Sunday, September 30, 2007

Exactly what we needed

Today was an interesting game, as once again we built a big lead and had a tendency to put things on cruise control for a portion of the afternoon. I do think things were a little different than the past two weeks in that it wasn't entirely our fault that things got close. There were also plenty of positives that we can take out of the day and file away for the future. As I watch Ohio State refuse to be blinded by Minnesota's uniforms it is now safe to start thinking ahead to the Buckeyes and the biggest game for the program since the infamous Fumble Game. I think that we can actually take a lot away from what happened today, and it is exactly what we needed before facing the Buckeyes in a week.

First things first, we have to be encouraged that we played probably our worst game of the season and still won by 14 points. Granted, I was concerned when the Irish cut the lead to 26-19 and had a chance to get the ball back with plenty of time. I knew (and Coach Weis later confirmed this) that if we gave them the ball back and they scored, they were going to go for two. I wasn't entirely convinced we would have been able to stop them in such a situation and the ensuing loss would have been one of the most devastating in program history. We could not afford to lose this game today because of the damage it would have done to our collective psyche. This is the worst Notre Dame in recent memory, and we simply could not afford to lose to them. The fact we were able to come out with our C-level game and win is a very good sign.

Even in that situation, where the Irish had cut the lead to seven and had all the momentum, the offense finally woke up with a clutch drive to seize control once again. I am really liking the offense's ability to do that even when they are struggling, as it has been our M.O. of the past three weeks. We were finally challenged late in this one, and we responded with a critical touchdown drive and a game clinching interception. Despite everything that happened this showed the heart of our team, as teams from the past few years would have caved, not put together that drive, and given the ball back to Notre Dame with a chance to win.

Secondly, I cannot say enough about Chris Summers today; as he was the sole reason we were ahead comfortably for most of the afternoon. After getting so much negative press in the offseason, (even today I heard someone mutter that he was going to miss his second kick) it is good to see him come through with four huge field goals today. Think back to last season, could we have counted on him to hit even two of those? How different is the game if he misses two like he might have last year? On a day when the offense was struggling mightily (and I will give credit to Notre Dame in a second), Summers made sure that two turnovers were paid for in points and that we had all the drives he was called on to end didn't end with nothing.

Terrell Vinson needs to be given credit today as well, with two interceptions and the first dual pick performance since a certain Mr. Schweigert was patrolling the secondary. His first set up a critical field goal, and his second clinched the game as he made a good play on a ball in the air in the end zone. I am really liking his development as a cornerback, and he had the best day of anyone on the defense. The defense as a whole did a great job against the run, allowing very little on the ground until Notre Dame went away from it totally by being forced to pass late. As long as the run defense continues to play that well and allow the offense to build 20 point leads we will be fine.

Finally, I want to give credit to Notre Dame as a whole. I must say that I was impressed by the Irish today, as they simply refused to give up even after being thoroughly dominated in the first half. I am a virulent hater of the Irish, but I was impressed today by their play. Golden Tate has three very nice catches that accounted for nearly a quarter of their yards and a score, including the final Irish touchdown in which he was the one person that had a chance to catch a ball that was pretty much hurled blindly in his direction and he came down with it. As a whole Notre Dame had a winning mentality by not only going for it on fourth down six times but converted four of them. They and nothing to lose each time and on four of them they simply made plays. Two of the three Irish touchdowns came against serious coverage and it was a case of the receiver making a better play.

Notre Dame went with its hurry-up offense in the second half and moved the ball against a tired defense. They also simply started throwing the ball all over the field and received solid protection for the first time all season. This is becoming a glaring weakness for us, as we were unable to be in both Clausen and Sharpley's face all day despite the fact Notre Dame had been surrendering more sacks than a grocery store bagger before today. At first they picked us apart with the short dump-off passes, and then they were able to get some throws deep and allow the receiver's to make big plays. That's probably where about half of the passing yards we gave up came from, but it took until the fourth quarter to get it going to the point that it produced consistent results.

Notre Dame's defense also played better than expected by frustrating us into four field goals on drives that probably should have ended in touchdowns. We had a ton of broken up passes, hurried throws, and dropped passes that need to be corrected before we can seriously think about beating someone like Ohio State. Notre Dame got in Painter's face more than the other four teams we've played combined. Both of Painter's interceptions were the result of bad throws partially credited to the pressure he was facing. It was the worst game our offense has played all year, and really we should credit part of the scoring to the defense thanks to the three turnovers it caused. Notre dame prevented the two turnovers deep in its own territory from being converted into touchdowns, and therefore I tip my hat to the Irish. They will get better, and today showed that we must also get better if we're going to compete with them in the future.

