe," and "Horrible," come to mind quickly. In truth, I don't think I have words to say to properly express my disgust at what happened yesterday in Ross-Ade Stadium. The closest thing I can probably say, with 100% certainty, is the following.

That was, by far, the worst performance we have had in more than a decade.

I just sat and stared at those words blinking on my screen for a minute or two. We simply could not have had a worse day. If you take away what happened on out field and the way it happened, it was still a horrible day. Notre Dame won with ease to keep their fleeting hopes for a national title alive. They were helped by USC losing, so they can rise higher. Indiana won in a walk, and not only are they now ahead of us in the Big Ten Standings, but they are actually one win away from a bowl game. A nightmare scenario is now possible where they could be playing us to go to a bowl.

When you add that to what happened today in Ross-Ade, plus Miami's loss to Georgia Tech, it was the worst college football Saturday in my house in a long time. I simply don't have many words to describe it.

The offense was putrid, plain and simple. Penn State has a good defense, don't get me wrong. I will give them credit where credit is due. Still, there is absolutely zero excuse for us getting shutout at home. With all the dropped passes, bad routes, and badly thrown balls this one lies with the offense as to why we didn't score. Not only did we not score, but also we didn't even get inside the 20 all day. Absolutely pathetic.

We could not even run the simplest of plays yesterday. Did we even have a single play that went for more than 15 yards? We ventured seriously into scoring territory once, and that was on the missed field goal drive. Once again, the offense panicked when we were behind and completely abandoned a running game that was working the instant we fell behind.

While the offense itself could not execute the plays that were called, the true onus of this debacle lies entirely with the coaching staff. Tiller was flat out-coached yesterday, period. We fell behind by the smallest of margins, 3-0, and we went away from the option game that was actually moving the ball. We needed one scoring drive today to win, that is all. The touchdown drive in the fourth quarter was once again the result of the defense being tired because the offense did nothing to help them. Painter running the ball on the option was actually moving the chains, and we went away from it.

Secondly, will someone explain to me why we didn't go deep even once when we had the wind at our backs? We have some of the most talented receivers in the conference. Lymon proved he could get the deep ball in the fourth quarter. Instead, we were content to continue banging our heads against the wall with a short passing game that was not working at all. Dorien Bryant is not the answer at all, as he drops more passes this year than he catches.

It is absolutely retarded that we have the offensive line that we have and we run so little when we are behind by such a small amount. Up until the fourth quarter we still only needed one touchdown drive to take the lead. We have a line that can dominate and a defense that is getting tired. What is honestly better than running the ball and going on a nice, long scoring drive? We have two quality backs that if we have them in the game at the same time, with a mobile quarterback, we could have a dominant running game. Instead, we panicked again and went away from the run as soon as we got behind.

It was also nice to see that the coaching staff once again did not have any cajones to go for it when the situation warranted it on a close 4th and 1, but had no problem later forcing the issue from a 4th and 10. Tiller, it's time to be a man and quit cowering when you have a chance to make a big play. I know it is in you because you have done it before. The 4th and 1 was at another critical juncture where we needed a spark, and the coaching staff went conservative instead of going out and grabbing that spark. The game was effectively over at that point.

The Indy Star this morning it said we went away from the vertical passing game because of the wind. Uh, Joe, it didn't look like it was much trouble in the fourth quarter when you finally tried it into the wind, or the few times Penn State actually went deep. Admit it, your playcalling sucked yesterday.

To make matters worse there seemed to be absolutely no emotion from the offense. I would argue that we would have been better off with Brandon Kirsch yesterday. At least he was fiery and would have tried to get something going. Painter was indecisive on his runs and inaccurate on his throws. I am not calling for the benching of Painter because he is the best we have right now. We aren't going to find anyone any better and we have to simply live with his mistakes and wait for improvement.

The same holds true for Chris Summers. That was a horrible snap and probably an even worse kick on our one scoring attempt. Still, we're not going to get anyone any better right now, so we have to live with what we have and hope for improvement in that area. Summers will come around in time. He still has three more years to grow into the position.

Now onto the defense. Of our three units, they played the best. This is not saying much, however. Yes, they held an opposing team to 12 points, and really, when you take away the fatigued battle on the fourth quarter touchdown drive, they did fine. They did their jobs well enough that even if the offense manages one scoring drive, we're right there at the end of the game. Even after the TD drive we still had plenty of chances to go down the field and do something. What I am on the defense about is the sheer number of turnovers left on the field. Al Royal had a sure pick six that he dropped. If he holds on to the ball the only thing that prevents him from scoring is if he trips over his own shoes. This lead to Penn State's second field goal of the day, so it ended up being a huge 10 point shift in the game. Suddenly we're up 7-3 instead of down 6-0 at the half.

Dan Bick dropped another sure pick, and there's no way to explain how he did it. There were also numerous fumbles that we couldn't get to in spots where we should have. Tony Hunt seemed to be laying the ball on the field all day, but we couldn't get to it. There was one play where a running back lost the ball in the backfield and we had four guys in the area only to have a Penn State lineman ounce on it. On a day when we pretty much needed a shutout to win, the defense could have gotten the job done and erased both field goals with turnovers, all while scoring once on its own.

The tackling left a lot to be desired as well. How many times did Hunt gain five yards or more after first contact. The last drive of the first half and the first drive of the second half were a comedy of errors as we had both stopped about 10 times before they finally halted. The defense also showed that it doesn't believe a screen pass is a legal play as it got burned by the underneath screen again and again. End Around runs were also a point of contention. It seemed like Penn State ran the two above plays at least five times each successfully.

Once again, we also had the token random guy roaming free in the middle of the field for a key third down completion. I find this to be hilarious because Morrelli regularly hit this receiver for about a 20-25 yard gain, yet, "strong winds kept Purdue from throwing deep, but the crossing and underneath routes should not have been hampered." Again, we never even tried to go that deep down the field until we were in fourth quarter panic mode.

We pretty much gave up on trying to throw over the middle unless it was a dump off to Taylor or Sheets. These were our most successful plays, and I will give credit to Penn State for holding us to minimal gains on them. With more accurate throws we probably have a better day, but I am not sure how much better.

So where do we stand, now at 5-4? We still need two wins to qualify for any bowl. We have two games left against likely bowl teams in Hawaii, and unbelievably, Indiana. It's plain to me that Saturday at Michigan State is now a must win at any cost game. Michigan State has given up 30 or more points in five of its last six games. In only one of those it won, that being the miracle in Evanston last week. We have played two very good defenses, but not so good that we only score three points in two games at home.

This game is critical because much like yesterday's game in Bloomington, the winner will go to a bowl while the loser is probably done. If we can't jump start our offense against a team that Northwestern scored at will upon for three quarters, we're in severe trouble. We have to win this game at any cost, and there is no excuse for losing it with as badly as Michigan State has played lately.

The best we can hope for now is the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, and even that is probably a stretch without some help. I am not even going to worry about Illinois, Indiana, and Hawaii yet, because if we lose to Michigan State we're probably going to lose two of those games as well. This program needs to feel insulted that Indiana is predicted to go to a better bowl than us right now. It's time for a serious change of attitude. Unless that happens, this year is over.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The most important game of the season.

No one believes in this Purdue team. The media has already written us off because of poor performances in the three games we have had against good teams. The fan base is upset because, even though we are exactly where we were expected to be at this point in the season, we haven’t done it with enough style to satisfy them. Michael Pointer has already given up on us making a New Year’s Day bowl, and being a Missouri grad I am sure he would love an Alamo bowl game against the Tigers. The general consensus is that we will make a bowl, but not a good one, which apparently is a failure with a young team coming off its first losing season in almost a decade.

I still believe, though. I have been called nuts by saying that we have an excellent shot of making the Outback Bowl. This is still possible thanks to Indiana, of all teams. When it comes to bowl selection, you can select a team that finishes behind another as long as they are within one game in the conference standings. That is the critical part of the wording. If we win the remaining four games, regardless of what happens on the islands, we will finish 6-2 within the conference. This would include a win over Penn State; one of the teams that I have been told will be selected ahead of us. Assuming Wisconsin stays on a roll, which they very well could, they will finish at 7-1. They have games remaining against Iowa and Penn State. If Wisconsin wins out, and we beat Penn State on Saturday, the best Iowa and Penn State can do in the conference is 4-4, losing to the top three teams, and Indiana and Purdue, respectively. This is what opens the door for us to go to Tampa. Assuming we win out, only Penn State and Iowa can catch us as far as finishing at least 4th.

I write that just to prove that it is still very possible to play on New Year’s Day, even if we lose at Hawaii. As I wrote on Tuesday, we still have to do our part in going Kill Bill on the schedule we have left. Penn State is a VERY winnable game at home, and should we get past the Nittany Lions, we have an excellent chance to take care of business.

We, as fans, need to view this game as the biggest game since The Fumble. We must be loud and make Ross-Ade as unfriendly as we possibly can. It is a blackout game, so lets black this place out. I’m even going with black shoes, socks, and pants. For one Saturday ever fan in that stadium needs to simply go crazy, from the opening kick until the final gun. We saw what happened last week in the first half when the crowd was into the game. The defense fed off things and the place was rocking for the first time in a long time.

This game is our ticket not only to staying out of the bottom half of the conference, but also to getting back into the middle of the race. It is also big in preparing for next year. We weren’t going to win the conference this year anyway, but we can still have a great finish and set things up nicely for the next two years. Remember, in 1998 we were 3-4 and lost all four games that were against good competition to that point. We then reeled off six straight wins, including one over the #4 team in the country (possible good SEC team in Tampa this year?) to finish 9-4. This set the stage two year later for a trip to Pasadena. What we do this year, even this week, will echo into next year and beyond.

