It's been nearly two week since Purdue ended its season in the Champs Sports Bowl, and the bad test left in my mouth has still not dissipated. I have read plenty about how we should have positive thoughts for the talent that is returning next season, but it is not making a difference for me. The glaring coaching mistakes and lack of preparedness going into the bowl game is too much to overcome. It wasn't just the bowl game either, but a lack of ingenuity and refusal to change a game plan over the past few seasons when it was obvious that what we were doing was not working. A prime example is the bowl game. On paper, our coaches said they couldn't establish the ground game. If you watch the tape, we never even tried to establish the running game. This held true against Indiana, Hawaii, Notre Dame, and any other team where we could have had success. It's like if we don't break a 25-yard run in the first three running plays, then the ground game isn't working and we go away from it.
But I have ranted on and on about that. What I really wanted to write about tonight was a final wrap-up of not only our season, the college football season as a whole before we head into the long layoff. I don't really follow recruiting or the spring game because they don't provide much excitement for me, so this will have to be it until early September and out game at Toledo for me. We all know the negatives from this past season, but let's instead focus on some of the positives as a way of getting over the disappointment of the season ender.
- We had a winning record – I can't stress this enough. We won more game than we lost and at least made it back to a bowl. That was infinitely better than sitting through another losing season and staying home for the holidays. Well, we were at least invited to a bowl, whether we showed up is another thing. (Okay! Enough negativity!)
- We didn't lose a single game we shouldn't have – With possibly the exception of Iowa, we won every game we should have won. I know it's a small consolation since we didn't do that well in the other games, especially when Notre Dame, Maryland, and Iowa weren't that strong, but ever season it seems like we lose one game t hat we have no business losing. A short list: Toledo 1997, Michigan State 2000, Bowling Green 2003, Wake Forest 2002, Northwestern 2005. In all of those games, you could say we were the favorite going in, some of them overwhelmingly so. Each time we lost when we shouldn't have. That didn't happen this year, and that is a very good sign.
- We had no major special teams breakdowns outside of field goals – The punting game was what it needed to be all year, an afterthought. Only in the Indiana State game did we have some serious troubles, and we corrected those well. We actually finished ranked 3rd in the nation in kickoff coverage, and that is as much a testament to Summers placing his kicks as it is to the coverage team. Extra points were never a hassle either, as we never had a kick blocked and only one miss due to a bad snap.
- In the end the secondary was fine – Our secondary played very well, all things considered. In fact, they would have done even better if we had a coaching staff realize that generating a pass rush through the occasional blitz gives a quarterback less time to throw. That naturally makes for better pass coverage. If we can fix the problems in the front seven, we have a very good group in the secondary that will only get better. This group perhaps improved the most as the season went along.
- The Hawaii game was the most exciting game in a long time – I know we lost, but it was the second half was the best half of football we've played in more than two years. We very easily could have rolled over and died in this game, but came storming back and really had them on the ropes. Even the defense was cooking for about a quarter, forcing turnovers and generating pressure. If we could somehow bottle all but the final minutes of that second half and play that way next year, we'll be just fine. It really showed what this team is capable of, especially in a hostile venue. Aloha Stadium was surprisingly loud even though it was only about half the size of the 'shoe or the Big House, and we responded just fine. If you take away the first half fumble inside the five, it's a much different game.
There is hope for the future. I know there are other positives out there, but those are the ones that stood out the most to me. I still think we need vast improvement in several areas before next season, but at least we have something to build on.
Since all the bowls are over, it's time to look more at the college football season as a whole. I personally relished watching Ohio State get drilled in the title game, since so many of their fans are insufferable when they are so good. It also led to several unanswered questions that the BCS just can't settle in its current state. Boise State certainly showed it deserved a shot as the only other undefeated team in the country, and I was upset that they didn't finish ranked higher. Wisconsin belonged in the BCS more than Notre Dame, but because of dumbass rules like no more than 2 teams in a conference can get in and the "Notre Dame rule" they got screwed. At least they would have bothered to be competitive against LSU.
It's time that we set the BCS up for taking the top 10 in the final BCS standings, regardless of conference affiliation. Sure, it would have meant three Big Ten teams and three SEC teams this year, but so what? We can let Notre Dame keep every dime of the money they get for going, but TS for the other 118 schools. I wonder if Army, Navy, and Temple, the other three independents would get such a sweet deal if they were good enough to get to a BCS bowl. In fact, if Army or Navy make it it should mean lower taxes since we'd be giving $10 million+ to a government institution.
Iowa and Minnesota were surprising in their bowl games and even in defeat made the Big Ten look good. Well, at least Iowa did. Minnesota just embarrassed itself to no end and Glen Mason deserved to get fired after blowing a 31 point lead. That means the conference now has the distinction of having two teams blow 30+ point leads in the last 20 minutes. This just tells me that any team that throws the ball AT ALL when leading by more than 30 in the second half is stupid. Just run the ball every time. They can only stop the clock three times, the rest of the time it will run and you can take off AT LEAST 3-4 minutes per possession, even on a three and out.
I still think the most impressive team in the bowl season was Boise State. I know that is a no-brainer, but I was impressed by the sheer balls they had. Tiller would have never gone for two in a situation like that in overtime. Each play was well coached and perfectly executed. Credit also needs to be given to them for merely not quitting when Zabransky threw the pick six. They saw they were still alive and knew what they needed to do, so they went out and tried their damndest to do it. In the end, they were successful. I really love that they saw they had one play where they were solely in control of who won or lost that game. It was the only single play that said, "Okay, we win or lose right here if we choose to go for it." They had the balls to take control and say, "consequences be damned, we're controlling this outcome." I give them all the credit in the world for that.
So where do we stand going into next year? I think obviously Florida will be very strong on a national level, with the usual players of USC, Michigan, Texas, and Oklahoma being strong. In the Big Ten we could have more of the same as Michigan and Wisconsin will be very strong, while the rest of the conference will be better, but not as good on a national level as the other two. Many of the teams in the conference are the same boat as us next year. They're expecting improvement, excited of impact players coming back, but won't know anything until they hit the field. Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa can all say that about next year. All could be very good, or very bad when all is said and done. Right now, we have to feel like we're in the upper half of that group because we did have some success this year.
In closing, it was a good year, but an average year at best. I would like to say we have basketball to fall back on, but I am still stinging from the 27 point loss to Indiana tonight. To those of you who have read regularly this year, I thank you and I look forward to next season. I may have one or two things every now and then in the offseason, but until then. Thanks again!