So why did we need this game? It is the first time we have seriously had a game on the line in the fourth quarter and we responded well. I am concentrating more on that than the fact that we played really badly today on offense. As bad as things went today, there is a lot we can take away from it and build on if we choose to. It can't be ignored that Notre Dame made a TON of mistakes today in order to sustain its misery. The late hit on Painter as he was running out of bounds 10 yards short of a first down, two missed extra points, and a blocked field goal are all examples. The Irish must become a much more disciplined team if they expect to compete in the future.

Overall I would rate today as a C effort at best, and that is what is most encouraging. We played a far from perfect game and still won quite easily. Next week will require an A effort, but for now let's enjoy being 5-0 for just the second time since 1945. It also helps to have the Shillelagh back in the trophy case for another year. Now we need to look forward to the Buckeyes, and even though they won 30-7 tonight I think we have a shot. It's our first chance to make a national statement in three years, and we need to take advantage.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Big Ten Week 5 Preview (We want the stick!)

I want to begin with a thank you to Drew Brees for his gift of $2 million for the Drew and Brittany Brees Student-Athlete Academic Center. Drew is universally loved by all Purdue fans, and we cannot thank him enough for his gift to Purdue athletics. I was fortunate enough to be a student in the three years he was our starting quarterback and he is a class individual in every sense of the word. I doubt he will read this blog, but Drew, thank you for all you have done for Purdue. It has been an honor to watch you play for us and thank you for continuing to give Purdue a good name in New Orleans.

I love that this is going to be my last triple football weekend of the year. In addition to covering a game on Friday at the RCA Dome (and the strong possibility of meeting Peyton Manning as a result), and the Purdue game on Saturday I have tickets to the Colts game on Sunday. By far the most important game is Saturday though, as Purdue has the rare opportunity to blow out Notre Dame. I have welcomed the well-wishers from other schools that have come over to the Purdue message boards lately asking us to completely annihilate the Irish. It’s nice to see that Purdue fans are not the only ones that despise the Domers.

This week also means a break from the Big Ten schedule while everyone else in the conference moves forward with critical games. No less than three of the five conference games should be pretty close contests with bowl positioning coming into play for the first time. The programs at Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan State have their first chances to seriously surprise someone, but two of them must do so on the road where recent history has not been kind to them. The first of those games is this week’s Big Ten Game of the Week.

Big Ten Game of the Week

#23 Michigan State (4-0, 0-0) at #9 Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0) 3:30pm
Welcome to the real part of the season, Michigan State. The Spartan’s non-conference slate has not been that bad as Bowling Green has a win over Minnesota to its credit and Pittsburgh and Notre Dame are at least name programs. Michigan State was really only tested by Pittsburgh, and the jury is out on them and how good they are. Both of these teams play very similar styles of offense concentrating on their ground games. Both teams also rely on their defenses, but at the moment Michigan State’s is playing better. I really don’t trust Wisconsin’s defense after it struggled with the Citadel. At least Appalachian State was the #1 team in 1-AA when they scored all those points against Michigan.

I think Michigan State has an excellent chance to win this game, and if they do they have a really great chance to go on a bit of a run in the Big Ten. This is also Wisconsin’s chance to win a prove it game, as they have yet to be very impressive in any game so far. While last week’s Purdue-Minnesota game featured both teams flying up and down the field in the second half, this week the game between Wisconsin and Michigan State should be a throwback to the slug-it-out days of the old Big Ten.

Something needs to be said about Michigan State end Jonal Saint-Dic, who has been one of the most dominant defensive ends in the country so far. He has six sacks and five forced fumbles while the Michigan State defense has been one of the best at getting to the quarterback. Can they contain the run though against P.J. Hill? I honestly like Wisconsin in this game for two reasons: first they are at home, and second they have done just enough to win every game so far and are becoming very good at pulling out the close ones. I also went with them officially on the Big Ten Blogger Pick ‘em contest.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 14, Michigan State 10

Indiana (3-1, 0-1) at Iowa (2-2, 0-1) 12pm

Indiana is not going to get a better chance this year to pull off a win no one was going to give them before the season got underway. They have last year’s offensive performance in Bloomington to remember, plus Iowa is down to playing a peanut vendor and a parking attendant at wide receiver to handcuff the Hawkeye offense. Iowa also has the added motivation of remembering the Indiana game sent them into the tank last season after a dominating win over Purdue. Ironically right now I think Iowa needs this game more than the Hoosiers, as they can’t afford to fall to 2-3 and 0-2 in the Big Ten with Penn State and Purdue coming up.