There is still a full week of games to preview before I get to our game, starting with the ugliest of them all.

Northwestern (2-6, 0-4) at Michigan (8-0, 5-0) – The schedule just got a whole lot easier for the Wolverines. When Indiana is your toughest game in the next three, you have it made easy. When one of those teams just let a 38-3 lead collapse to Michigan State of all people, it gets even easier.

The only thing that would let Northwestern even stay close in this one is if Michigan is completely uninterested in showing up. The way Michigan’s defense has played this year; Northwestern may lucky to even score in this one. It’s worth mentioning, even though we already knew this, but one more loss officially eliminates Northwestern from the bowl pool. It’s a shame too, because they could have made it this year had they finished the game last week and taken care of business earlier in the year.

PREDICTION: Michigan 45, Northwestern 3 – Look for Michigan to get plenty of practice time in for all of its guys before the showdown that everyone in the media is already salivating over.

Illinois (2-6, 1-3) at Wisconsin (7-1, 4-1) – The same holds true for Illinois this week, as they need to win the rest of their games to qualify for a bowl. It’s not going to happen in ugly game #2 this week. The Illini have at least shown some signs this year that in a year or two they could be very dangerous. This team is perhaps the youngest in the entire conference, and while they have lost six games already, they have been surprisingly competitive in losses to Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio.

Wisconsin poses a very strong challenge in that they just shut down Purdue’s red zone attack, and the only other team that has worse trouble scoring points in the red zone than Purdue is Illinois. Give them another year and Illinois will be ready to take on the big boys, but this is their first game against the top 3.

Wisconsin also can move the ball a bit as well. If you look at the cold numbers from the Purdue game they appear to have dominated, but Purdue more than held their own until the fourth quarter when things got out of hand. Illinois could use its defense to hang around for a bit, but don’t expect an upset in Madison.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 34, Illinois 10 – This one will be a little closer than expected, but not much. The ground game will get the job done for the Badgers without seriously being threatened.

Michigan State (4-4, 1-3) at Indiana (4-4, 2-2) – As I said earlier this week, the winner of this game will go to a bowl game, while the loser is in serious trouble. I like what Indiana is doing this week in hyping things up and trying to get a big crowd there. It is certainly more than Purdue is doing for our game. This is the biggest home game Indiana has had in more than a decade, and a win would be huge for them. They are treating this game like we should treat our game.

As much as Indiana has improved, I cannot shake the fact that they should already have the six wins they need to make a bowl. They still lost to a 1-AA team and a bad Big East team. They got absolutely crushed last week, and unlike Purdue, they can’t take advantage and beat the teams they should. They were lucky to escape Ball State with a win. I like what Coach Hoeppner is doing with the program. Many Purdue fans mock him, but he may do the impossible this year and take the Hoosiers bowling. At the very least he is making them a threat again and if you’re an IU fan after not mattering for so long, that has to be welcome.

What Michigan State team will show up this week? You can’ figure them out. If the one that played the second half against Northwestern and first half against Notre Dame shows up they’ll crush the Hoosiers. If the one that played the other halves of those games shows up Indiana will roll. It’s not like Indiana has been consistent either.

Honestly, how do you call this game? If Indiana wins it won’t have a better shot to get win #6 than at Minnesota next week. It may even be good for Purdue if they win because it could shock Michigan State right back into the tank for our game with them next week. Personally, I don’t want to face the Hoosiers if they have five wins coming into West Lafayette on November 18th. They could be very, very dangerous for us.

PREDICTION: Indiana 26, Michigan State 24 – Honestly that is a shot in the dark. It could be a blowout going either way and I wouldn’t be surprised. I have no idea how to call it.

Penn State (5-3, 3-2) at Purdue (5-3, 2-2) – While Indiana is hyping up their game like we should be doing, we have been there more recently. While they are playing for a bowl, we are playing to get a better bowl. I have a hard time seeing us not making it to at least San Antonio if we win this game, based simply on the way things look in the standings right now. Penn State still plays Temple, so they already have win 6 unofficially.

We need this game because I would like to have bowl eligibility at least locked up by the end of the Illinois game. We’re playing with fire if we don’t have it by then. How we play this week will determine the outcome of the rest of the season.

Simply put, it all depends on which Purdue team shows up. If last week’s team shows up, even on defense, we are in serious trouble. I’ll take last week’s defense combined with the Indiana State game's offense please. If our offense is back to the way it should be, we won’t have a problem.

The one consistent offensive weapon Penn State has is Tony Hunt; and even Illinois kept him quiet last week. Morelli hasn’t done anything special this year and if we can generate pressure like we have the last two weeks, we can keep their passing game in check.

We could not have had a worse week offensively last week. Can someone tell me why we aren’t running the ball more? Kory Sheets has been so quiet since the Notre Dame game. He is due for a breakout game on the ground and needs to add a touchdown or two to his total. If Painter and the receivers are on the same page this week, then I think we will roll easily in this one. It will be critical to score early and build a lead, because Penn State simply doesn’t have the offense to mount a comeback. If the offense is clicking, we roll

PREDICTION: Purdue 33, Penn State 20 – We are due. Karma owes us for all that has gone wrong the last few years. I just feel a breakout performance from us, as we put it all together. The Penn State couple coming with my wife and I to the game will have a long ride home in the backseat.

Northern Illinois (5-3) at Iowa (5-3) – The Heisman hype surrounding Garrett Wolfe has died down after being stuffed the past two weeks by Western Michigan at Temple. It’s a shame too, because it could have been in a seriously high gear with a good performance in Iowa City this week. Wolfe had a monster game against Ohio State in his other appearance on the Big Ten stage this year. If he goes nuts against the Hawkeyes he could be right back in the race, too.

Iowa will also be playing with Drew Tate, who is out with a busted thumb. Iowa has been banged up quite a bit lately, and I am beginning to wonder if our 30-point loss to them was more a result of us playing an absolutely horrible game than anything. Don’t forget though, if the 98-yard interception return for a TD was a touchdown pass like it should have been, the score physically looks a lot better. We also left more points on the field there than people remember.
This game could be a dangerous upset bid if Wolfe can get hot early.

PREDICTION: Iowa 27, Northern Illinois 14 – The Hawkeyes don’t lose at home very often, much less to MAC teams. They do just enough to get the win.

Minnesota (3-5, 0-4) at Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) – This is ugly game #3 of the week. The top three teams in the conference are playing the bottom three in the conference, with four of the five in the middle fighting for bowl positioning. Minnesota hasn’t looked that bad in many of its games outside of Wisconsin, but when you need a blocked field goal to beat a 1-AA team, what hope do you have against the #1 team in the country in their house.

Ohio State did what it should in handling the Hoosier juggernaut last week, and this is their toughest game remaining before Michigan.
That is not saying much.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 40, Minnesota 10 – The only thing we have to worry about is if Ohio State and Michigan get bored before playing each other. Minnesota will go the brink of missing a bowl.


If UCLA could only tackle someone I would have been right last week on my upset special of the week. This week Notre Dame has Navy, and I am not even going to bother.

I will, however, bring the Canes back into view for one of the national games I’ll pick this week. They travel to Georgia Tech on Saturday for a game that will likely decide that division of the ACC. They certainly haven’t proven it so far, but the Canes are due for a "Miami" type of game and this would be the week to do it. They still can come together and win the ACC, which would go a very long way toward shutting up the critics.

Still, Miami’s offense has done next to nothing in games against bad teams, let alone good defenses. Georgia Tech has one of the best that got ripped up by Clemson last week. If Miami can pull this out, they get limited swagger and Sandbar privileges back from my wife. (For those that don’t know, Sandbar is one of the top UM hangouts in Coconut Grove not too far from Coral Gables. If you’re in the Miami area, stop by and have a category 5 Hurricane. Their isn’t a tastier, stronger drink out there. It certainly beats a Boilermaker). Georgia Tech 21, Miami 17

Game #2 nationally is Oklahoma at Missouri. I picked this game because both teams are ranked, and there is a strong chance we could face one of them in either the Alamo bowl or Insight bowl. Missouri is playing very well this year, and only have a late loss to Texas A&M against them. Oklahoma is a shell of its former self, as they have lost a starting quarterback, offensive linesman, and Heisman caliber running back for the season. This one would be huge for Missouri in the middle of a special year. Missouri 31, Oklahoma 24.

NEXT UP: My reactions from our game with Penn State sometime Saturday night or Sunday night.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Week 8 review (It’s time to go KILL BILL style)

One of the joys of not having a job with any responsibility whatsoever (re: a temp in Cubetown of an office building) is that you can sneak in movies to help pass the time, and use them as dick around time to keep you there longer. Today’s choice is the Kill Bill double feature, my favorite of the Tarantino films.

I refer to this today, because it is time for Purdue to go Kill Bill on the remaining five game of our schedule. Each one of our opponents can fall by the wayside much like the five that the Bride takes out over the course of the two films. Ironically, the four we face match up in the exact same way all five were killed in the films. It’s time to make a list and take them out, one by one.

Penn State – O. Ren Ishii – This is the traditional power that is tough to take down. Much like O. Ren, they command respect and have been known to lop the heads off of opponents who say they are an also-ran. They reached the height of their power by winning the Big Ten last year. Winning in Happy Valley two years ago in front of 100,000+ fans was like fighting through the Crazy 88 to get to them. With a well established leader in JoePa, whom I have always respected, there's little question of authority. He is also one of the best in the business, and has been for a long time, like O. Ren. They have the best defense of the teams we have yet to face.

Michigan State – Vernita Green – They are perfect for this character because they certainly live a double life. They are a former power that is now consigned quietly to the middle of the pack, but they can go psycho and kill you in an instant without warning. As proven this past Saturday against Northwestern, they are capable of fighting viciously with their backs against the wall, but they are just as likely to get stabbed in the heart while making cereal.

Illinois – Budd – Fat, lazy, and employed as a bouncer as a strip club, Budd is a former assassin who has gotten the farthest away from the game, much like Illinois is a former great program whose best days are long behind them. They are no longer a serious threat to anyone in the conference. They may get a shot in, like Budd did in capturing the Bride, but in the end they can’t finish the job. They’re now content for the occasional upset, but can get taken out by teams like Indiana, who ironically matches up with…

Indiana – Elle Driver – Elle took out Budd in the movie, much like Indiana took out Illinois this year when the Illini thought they had won. They are viciously jealous of Purdue’s football success and play second fiddle to us, much like Elle is to the Bride’s relationship with Bill. They desperately think they can get us this year once and for all, and they could match up will with us in a fight if their own exuberance doesn’t undo them. Like usual, we’ll pluck the bucket away from them like Elle’s eye gets plucked out.

Hawaii – Bill – Hawaii matches up with Bill for two reasons: 1. They are our most difficult opponent left with their offense, and 2. They are a mystery because we have never played them. People love to go to Hawaii much like the Bride loved bill, but we have to be business-like and take them out. There’s nothing personal about it, and we will enjoy their hospitality, but we simply must beat them, that’s all.

Right now we are projected to finish behind both of our next two opponents, as every bowl projection I have seen has us going no higher than the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando. One on ESPN today even had Penn State going to the Outback in Orlando, something we can rectify with a win this Saturday. As I stated earlier this week, there is no reason we cannot win out. Doing so would likely put us in Tampa on New Year’s Day, assuming Iowa also loses to Wisconsin.

With the way the defense has improved, we only need the offense to get back on track, something that can happen very easily. Painter was clearly off last week, but he was dealing with the death of his grandfather. That’s not to make an excuse, but it had to be n his mind. A win this week will turn things right back around. Winning the next two weeks, which are both VERY winnable, will make us the favorite for fourth place. It is not as dire as it seems.

I know the Purdue message boards have been going nuts this week, as they are calling for a coaching change since we haven’t been as competitive as we should have been in two of the three losses, but I am reserving my judgment until after the Hawaii game. In my view, if we win out and finish 10-3, or even lose one and 9-4, that is still damn good when you consider everything. We need to focus on winning the conference games because they will tell us the most, and Hawaii will take care of itself. They may even be ranked by the time we play them, so that would be another chance against a ranked team.

Weekly Big Ten Rankings:
Champions Division:

1. Ohio State – I know my wife hates the Buckeyes for stealing the national title in 2002, butt hank you, Ohio State for slapping Indiana down hard. That is exactly what was needed to shut them up.
2. Michigan – As predicted, they were very businesslike in simply getting the job done against Iowa. Someone actually suggested that Indiana could be their biggest stumbling block left before Ohio State. Yeah, if the Michigan bus gets lost and shows up at the RCA Dome to face the Colts.

A Division of their own:
3. Wisconsin
– They are clearly the third best team in the conference. I only said they weren’t a top 20 team in my last entry because when we played them they were not ranked in the top 20. They have earned that right now. It’s too bad they don’t play Ohio State because they would have at least a shot, and thank God we don’t play them for the next two years.

Going to a Bowl Division:
4. Purdue – I’m putting us here almost by default. I think we’re better and will beat Michigan State and Penn State. I think we played our worst game of the past four years at Iowa, and that if we got another shot at them it would be much closer. I also think Iowa will lose to Wisconsin and give us the inside track to finishing here.
5. Iowa – If they didn’t have the Indiana loss they would be higher and probably up in the group with Wisconsin. Instead, I don’t know what to think of them, and they probably have the Wisconsin loss still to go and finish 4-4 in conference.
6. Penn State – This weekend’s game is critical for both for bowl positioning. Both teams are 5-3, and Penn State still has a game against Temple so they will qualify, but which bowl will it be. The winner in West Lafayette Saturday gets the better bowl. They still also must play Wisconsin

Winner this weekend goes to a bowl Division:
7. Indiana
– I am giving Indiana the edge for two reasons: First, they are playing at home, and second, I don’t think they would have needed a miracle to come back against Northwestern. Both teams Saturday in Bloomington need two wins. Both have Minnesota to play, whom they both should beat if they are as good as they say they are.
8. Michigan State – How bad are you that you need a miracle to come back against Northwestern? Is that a blip on the radar or is Michigan State back? This team could just as easily win the rest of its games as lose the rest. I am considering Minnesota a win, but this weekend is a toss-up, which is not good considering the opponent.

Home for the holidays Division:
9. Minnesota
– Well, it was a win, which was needed, but how ugly was that on Saturday in the Metrodome. They have already dug themselves too deep of a hole, and I don’t trust them with the next two games against an opponent that is trying to get to any bowl.
10. Illinois – They are only here because I can’t put them lower. They are already playing for next year. At least they kick field goals well. They are like us in that they can move the ball, but can’t score. Wisconsin and Ohio State are next.
11. Northwestern – You simply have to feel for the Wildcats. It can’t get much worse for them now after blowing the game against the most schizo team in the history of football. Oh wait, they play Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa over their next three games. At least Illinois is at home.

On a national scale, I know that my wife’s Hurricanes face a huge game this weekend, much like Purdue. The Hurricanes are headed to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech, where the winner will likely be headed to face Clemson in the ACC title game, and the loser will be banished to some forgettable bowl game. I am torn because I would love to see a Purdue-Miami bowl game, but that would likely mean both of them would need to lose this weekend for it to happen.

We are both still incredibly frustrated over the way the brawl was handled, and I honestly don’t think Miami has much of a shot if they were nearly upset by Duke. I know the third stringers were playing, but it is still Duke. No Miami team should ever let Duke come within five scores of an upset, let alone five yards. Unless it has Ohio after its name, and not Florida. We’ll know more about them Saturday night.

We still have seven undefeated teams, and I know the big argument is what to do about the Big East. If I am the Big East, specifically Louisville or West Virginia, I cheer like crazy for Rutgers to stay hot. That only makes the conference as a whole look better, and it raises schedule strength as well. Of course, what happens if Rutgers beats them both, finishes unbeaten itself, and no one else this side of Boise State does? Why not put them in the title game. I am a huge proponent of there not being a team in the championship with a loss unless absolutely necessary. If you have already lost to someone, and another team hasn’t, how can you talk about being the best? Obviously you’re not because someone else got you. If Rutgers does go unbeaten, and West Virginia and Louisville finish unbeaten against everyone else, the rankings will take care of themselves.

I would even go so far as having a rule that if you finish undefeated, no matter what conference you play in, you get to go to a BCS bowl. What does it hurt? They are glorified exhibitions anyway, and it is a more sane rule than Notre Dame playing two teams that are good all year, and getting in by losing both and winning everything else simply because they are Notre Dame.

Speaking of rankings, it is time for my weekly top 25, with last week’s rankings in parenthesis.

1. (1) Ohio State
2. (2) Michigan
3. (3) USC
4. (4) West Virginia
5. (5) Louisville
(Who cares about style points, they are winning. Period.)
6. (6) Texas
7. (8) Arkansas
(cascade of reasoning, again)
8. (9) Auburn
9. (10) Florida
10. (13) Clemson
11. (11) Tennessee
12. (12) California
13. (7) Notre Dame
(Bad tackling by UCLA from another loss)
14. (18) Rutgers (Still undefeated, they go up until they lose
15. (17) Boise State (see above)
16. (16) LSU
17. (20) Wisconsin
(The best team I have seen Purdue play)
18. (22) Texas A&M
19. (23) Missouri
20. (19) Oklahoma
21. (NR) Boston College
(Why can’t they play Notre dame this year?)
22. (24) Wake Forest (A fourth quarter collapse from being unbeaten)
23. (NR) Tulsa
24. (14) Georgia Tech
25. (15) Oregon

Dropped out: (21) Nebraska, (25) Pittsburgh
Also Considered: Hawaii, Georgia

So those are my rankings. Next up, we’ll have the post on my Q&A section that is available right now! Just leave your questions in the comments section. Until then, Boiler Up!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Role reversal (Great, now we can't even score!)

I discovered something today. Purdue University football is a lot like Japan during World War II. Every season starts out promising. We show superior airpower, but at midseason it gets taken away. Most time we have a good but not great defense that is slowly eroded away by much more powerful teams, until at the end of the year, after getting a lightening quick start because of that air power, we are decimated and rebuilding again. We don't have a great ground game, much like Japan's army was much worse than its air force. We have aspirations for bigger and better things, much like Japan, but are eventually put on our butts by bigger more powerful opponents (Michigan, Ohio State, etc.)