Iowa has the better defense, but I seriously question if they can score enough to beat the Hoosiers if the passing game is shut down. It’s the worst possible scenario as they have a developing quarterback and almost no one with experience to throw to. They do have Albert Young and Damian Sims though, and they can move the ball on the ground.

James Hardy has made the Iowa secondary his personal playground the past two years, going for 307 yards and four touchdowns in the last two games against Iowa. Would you also believe Indiana has won four of its last seven against Iowa? If the Hoosiers are going to get to a bowl this year they could really use this game as a big step towards one, especially with Minnesota at home next week. Even the pink locker room isn’t pulling me away from picking Indiana here. I simply don’t think Iowa can score enough to beat a good team.

PREDICTION: Indiana 21, Iowa 10

#19 Penn State (3-1, 0-1) at Illinois (3-1, 1-0) 12pm

I’m really tempted to pick Illinois here, but I am willing to give Penn State one more chance this season. They had better turn in a better offensive performance this week though, as Illinois’ defense may be better than Michigan’s. I still don’t understand why Penn State, with a pretty good selection of receivers, didn’t throw the ball all day against a Michigan defense that was susceptible to the pass. Penn State is better than this, and they know it.
Both teams are flawed, as Illinois doesn’t have a passing game to speak of, but it can run the ball. Rashard Mendenhall is having quite a season and Illinois seems to have even gotten over its turnover issues a bit. This is the biggest home game in Champaign in years and the Illini need to take advantage. Indiana has a more explosive offense than Penn State and Illinois was able to shut it down. The Illini specialize in run defense, and last week Penn State had had horrible week passing, so how will they score?

Again, I am really, really tempted to go with Illinois here, but the Ron Zook factor and the fact that Penn State has to know they are they better team has me leaning toward the Nittany Lions. I’ll go with Indiana over Iowa because they took them out last season, but Illinois needs to prove they can beat someone other than who they have beaten before I can pick them over someone Penn State.

PREDICTION: Penn State 24, Illinois 20

Michigan (2-2, 1-0) at Northwestern (2-2, 0-1) 12pm

This game has two teams with identical records heading in opposite directions. On paper Michigan should have no trouble heading into the Purdue game at 4-2 and 2-0 in the conference, but Northwestern has a history of being feisty at home. Of course, they were at home two weeks ago when they lost to Duke. I would like to think Northwestern has the ability to spread the field and pull off the upset, as I still think Michigan is vulnerable this way, but without Tyrell Sutton the Wildcats will struggle.

Chad Henne may be back, but do Michigan fans really want him back after Ryan Mallett has led them to back-to-back wins so far? He hasn’t lit the world on fire with his numbers, but he has limited his mistakes and gotten the job done. Honestly without Sutton in the lineup I don’t think Northwestern has much of a shot.

PREDICTION: Michigan 34, Northwestern 14

Notre Dame (0-4) at #25 Purdue (4-0, 1-0) 12pm

I have been waiting for this game for months knowing Notre Dame had a shot at being winless. When I wrote my Notre Dame preview back in July I got bombarded with personal attacks from Notre Dame fans. I recognize I went a little overboard, admitted my mistake, fixed things, and still got ripped by them. Where is Gerry now with his team being 0-4? Shoot, they couldn’t even pull off the one win I was giving them. I am also wondering where is the Notre Dame fan that followed me around to other boards trashing my journalistic integrity and generally calling me an idiot. Because of them, I hope we beat the living snot out of the Irish on Saturday.

It’s fun to read the Notre Dame media grasping at straws. On yesterday Don Criqui was comparing Jimmy Clausen to Notre Dame, while coach Weis was in the Star this morning about how his team feels like it can win this game. Oh how the mighty have fallen when Notre Dame goes from counting our game as a win to merely thinking they have a chance (and that thinking is looked upon as improvement. If our defense struggles to stop Jimmy Montana then we are in serious trouble, but I won’t be concerned if we get up big in this one and give up a few garbage yards and points. Where is the jealousy of not getting Mr. Clausen and his four Heismans now when lesser recruits have actually won a game?

Even Brady Quinn was able to throw for a bunch of yards in his first ever start back in 2003 at Ross-Ade. Clausen has shown the ability to complete the swing pass… and that’s about it. We are facing the fourth ranked pass defense in the nation, but only because other teams have been able to run the ball at will against Notre Dame. They have had no need to pass with a big lead by halftime, and the other teams have run the ball to kill the clock. I also like how we’re a soft 4-0, but at least all four of the teams we have beaten have won a game. What can the Irish say to that? I know it could be a close game because Purdue history tells me we have a habit of keeping games close when we shouldn’t. We should be able to crush this team, and I hope we will because even if Notre Dame loses by 14 points all the Irish fans will be talking about how close they made it by beating the spread.