All this is an attempt to put a historical perspective on today's loss. I did a little research tonight, as I enjoy looking up obscure sports stats. Today was the first time we have not scored a touchdown in a home game since the infamous "Holy Buckeye" game against Ohio State in 2002. That was the only other time since Tiller arrived in West Lafayette that we have been held without a touchdown at Ross-Ade Stadium. The 2002 game was against an Ohio State team that boasted a tough defense and went on to win the national championship (apologies to my wife, STOLE the national championship). The two field goals we got in that game were almost enough, too, as the defense turned in a solid effort against an Ohio State team that always did just barely enough to win.

Today, we were not facing the number 1 team in the country. We weren't even facing a top 20 team. Once again, the defense had a solid effort, especially considering how bad they have looked at times this year. It was still not enough. Quite simply, the offense was pathetic today, and I, for one, am tired of it. I thought the predictable play calling left town with Cheney. Instead, we saw more, 'run on first down, throw on second down, and if we don't get it, throw again on third down,' sequences than I thought possible. After Bryant's very impressive catch and run (which could have been a first down if he had simply run forward instead of trying to make it a spectacular play and getting tackled from behind) we couldn't have made it more obvious that we were going to try a quarterback sneak. Newsflash guys, when the only time you line up with the quarterback under center, even at the goal line, is on a sneak, it kind of gets rid of the element of surprise.

The predictability aside, there was no reason for the offense to not be sharp. We weren't sharp at all today. Painter had plenty of time to throw, as usual, but the receivers were never crisp on their routes and Painter wasn't adjusting his throws to compensate. The line was solid as usual, since we only gave up one sack. We had too many wrong routes, overthrown balls, dropped passes, and bad reads than an offense like ours should have. It's time to stop calling us a high-powered offense, because we are leaving way too many points on the field.

If you can't get a yard in a situation like the 4th and 1 in the second quarter then you don't deserve to win the game. We didn't even try, instead punting it away. It was pretty much over from there. For readers of the Tuesday Morning Quarterback on's page 2, this is referred to as the maroon zone. He clearly defines proper 4th down strategy in this link. I am not advocating that we go for it on every fourth down, but we certainly need to be a little more adventurous than we are. We could learn from Charlie Weis, who at least has the guts to actually go for it when he should.

What is also perplexing today, and on the season as a whole, is our decision making process when we do go for it. We won't go for it on 4th and 1 from the 39 with the lead, but we'll go for it on 4th and 11 from the 23 while trailing by only four in the second quarter? WTF!?!?! I know Summers is struggling, but we need to be able to build his confidence by giving him those shorter field goals. At the time, he had already nailed a 47-yarder, so why not try him from 39 there? Distance certainly was not a problem on the one he missed, and the accuracy will only come from giving him more of a chance. In all we had three chances where we could have tried a field goal but didn't, and one miss. If we convert even half of those it is a different game at the end. And this is a trend we have had in the past, going for it on longer distances when we should kick, and vice versa. Just look at the IU game in 2001.

Still we need to focus on the lack of touchdowns. It's embarrassing that an offense as good as ours can't even get the ball inside the ten all day. I know Wisconsin has a good defense, but they were beatable today. We did more beating ourselves by not finishing the drives we had. We had great field position from two Wisconsin mistakes that we simply had to turn into touchdowns, and we got nothing. How in the hell can we get an interception returned to midfield, then a 15-yard penalty on the next play, and STILL not score?

We're giving up on the running game way too early too. Once again, if we don't run for more than seven yards on first down, we give up and throw the ball. Why not use the option game that was successful with Painter last year? Is it pride from admitting we changed our scheme to fit a quarterback that didn't work out? It worked fine under Painter and can work, in doses, to mix things up, which is what we need.

I don't think I have ever walked out of Ross-Ade more frustrated inside with a team than I did today. This was a winnable game. The defense played very well, especially in the first half, and simply got tired because they were out on the field getting worn down. If the offense helps them out with some points today, we win easily. We gave up some plays, but not an overwhelming amount. For the most part we contained Hill until his big fourth quarter run. Their 400+ yards were much more a product of grinding it out than us giving up big play after big play.

If you had told me that we were only giving up 17 points through the first three quarters today I would have told you that we were going to be right in the ballgame, if not winning. Instead, I don't think we ever seriously threatened. This is a stunning role reversal that came at the wrong time. A win today, which as we saw was very possible, would have put us in control of our own destiny to finish in a tie for second place with the Michigan-Ohio State loser. We simply blew a big chance today.

The Gold and Black message boards are rife with calling for a coaching change to get out of this mediocrity. While I am all for giving this young team a little more time, even I am beginning to think it may be time to change things up. Tiller will not be here forever. I think next year will be his last year, or should be, if we don't make the major leap we have been projected to make since the 2000 season. I grew up watching Purdue during the Akers and Colletto years (making it appropriate we wore all black today, even though it was a good look), and I know what it's like to be even worse. Still, there's no reason we can't turn the corner, but we keep doing the same things without making any adjustments.

In closing though, I am going to say we have to put this behind this. I'm not going to be one of those "the sky is falling" people after a loss that are going nuts on the message boards right now. We can, and probably should, win out the rest of the season. Penn State is a very winnable game next week, and we need to focus on making it a must win game. If our defense plays next week like it did today, against a much worse offense, we should win easily. This is assuming that the offense wakes up and starts finishing drives. Michigan State needed a frantic comeback and a complete collapse by Northwestern to win today, so they are beatable. Illinois and Indiana should be wins regardless. That means we have nine wins going to Hawaii, and finish 6-2 in the conference. That is still likely going to be good enough for us to finish fourth, and because of the way the bowls will play out, get us to Tampa for the Outback. This is assuming an Iowa loss to Wisconsin, giving them four conference losses.

So next week is a must win. Next week is the most important game of the season if we are going to do anything this year. Even nine wins would be overachieving, and that is a good start.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Fumble Revisited

Every Purdue fan knows what this weekend means. Wisconsin is coming to town, and they aren't coming with the same amount of fanfare that they did last time. Two years ago the Badgers rolled into town unbeaten and ranked 10th. We were also unbeaten, ranked fifth, and boasted a legitimate frontrunner for the Heisman. The GameDay Crew was in town for the first time ever, and there was much hoopla in West Lafayette. Not only did we get GameDay in town, but we had Cold Pizza and were generally the center of the college football universe. On game morning I had to work on a shoot in Logansport, but we still got to Lafayette in plenty of time. We got to experience a couple of GameDay segments and walk around enjoying the Homecoming atmosphere. It was a more hyped game at Purdue than any of the Brees era, and had the potential to be the biggest win in the program's history.

From that point, everyone knows what happened, so I am not going to rehash it. Since 'The Fumble', as it has come to be known, Purdue has fallen into a funk where it has gone 12-10, has won only three times away from Ross-Ade, and has generally played without any form of confidence whatsoever. The feeling after The Fumble wasn't so much one of defeat as it was of, "What the hell just happened?" Purdue was a mere couple of inches, the distance between Kyle Orton and the ground, from being 6-0 and having a real shot at the national title. Not only has the team never recovered, but we as a fan base haven't. Since that moment every Purdue fan I know has never felt safe with any kind of a lead. Personally, I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and haven't felt very safe in a game until this past Saturday at Northwestern.

But Saturday is a chance for things to come around full circle two years later. GameDay will not be in town. We'll get a bit of a build-up from wherever they originate the show, but mostly we'll be ignored and picked against. We have the chance to get some poetic justice against a team that has more than once beaten us recently in close games where a turnover at the wrong moment has cost us dearly. Purdue has always done better when the spotlight is off. While Saturday is a chance to get a statement win and get the program back on the map, no one will be watching outside of Big Ten country. It is our third chance this year to make some noise when no one expects us to.

Before we get to my more in depth Purdue preview, let's take a look at the rest of the action in the conference this week.

Illinois (2-5, 1-2) at Penn State (4-3, 2-2) – If you are an able bodied former quarterback that attends Penn State, but aren't currently on the team you might get a chance to play this week. As part of last week's loss to Michigan last week both of Penn State's quarterbacks left the game with concussions and may not play this week. That means Paul Cianciolo will likely get the start against the Illini. Expect for the Nittany Lions to have a steady offensive diet of handing off to Tony Hunt, and only throwing when absolutely necessary. That is just fine because Illinois doesn't exactly have a run defense to speak of. They got run on by Indiana and Ohio, who aren't exactly Navy when it comes to running the football.

The Illini are reeling as they have finished three straight games where a game winning field goal was the final play. While that was all good and well when they won at Michigan State, it's not good when Indiana and Ohio are kicking field goals to beat you at home. There's pretty much no hope left of going to a bowl game, and it is simply time for the Illini to develop recruits.

I still can't take Illinois seriously when they have a quarterback that goes by the name of Juice. Who plays football and wants to go by the name 'Juice' these days? I know it has been over a decade, but ahs this kid not heard of O.J. Simpson? Seriously though, Illinois has been more competitive this year than originally thought, so they could hang around against a Penn State team that has been competitive in most of its games, but hasn't really shown anything special.

PREDICTION: Penn State 27, Illinois 13 – Illinois will hang around, but Happy Valley is a much different place to play at than East Lansing. Since Penn State loves to run the ball they should be able to do so all day and whoever plays at quarterback for Penn State will have an easy day.

Michigan State (3-4, 0-3) at Northwestern (2-5, 0-3) – This is a chance at another statement game for the Spartans. Of course, that is only if things go badly. In that case, the statement would be, "Good God these guys suck!" Seriously, it's one thing to have a four game losing streak when three of the four teams are currently in the top 10. It is something completely different when you lose to a Northwestern team that hasn't yet figured out that a forward pass is a legal play.

When you do take away the Illinois loss, Michigan State's losing streak can be at least understood. What is baffling is that after the fold against Notre Dame, they didn't even bother being competitive in losing to Ohio State and Michigan. Three of the four losses were at home, with the other being a rivalry game on the road. Michigan State probably has the softest schedule left of anyone in the conference with Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota, and Penn State left. They need to win three of those, and this week they can gain some redemption from the Illinois loss.

Northwestern is simply the worst team in the Big Ten this year. They cannot pass the ball at all, and it is not like they have a dominant running game to make up for it. When you manage fewer yards and points against a bad Purdue defense than a 1-AA team that hasn't won in over two years that sets a new level of offensive suckatude. Northwestern's defense isn't much better, either. Their two wins are against two of the worst teams in college football this year.

PREDICTION: Michigan State 24, Northwestern 7 – If Michigan State somehow loses this game it is seriously time for them to go sit in the corner and think about what they have done for the rest of the year. I don't think even they are bad enough to lost this one.

Indiana (4-3, 2-1) at Ohio State (7-0, 4-0) – In one week the Hoosiers have remade themselves into a worthy football rival for Purdue. They didn't do this by beating Iowa last week, a team that thoroughly dominated the Boilers. No, they did it by becoming so thoroughly annoying and full of smug from one win over a ranked team that they rival many Notre Dame fans out there. Have they completely forgotten that this is the same IU team that lost to Southern Illinois at home? "Well that is the week Hep was undergoing surgery," is what many of them are saying. I don't care if he was having a freakin' sex change operation as the halftime show; it is still unacceptable to lose to a 1-AA team if you are a Big Ten team. Many of them are talking about a bowl game as a certainty now, and they all think that Purdue is deathly afraid of losing the bucket this year. I will give them credit that they do have a better win than Purdue does so far, but let's calm down a little bit here.

We will lose the bucket to them, eventually. The law of averages says that some year we will stumble again and give it back to them. Honestly, I said coming into the year that the bucket game could be dangerous if Indiana has five wins by the time it is played. They only need one more and they have two winnable games left with Michigan State and Minnesota coming up. We need to be careful, that is for sure, but we both have a lot of football left to be played first. Indiana hasn't won in Ross-Ade since the Bill Mallory finale, and the last time they came up here we so thoroughly destroyed them that they fired a coach that had gotten hem their last win over a ranked team, and a much more impressive when at that by beating Oregon in Autzen Stadium.

I'm not worried about the bucket game just yet because it is still four weeks away. If Indiana wants to make a bowl, they won't worry about it either. I know all of this also has nothing to do with Indiana's game against Ohio State this week.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 45, Indiana 14 – That's because the Buckeyes will easily bring the Hoosiers back down to earth. I am making a proclamation right now. If Indiana wins in the Horseshoe on Saturday, I will buy season tickets to The Rock next year instead of Purdue. Those are both things I am very confident in saying they won't happen.

Wisconsin (6-1, 3-1) at Purdue (5-2, 2-1) – On paper this one looks awfully tough. Wisconsin is probably the most physical team we will face all year. They have the toughest defense we will probably face this season, and they aren't afraid to hit us. Offensively they have a line that is probably more physical than the one that Iowa used to push us around all day. P.J. Hill is a solid running back that will take it to us all day. John Stocco is experienced and unflappable under pressure. They also have their trademark speedy receiver that will look to get behind our defense. This is a very tall order for us to face, as Wisconsin may end up being a better team this year than Iowa or Notre Dame. An 11-1 record is a real possibility for them, but because of Michigan and Ohio State being so good they won't have a chance at a BCS bowl without a huge upset down the line.

All that being said, it may not be as bad as we thought. Yes, it was only Northwestern last week, but the defense played its best game of the past two years, outside of last year's Illinois game. There is something to be said for gaining confidence as a unit, and last week you could feel the defense gain that confidence. It was almost like a light went on that said, "Hey, this is how we do it, guys!" I recognize that Wisconsin and Northwestern are light years apart in talent, but again, it's about confidence.

We're also back at home for the first time in about a month. While we don't have a huge home field advantage, we did play roughly the same Wisconsin team tough last year in Madison before two pick 6's really turned things around. We also have The Fumble owing us a huge karmic payback. We're going to have to do an awful lot right to even have a chance in this game, but there is going to be one game this year where this team will come together and everything will click. Why not this week?

Also, outside of Michigan Wisconsin hasn't really played anyone of note. They have played a non-conference schedule of Bowling Green, Western Illinois (1-AA) and San Diego State (winless). In conference they have played Indiana, Northwestern, and Minnesota for their three wins. That is three teams without great offenses or defenses. We're easily the second best team they have faced outside of Michigan. They did play Michigan fairly close though.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 38, Purdue 28 – I'll be cheering hard on Saturday, but I don't see us pulling this out unless Wisconsin makes more than a couple of mistakes on offense. The defense will need to play out of their minds as well. Next week is much more winnable and important than this one.

North Dakota State (6-0) at Minnesota (2-5) – Our non-conference game of the week features the mighty Bison of North Dakota State, undefeated and ranked in the top ten of the 1-AA poll, coming to the Metrodome to face a reeling Minnesota squad. The Bison recently moved up to Division 1, and they are probably more famous for the major upset their basketball squad had last year in knocking of Wisconsin in Madison. They already have a win over a 1-A team this year in beating Ball State, but that is different from playing a Big Ten team.

Already this year ranked 1-AA teams have twice knocked off Big Ten teams at home, with New Hampshire beating Northwestern, and the other reference I have driven into the ground. They have the horses to pull the upset against a Minnesota team that is the definition of struggling right now. The Gophers need a win in the worst way, and North Dakota State may not be the team to get it against. As usual, Minnesota likes to run, and the Bison have the best run defense at the NCAA's JV level.

This one could be the third 1-AA upset of the year very easily.

PREDICTION: Minnesota 35, ND State 21 – The Bison will hang around, but if I didn't have the guts to pick New Hampshire over Northwestern earlier this year, I can't pick North Dakota State over Minnesota. Check back in one week when this is my upset that I didn't call.

Iowa (5-2, 2-2) at Michigan (7-0, 4-0) – Iowa, I am mad at you. I sang your praises in the preseason. I touted you as my pick to really make some news in the big ten, and this is how you thank me? By going into Bloomington and making Indiana insufferable in a sport other than basketball? You have reached the level of Michigan State in that you will no longer be taken seriously until you do something of note. This week at Michigan is an excellent chance.

This looks to be the last obstacle to the judgment day Michigan-Ohio State game on November 18th for both teams. The schedule is very easy for both squads outside of this game, and after last week's loss at IU, it certainly doesn't look too tough.

Michigan seems to be a team of destiny this year. Last year they won 23-20 in Iowa City in a game that turned out to be their best win in a disappointing 7-5 season. They have not even been challenged too seriously in any game this year, with Wisconsin being the closest exception. They are playing well and destroying everything in their path. Unless the real Iowa team shows up, this could get ugly. The Big House is a much, much tougher place to play than the Rock.

PREDICTION: Michigan 24, Iowa 10 – This one will be a methodical destruction, rather than a brutal slaying. Michigan will be very calculated and businesslike in getting the job done. We still won't have an answer of if Iowa Purdue played that badly in Iowa City or if Iowa was simply a good team with a bad week last week.

NATIONAL GAMES: I have a funny feeling this week. I just have the strange feeling that Notre Dame is going to get shocked at home. I don't know what it is other than a feeling. If I was a betting man and put money on it, it wouldn't happen. I almost don't want to say anything. UCLA is no pushover and could pull off something this week. What the heck, I'll go score only: UCLA 31, Notre Dame 30.

On a more serious note, one critical game nationally is Rutgers at Pittsburgh. This game is as big in the Big East race as the Louisville-West Virginia game in two weeks. I still can't like Pittsburgh when they've lost to Michigan State. That was pre-implosion though, when the Spartans are one of the most dangerous teams in the nation. Pittsburgh 26, Rutgers 24, only because the Panthers are at home.

For my last game I am going to go with Georgia Tech at Clemson. Who knew this would be the best game in the ACC all season. With a Georgia Tech win, suddenly Wake Forest is in the driver's seat to win that division. Both teams are about one play away from being undefeated, too. This should be one hell of a ballgame, and proof that the guard of Miami, Florida State, and Virginia Tech is over for at least one year. Clemson 17, Georgia Tech 14.

NEXT UP: Reactions from Saturday's game sometime Saturday night (and if there is a miracle, me e-mailing the IU ticket office).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What we know about the Big Ten, and the embarrassment that is Miami.

I am wondering what on earth happened in Bloomington on Saturday. Was that the same Iowa team that steamrolled us last week? Is that the same Indiana team that lost to the mighty Salukis of Southern Illinois? This may have been the biggest upset in the country this past weekend, Georgia was struggling and Vanderbilt has certainly done much more recently to gain more respect than the Hoosiers. This result was completely unexpected, as seen by my assessment that they would lose 48-7 last week.

Simply put, Iowa had to be looking past the Hoosiers. I'll give Indiana credit, as they played out of their minds and James Hardy finally decided to show up this year, but there's no way Iowa loses this game if they are taking it seriously. They had to be looking ahead to Michigan, plain and simple. Granted, we played our worst game of the season in our loss to the Hawkeyes, but they still were very impressive in dispatching us. Now the Indiana faithful is talking bowl game, which they need to stop and remember they would already be in a bowl game had they taken care of business. Heck, if they had taken care of business an eight or nine win season would be possible for them.

Every IU fan is excited right now, and they should be as it was the biggest win this program has had in almost 20 years. Plus they got Eric Gordon in basketball which makes them seem to think they now have a better recruiting class with one five star guy as opposed to Purdue's four four-star guys. Even though they had wrecked their season with losses to Southern Illinois and Connecticut, a bowl is still possible if they can beat Michigan State at home and Minnesota on the road. If they pull even one of those games off, we need to be careful when it comes to the bucket game. One more win means they play with the fire to get to a bowl against us.

When you look at the rest of the conference, things pretty much stayed about as expected. Illinois has lost all the goodwill it could have possibly gained from upsetting Michigan State by dropping a game to Ohio from the MAC. Once again, the Illini lost at home on a last second field goal. What they had hoped to turn into bowl momentum is now done almost before it started.
Speaking of Michigan State, they no longer seem interested in finishing the season. They have completely folded since the fourth quarter of the Notre Dame game. At least they now have company in the 4th quarter chokes category after the Arizona Cardinals last night. I know you're playing the #1 team in the country at home, but at least show up for the game, guys. Drew Stanton has officially entered the pantheon of Ron Pawlus, Ryan Leaf, Jeff George, and other quarterbacks who are praised as great talents, but have actually done nothing of note in their careers. With all this happening, it is certainly looking more and more like the Big Ten will be lucky to get six teams into a bowl, and there is still a severe drop-off behind the top two.

The Championship Division:
1. Ohio State – Cold, deadly and efficient. The schedule leading up to the Michigan game is now squishy soft with Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern before that game.
2. Michigan – If Iowa somehow goes into the Big House and wins I am giving up on trying to figure them out. Northwestern, Ball state, and IU follow to make them also 11-0.

Bowl Division:
3. Wisconsin
– Sorry Wisconsin fans, the only shot you have to get a piece of the pie is an Iowa win this weekend, followed by Michigan beating the Buckeyes plus you winning out. It’s a shame that more than two teams from one conference can’t go to the BCS, because Wisconsin sure looks like it could go 11-1 and get left out.
4. Iowa – Did Purdue simply play that badly against Iowa, or did Iowa play that badly against Indiana? I have no idea what to think of that game, except that there is no way the same Iowa team that pushed Purdue around played Indiana.
5. Purdue – Another chance at a statement game this weekend in Ross-Ade, although a loss can still lead to a 9-4 or 10-3 season, as Penn State has no offense and Michigan State is uninterested in playing football anymore.
6. Penn State – They are here because they simply won’t lose to Temple, Illinois, or Michigan State. Next week’s visit to Purdue will be critical in the bowl positioning for both.

Unbelievably possible bowl Division:
7. Indiana
– With the win over Iowa, the Hoosiers are talking bowl bid with Michigan State and Minnesota left as winnable games. Some fans are even getting cocky and saying that Kellen Lewis is a sure thing to bring the bucket back to Bloomington. Thank you for at least making the game interesting again, but let’s not dust off the trophy case just yet. We’ll be ready on November 18th. Just remember your last visit to Ross-Ade. Why don’t you worry about those Salukis and Huskies next time?

Dead men walking Division:
8. Michigan State
– How can a team that has so much talent be a team full of such head cases? That’s four straight losses now. Sure, they have winnable games left against Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota, and Penn State, but if they can’t get up for Illinois what makes you think they’ll somehow win three of those five?

Life Support Division:
9. Minnesota – The Gophers are a better team than this, but a bad call against Penn State and bad coaching against Purdue have them at 2-5. They get a break with North Dakota State this week, but I really don’t see four wins left on the schedule without an upset of Iowa.

Just horrible:
10. Illinois
– Well, that took all of two weeks to destroy the goodwill they had from the Michigan State win. That end of the season contest at Northwestern should be fun for everyone involved.
11. Northwestern – I don’t want to kick a team that has gone through a lot of hardship this season, but when they can’t even move the ball against our defense past the first quarter, that is sad. This offense is simply horrible, and I don’t see how the same Miami team that took us to overtime lost at home by 18 points, aside from the cancer boy game factor.

I know that not much can be said about our schedule at this point, but we have at least gotten he job done, which is more than I can say for Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa, and to a certain extent, Minnesota right now. We have won four games we should have win, lost two games we should have lost, and won a game that in all honesty was a toss-up at the time, but looks more and more like it should have been a win all along.

When you look at everyone else in the Big Ten, that is not the case. Iowa lost a game it should have won. Indiana lost two it should have won, but won a toss-up and one it shouldn’t have. Illinois took one it shouldn't have, but lost two toss-ups and a gimme. Northwestern is just a bad football team, and is lucky to have two wins. Michigan State has two gimme wins, a blown gimme in a loss, and a choke to its credit. Minnesota’s travails have been discussed. We simply have done what was expected, and at least got our worst performance to date out of the way in a game we probably weren’t going to win anyway, but still had at least a shot in.

Moving away from the Big Ten for a minute, and on to my horrid 5-3 record in picks last week. Sure, I scored the Illinois loss almost exactly, and the Missouri and Florida games were close losses (I know Florida was 10 points, but seven came on a desperation multiple lateral final play that turned into a fumble recovery for a TD by Auburn), but the Indiana-Iowa game was a bad miss.

I do, however, feel the need to comment on the Miami-FIU brawl since I feel a little closer to the situation than the biased media that always paints Miami as the bad guy. With my wife being the Miami alum and die-hard fan she is, even she was embarrassed and outraged at the actions of her beloved Hurricanes Saturday night. To paraphrase Top Gun for a moment, "Their egos are writing checks their bodies can’t cash."

It is one thing to go out, stomp on an opponents’ logo, take a bow in the end zone, etc when you are throttling every team you play. As Kid Rock says, "It ain’t cocky if you back it up." This team simply is not backing it up on the field, and needs to shut its mouth until it does something again of note. Yes, you have five national championships in the last 25 years, and with that comes a certain amount of pride. It does not, however, give you license to be a bunch of assholes.

I want to address the players themselves today, in case even one of them happens to come across this blog. When you start a fight in the tunnel after you get your ass handed to you 40-3 in a bowl game, you are an asshole. When you stomp on the opposing team’s logo before a game, you are an asshole. That is only going to righteously piss off a team that is already very, very good and is pumped up to be playing a ‘name’ team like Miami in their house. Doing something like that means you had better back it up. Yes, you came out, went up 7-0 and looked like you were severely going to hit them in the mouth with another early TD, but you, the Miami Hurricanes, tucked your tail between your legs and wet yourselves after the fumble on the eight yard-line. It was all over from there and you simply looked like a bunch of idiots in losing 31-7.
While I don’t think James Bryant’s bow was over the top (there were a lot worse things he could have done) he does need to learn a little lesson in tact. Congratulations, you scored to give your team a 14-0 3rd quarter lead over a winless Sun Belt team that had played you to a 7-0 game at halftime in the Orange Bowl. If you’re truly a Hurricane player, you would be flat out embarrassed the score was that close in that situation because of your history, and wouldn’t be celebrating. Again, you just look like an asshole, and call me when you’ve actually done something.

My wife proudly hangs her University of Miami degree on our wall, and proudly displays the U logo and championship memorabilia all over the place. This morning she is embarrassed to display anything representing her University because of your actions. She is embarrassed that you have tainted the name on her degree and one of the things she is most proud of for accomplishing in this life. She is even more embarrassed because of this joke of a proclamation from the University of Miami.

My response to that is this. Grow a pair, president Dona Shalala and Athletic Director Paul Dee. If you’re truly, as the edict says, "not going to tolerate any further violation of this policy," then every single player that overstepped the bounds would no longer have a college football career. This is a knee-jerk reaction and only tells me you care more about results on the field than discipline. The Miami third-string team could beat Duke this week, so a bunch of one-game suspensions will do nothing to deter faint hopes of winning the ACC this year.

This policy should be retroactive, but apparently the athletic department has forgotten last year’s Peach Bowl fracas. I ask you; does the policy start anew and allow one fight each season before the zero-tolerance kicks in? I will even defend Florida International in this. While they were the ones that started the situation by not simply ignoring a dumbass like Bryant, Miami did a whole lot to escalate things by tomahawking with helmets (I thought you hated Florida State?), stomping players, and jumping around with their helmets on the sideline. Kudos to the FIU administration for having a pair and dismissing two players from the team while suspending the rest involved indefinitely.

As my wife said last night, and I agree with her. Miami should do at the very least what Clemson and South Carolina did a few years ago, and refuse any bowl invitation this season. Everyone else involved should be on "seasonal or permanent" suspension. Larry Coker, who is a nice guy, but has clearly lost control of the program, should be fired since he has instilled zero discipline in this bunch.

But I guess all those dollar signs from the BCS are more important.

Moving on to other college football news in a more positive light, my rankings faced a big shake up this week. Missouri and Florida fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, thereby making the Big 12 and SEC no longer players in the national title hunt until there is just one unbeaten left. I heard an interesting proposition this week, that if Ohio State and Michigan are the last two unbeatens left when they play on November 18th, and they play a classic, then they should play again for the title. That’s not a bad idea. I have wondered what would happen if say Florida State and Miami absolutely crushed everyone else they played, only to split close games in the regular season and ACC title game. If they were clearly the two best teams in the country, why not play a third time for the whole damn thing?

Clearly the Big East is going to be a player in things, as its top four teams are all playing very well right now, with three of them being among the magnificent seven. If not for a now inexplicable loss to Michigan State, Pittsburgh would be the fourth unbeaten in this conference. This can only help the Louisville-West Virginia winner as it proves there will be more to the season than just that one game, thanks to Rutgers and Pittsburgh.

The following rankings are based on how the teams will get into the national championship game should they all win out. Obviously that won’t happen, but it is how they will fall and move up in order of the teams above them losing.

My rankings as of right now:
(1) Ohio State
(2) Michigan
(5) USC
(A lot is being said about their close games and who they have left. They are still taking everyone’s best shot and getting it done)
(6) West Virginia
(4) Louisville
(Again, they just got the job done)
(7) Texas (Much disrespect going on here)
(8) Notre Dame (I still hate them, but that offense is very good. I respect that)
(14) Arkansas (Part of the cascade of reasoning here, as each team below lost to the one above for their only loss)
(13) Auburn
(3) Florida
(9) Tennessee
(10) California
(11) Clemson
(12) Georgia Tech
(I bet they wish they had that Notre Dame game back now)
(16) Oregon
(15) LSU
(19) Boise State
(It will be interesting to see if they can play with the big boys)
(20) Rutgers (Statement game this week)
(22) Oklahoma
(24) Wisconsin
(They are getting scary good)
(23) Nebraska
(NR) Texas A&M
(18) Missouri
(NR) Wake Forest
(NR) Pittsburgh

Dropped out:
(17) Iowa, (21) Georgia, (25) Virginia Tech

Also considered: Boston College, Tulsa

So that is where we stand going into week 8. Things could easily change in a heartbeat, because you never know what that crazy Indiana Hoosiers are going to do. I look for them to get brought back to earth in a hurry in Columbus though.

NEXT UP: The week 8 preview as Wisconsin comes back to Ross-Ade for the first time since The Fumble.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Losing Streak averted!

Impressive. Most impressive.Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back

I was impressed by a great many things from yesterday's game. First of all, I was very impressed by the sheer number of Boilermaker fans that made the trip. The crowd had to at least be 50/50 if not more because of Purdue fans. I don't know if that is a testament to Northwestern just having a really down year and not supporting their team or what, but several fans at least made the trip up to Chicago for the game. Northwestern certainly did not have enough fans, or even a reason, to ever get very loud and make things into a home-field advantage for them. The Purdue fans that did show up were loud and proud, something much needed on a bright but chilly day. From where we were sitting along the south end zone, there were several groups of fans doing the first down cheer, the third down cheer, and the Boiler Up.
Granted, we're not exactly Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, or many other Big Ten teams that sell out opposing venues, but it was nice to see a good pro-Purdue crowd yesterday. I personally had no trouble scalping tickets just to get into the game, and we were able to pretty much sit wherever we wanted all day. Even when we had to move because of some drunk and belligerent college kids behind us (who eventually got kicked out), we were able to move to a place where we still had good seats.

As far as Ryan Field as a venue, I was not overly impressed. The concourse had more room to move than Illinois' Memorial Stadium, but the restrooms were tiny. When the line for the men's room is longer than the line for the women's room is, you have a problem. The closest venue that Ryan Field reminded me of was IU's Memorial Stadium. I like the seats really close to the field, especially the grass berm in the south end zone. It makes it nice when the action is down that way because you don't feel so elevated like you do at IU. Of the now six Big Ten Stadiums I have been to though, Ryan Field probably ranks at the bottom, just below Illinois. Although the concourse is much more manageable than Memorial Stadium, I just like the view from the seats at Illinois better.

As for the actual game, I was very impressed by what was by far our best, most complete game of the year so far. I know it is only Northwestern, but you have to be pleased by the fact that for once we took what was a terrible offense and shut them down as we should. There would have been major cause for concern had they been able to move the ball at will against us. They did so on the first drive, but after that the only points they got were off of an interception that gave them good field position. Most of the rest of their yards came in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided, and even then we were still aggressive and didn't allow a whole lot. 250 yard given up is fantastic for our D, and holding them under 100 yards passing is almost unheard of for us. It won't make things look incredibly better, but statistically we'll at least go up this week.

The front seven had a much better game, as they were aggressive in containing the run and getting to the quarterback. Four players had sacks, proving that we do indeed have more than Anthony Spencer on D, and we had five sacks total. We also had nine tackles for loss, and several for little to no gain. Only once did Northwestern really throw the ball deep on us, and they were successful on the long pass that set up their first score. The secondary was better, that is probably also because of a direct result of the front seven playing better. I have said all along that we could have Ed Reed, Deion Sanders, Ronnie Lott, and Champ Bailey in our secondary and they would still get torched if the front seven didn't play better.
Offensively, I was kind of surprised that we didn't get more from the ground game. When the passing game is working though, why step away from it? I would like to see us run more spread option like we did last year, because against better opponents it will allow us to control the clock more. Sheets had a bit of a disappointing day, as he could never seem to get in the clear. I know Taylor also got more of the snaps than he has in the past. His touchdown run was excellent, and he did a good job of keeping the defense off balance.

I love how we were able to still run a very obvious play though. In the fourth quarter, when we lined up five wide from the four, I said to those around me, "Gee, this isn't an obvious quarterback draw or anything. Sure enough, Painter goes up the middle for four yards and gets in. That's simply a great job by the O-line getting a push and creating space. We did what we needed to do in taking advantage of an overmatched opponent. Paint went out and calmly set another career high, and it appears that Drew's single season passing mark is in serious jeopardy. It should be noted, however, that Brees set it in a 12 game season and did not get to count his bowl game statistics, while Painter will get at least 13 games and likely a bowl game in order to add to it. Still, he is putting up some very impressive numbers and aside from his interception, played a much better game this week. He spread the ball around and was in control he whole game.

Two others that need mentioning are Greg Orton and the offensive line. Orton didn't find the end zone, but talk about being a possession receiver and moving the chains. He seemed to be there every time we needed 5-10 yards, and Northwestern certainly could not figure out the 3 step drop and toss out over to him in open space. Secondly, the offensive line, aside from those back to back sacks, gave Painter all day to throw. There was one specific instance where Paint stood in the pocket for about five full seconds, calmly scanning the field to find Keller over the middle for an easy first down. That's very impressive.

As I said in my preview of this week's games, we needed to come out and make a statement against an inferior opponent in order to gain some respect. That is exactly what we did. Aside from the first drive, we kept them in check and never let them seriously threaten us. Even when it was still a 1 score game midway through the third quarter you felt confident that we were going to hang on as well as the defense was playing.

Even on special teams we got a boost, as Royce Adams, who also had a very big interception, found some room in the punt return game. I know part of the reason we don't have much success in returning punts is simply because we haven't had many punts to return, but his return was big no less.

There were, of course, some minor nits to pick in this one, one big one being that we left a lot of points on the field. We stalled a couple of drives in the red zone again, and missed field goals led to nothing. We easily could have scored about 20 more if not for that, plus the play at the end of the half when we ran out of time. Chris Summers is going through some freshman struggles right now. It's one thing to miss some field goals from 40+, but to miss the two he did are a sign of some struggles he needs to work through. They didn't end up costing us in this game and he is still very young, but it is something that could bite us in the future. Again, he has done fairly well to this point of the season when you consider he's a true freshman who wasn't even offered a scholarship. He also has the added bonus of his distance. You can't teach distance, and I am confident in his ability to at least get the ball there. The accuracy will come.

The first drive was once again a trouble spot. We had a chance to really go in and get up early, but we have a missed field goal then immediately give up an 80-yard touchdown drive. Credit must be given to the way we recovered as a whole, however, and only gave up three points the rest of the way.

All in all it was a very pleasing day as a Purdue fan, as we took a team that comfortably beat Miami (OH) and handled them in their own place. That in itself should tell how far we have come. It will also be encouraging to our defensive unit as a whole that for one week they are the focus of positive talk as opposed to negative talk. We're 5-2 now, right where most people expected us to be coming into the season. We've also responded in the biggest "games we should win but could lose" tests so far. Two more wins are needed for a bowl, but this team is starting to look like one that won't squeeze into one at 7-6.

UP NEXT: Week 7 reactions from around the conference (Where did that come from in Bloomington?)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Week 7 (and on the road again)

We already know the obvious. Ohio State and Michigan will be playing in a few weeks for the Big Ten Championship. In the meantime, the other nine teams will play out the string in order to get to whatever secondary bowl they can get to. That means my beloved Boilers will be back on the road for the third straight week this week, this time traveling to Northwestern. As part of the birthday extravaganza for me, we will be heading northward in search of cheap tickets and a 5-2 record. I can think of worse things to do, that’s for sure.

Simply put, this is a must win game for the Boilers, much like the Minnesota game. It has been a few weeks since we’ve had a game that has been on the "win at any cost" list, and we haven’t exactly done much to give ourselves a cushion should we blow it. All the signs are there for an easy game, but any Purdue fan knows that the Boilers rarely make things easy.

Unless we’re playing Indiana, that is.

First though, let’s look around the rest of the conference for this week’s games:

Minnesota (2-4, 0-3) at Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1) – With a win the Badgers will become the third team from the Big Ten to lock up a postseason trip, and that is not a bad thing under a first year head coach. Of course, they had about as smooth of a transition as is possible, with Bret Bielema simply trading up to a different headset and knowing he was doing so a year in advance.

The Badgers are 5-1, but they haven’t exactly beaten anyone yet in wins over Bowling Green, Western Illinois, San Diego State, Indiana, and Northwestern. That’s one win over a 1-AA team, and two over teams that lost to 1-AA teams. They did manage to hang around with Michigan, and have been very convincing the past two weeks in crushing IU and Northwestern. This would be Wisconsin’s best win to date, and that is saying a lot as the Gophers would be 2-5 with a Badger win.

Minnesota seems a bit like a team that Purdue had last year. They were poised to have a fairly decent season, only to lose a very close game on the road that put them on a stretch where they can’t seem to turn things around. When you add to the fact that they have a struggling kicker and a coach that has a penchant for some boneheaded decisions, and you’re going to lose more close games than win them.

The Gophers did manage to stay with Michigan though. They lost by 14 and had a long TD pass called back because of a hold that would have made things very interesting in the second half. They were robbed against Penn State and by all rights did more to lose the Purdue game than Purdue did to win it. They need this one to have hope for a bowl.

This game is for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, a trophy that has caused numerous heart attacks in mothers everywhere the past few seasons by each team’s tendency to run across the field, grab it, and run around with it after winning it back. The most memorable was probably Minnesota winning it a few years ago on a last second field goal, where the kicker immediately ran over to the bench, not even waiting for the ball to split the uprights, to grab the axe.

PREDCITION: Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 24 – It’s a hard luck season for the Gophers. If they can get this one, bowl hopes are revived, but it will be too tough on the road and the Badgers are playing too well.

Purdue (4-2, 1-1) at Northwestern (2-4, 0-2) – I am going to this game, and it will be my first visit to Northwestern. This does not bode well for my Boilermakers. I have seen us play in four other Big Ten venues, and my first visit to each was a Boilermaker loss, all in heartbreaking fashion. 2001 Indiana, 2002 Illinois, 2003 Ohio State, and 2005 Minnesota; all losses, the last three of them being in overtime. If it wasn't for wins at Cincinnati in 2001, Illinois in 2004, and Indiana in 2003 and 2005 I would think I was truly cursed when I saw them on the road.

This is the only possible Big Ten where neither team is named after a state. I am sure that is good for some sort of bragging rights. For some reason, and this is a valid beef for teams like Michigan and Ohio State, the Wildcats are grouped as the second team, along with IU, that Purdue will never have rotate off the Big Ten schedule. Since Purdue has a combined 15-3 record against those two since the arrival of Joe Tiller, It’s no wonder they have put together a long bowl streak.

It also shows that much of what Tiller has done has been a result of taking care of business against teams that Purdue should beat. That’s what this weekend needs to be. I would argue that aside from 2000 and 2003, Purdue has been just a team that has been able to beat teams it should and pull the occasional upset. Last year they could not even do that.

Regardless, northwestern is up next on the schedule, and if there is ever a week for the defense to get on track, this is it. It couldn’t get much worse than last week, and in most defensive categories we are ranked at the bottom of the entire NCAA. Northwestern, however, probably has a worse and less experienced offense than Indiana State did. They are down to a third string, redshirt freshman at quarterback that has done next to nothing in the passing game so far. Their one consistent offensive weapon, Tyrell Sutton, hasn’t done a lot yet, but we know that with our defense he is probably in line for a career day.

Defensively Northwestern has been better than its offense, but that is not saying much. I am concerned that they easily handled a team, Miami of Ohio that is winless and took us to overtime. Still, they got pushed around at home by New Hampshire. New Hampshire is the #1 ranked team in division 1-AA, but they are far from a Big Ten caliber team. They also struggled with Eastern Michigan, who would challenge Temple for being the worst team in Division 1-A. Statistically they don’t look too bad because of those two wins and only giving up nine points combined in them, but the best defense in Chicago still easily resides at Soldier Field.

Northwestern will be playing for a bowl that in all likelihood goes down with a loss on Saturday, so that can be motivation for them. The Boilers have struggled with the Wildcats of late also, losing the last two. It did take an extremely windy day and injury to Kyle Orton two years ago and two controversial calls that both went against Purdue last year that caused a 10-point shift.
It is time for a statement from this Purdue team. A win and the bowl hopes are very much alive, as is the hope for a 9 or 10 win season. A loss would suddenly mean a three game losing streak, with the potential of it easily reaching six again before all is said and done. 5-2 and coming home also looks a whole lot better, putting us right where many expected us to be after seven games. What Purdue needs to do is go out and win this game with authority against an obviously inferior opponent.

PREDICTION: Purdue 45, Northwestern 21 - If Purdue can’t stop this offense, then we simply cannot stop anyone and we had better hope we can just outscore everyone else. This is seriously the worst offense we will face, and if we can’t get 4-5 stops against them it’s time to start looking for a new defensive coaching staff. Look for Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor to each have a big day.

Iowa (5-1, 2-1) at Indiana (3-3, 1-1) – it is very strange to look at the conference standings this week and see Indiana as high as 7th place. It is stranger still knowing that they got last week’s conference win on the road. The last time the Hoosiers walked out of an opposing Big Ten venue with a win was in 2001 at Michigan State. It’s harder still to believe that this IU team should, by all purposes, be 5-1 right now. Last week they actually showed that they do indeed have an offense that can score against a first string defense.

That being said, it was still Illinois. Even if the Cubs and Royals play each other someone has to stumble to a win. Iowa is a significant step up in weight class. If the Hawkeyes can hold Purdue to 17 points, what are they going to IU’s poor popgun attack?

The Hoosiers haven’t exactly "Defended the Rock" with much force lately. When Southern Illinois and Connecticut come in and push you around at home, Iowa certainly doesn’t fear the place. Maybe IU should go to pink locker rooms like Iowa does.

This one should not be a contest. The good news for Indiana is that Marcus Thigpen, who already has three kickoff returns for TD’s, should have plenty of chances to get #4. Maybe IU should line up in return formation on every play.

It’s hard to judge is Iowa will have an easier time this week against Indiana’s defense than it did against Purdue defense. I guess since Indiana has actually held a team under 20 points, I’d have to give them the edge there.

PREDICTION: Iowa 48, Indiana 7 – I’ll give Thigpen one big return that gets Indiana on the board. It’s nice to see they have an All-American again.

Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) at Michigan State (3-3, 0-2) – The only chance the Spartans have in this one is if Ohio State gets lost and ends up in Ann Arbor. I’m tired of hearing about How Drew Stanton has one last shot to prove he’s a big game quarterback and all that. He’s as much of a head case as the rest of the Spartans. With no running back and missing his best receiver, he doesn’t stand a chance.

And it is not like Ohio State actually fears playing away from Columbus. They almost play better on the road, as evidenced by the cold, efficient beatings of Texas and Iowa. This one is a mismatch that’s probably not even worthy of further review.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 38, Michigan State 10 – Hopefully someone can get the Michigan State athletic director the East Lansing want ads line, because he’ll soon be placing an ad for a new coach.

Ohio (3-3) at Illinois (2-4) – I love the twelfth game on the college football schedule, because it means that for the time being, we have these odd non-conference games that each Big Ten school had to cram into its bye week. This week it’s the Ohio Bobcats of the MAC coming to Champaign.

I don’t know much about the Bobcats, other than the fact they are coached by former Nebraska coach Frank Solich. Apparently Garrett Wolfe and Northern Illinois have an aversion to all things Ohio, as the Huskies’ only loss, other than Ohio State, was to Ohio. The Bobcats also own victories over Tennessee-Martin and Western Michigan. They also have lost to Rutgers and Missouri, two of the remaining nine undefeated teams.

That being said, Illinois lost almost all the respect it had gained by losing at the last second to Indiana last week. It’s pretty sad when you’re a bad Big Ten team and you still had not lost to Indiana in 27 years in your home stadium.

PREDICTION: Ohio 24, Illinois 21 – I need one wild upset this week, and since my Purdue-Iowa pick didn’t work out last week, I’ll go with this one. A big boost to the MAC!

Michigan (6-0, 3-0) at Penn State (4-2, 2-1) – Michigan has been on a revenge tour this year, paying back all the teams that beat them last year. So far Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have paid the price, but this week the tables are turned. Michigan was Penn State’s only loss last year, and that was on the last play touchdown pass to Mario Manningham.
Manningham won’t be playing this week, but I don’t think it will mater. Michigan is back to being Michigan, and they face a much stiffer test next week at home against Iowa. Penn State’s offense isn’t quite there, and look for Michigan to gang up on Tony Hunt and dare Morelli to throw on them. Michigan has already proved they can play well on the road to by crushing Notre Dame in South Bend.

This one could be close, because the Nittany Lions are always tough to beat in Happy Valley. If the defense can keep the Wolverines in check, they have a puncher’s chance.

PREDCITION: Michigan 28, Penn State 21 – Michigan is playing too well right now. Only a resurgent Iowa stands between them and a date in Columbus in a few weeks.

NATIONAL PICKS: Last week was a brutal 6-3 week, as I missed my big upset and got burned by Indiana. This week there are several big games to choose one.

Florida at Auburn is the latest elimination game in the SEC. Up until last week I would have gone with the Tigers, but they really screwed the pooch with the loss to Arkansas. Florida is playing too well right now, too. Florida 17, Auburn 10

For my second and final game I’ll go with Missouri at Texas A&M. This is an interesting game because the Aggies are nearly unbeaten themselves. With a win Missouri can begin to seriously think about running the table. Texas A&M (What the hell is an Aggie, anyway?) has a perceived advantage at home, but has that really mattered lately? Missouri 27, Texas A&M 24.

NEXT UP: Post game reaction late Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, depending on when we get home from Chicago.