This is going to be sweet.

PREDICTION: Purdue 52, Notre Dame 24

#8 Ohio State (4-0, 1-0) at Minnesota (1-3, 0-1) 8pm

This game intrigues me because statistically Minnesota has the second best offense in the conference at the moment and I want to see how well they move the ball in a night home game against the Buckeyes before we play them next week. If Minnesota moves the ball well and gets a few scores it will first of all make our defensive effort in the second half not look so bad, and secondly it will show that we can probably move the ball better when Ohio State comes to town. By the time this game starts our game will be long over so it will be a good scouting mission for us.

I don’t expect the Ohio State offense to have a ton of trouble because their line is possibly playing better than our own at the moment and Minnesota’s defense is nearly non-existent against the pass. Chris Wells has yet to have a breakout game yet either, but he has still gone for 424 yards and three scores. Unfortunately in Purdue’s case facing an offense like Minnesota’s just before our game because it gives their defense a peak at what ours can do. Of course, Minnesota has only been able to do what it has done so far when it falls behind by three touchdowns. Ohio State should have no trouble and we should have a 5-0 vs. 5-0 game next week at Ross-Ade

PREDICTION: Ohio State 45, Minnesota 21


#6 California (4-0) at #12 Oregon (4-0)

This is just me really daydreaming a bit, but imagine this scenario: Purdue stays hot this year, wins the Big Ten and gets to the Rose Bowl. Oregon comes through to win the Pac-10 and the two face off in the Rose Bowl. Suddenly there is a very intriguing non-conference home game for us facing the Ducks at the beginning of next season that could be College GameDay worthy. It is of course a wild daydream at this point, but an Oregon win this week and a Purdue win over Ohio State next week suddenly moves us a step closer. Oregon 27, California 24

#5 West Virginia (4-0) at #18 South Florida (3-0)

I’ll have an eye on this one tonight as South Florida is an emerging program and a win would suddenly vault them into dark horse status for the national title. They know they can beat West Virginia too after last season, and everyone is pumped up for the biggest home game in school history. Shoot, this school didn’t even have a team ten years ago! I think West Virginia is the better team, but South Florida is playing with a ton of confidence right now. I’m going to go with them to pull another not-so-shocking upset. South Florida 31, West Virginia 30

Last week: 5-3, Season Record: 36-8

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Big Ten Blogger's Roundtable week 5

This week's Big Ten bloggers' roundtable discussion is all about gaining motivation and breaking downt he perceptions of the program you support. I can't think of a better way to celebrate Notre Dame week.

1. Michigan turned to Russell Crowe (successfully). ND went with Regis (unsuccessfully). Imagine your team is in desperate need of a pregame pep talk (no imagination needed at NU). You can bring in anyone in the world. Who do you turn to and why?

I’m going to go way out on a limb here, but I would select Corey Taylor, the lead singer of the bands Slipknot and Stone Sour. I like the Norman Dale reference that the Hoosier Report used, but Mr. Taylor has a speech at the beginning of the Slipknot song Pulse of the Maggots that I listen to when I am on the treadmill and it makes me want to run through a brick wall.

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

who's with us!

I would really love to see Purdue come out of the locker room to this song this week and take absolutely no prisoners against Notre Dame.

Of course having Russell Crowe is a good idea. He's certainly more of a badass than Regis.

2. What perception about your program is perpetuated to the point where it is your pet peeve? Why does it bother you so much (no, the answer does not have to be an alliteration)?

Probably the fact that Purdue is all offense and no defense, when we have had some very, very good defensive players and units over the past few seasons. The 2003 defense was fantastic and if we had been able to get just a little bit more offense in a few games (notably the road game at Ohio State and the opener against Bowling Green) We would have been a top 10 program that season. So many players from that defense are in the NFL right now and I would love to pair that defense with some of our better offensive teams in 2004, 2000, and this season.

Because our defense has been so bad the past two years, however, the fans think that the slightest bending of our defense means we won’t be able to stop anybody at any time. I recognize we have a great offense and that it is built on playing no one, but it is really, really hard to stay jacked up on defense when you open up a four touchdown lead in the first half like we’ve done the last two weeks. Coupled with the fact that Central Michigan (they did drop 52 on Toledo like us) and Minnesota may stink, but they can move the ball a little bit means they were going to get yards. The defense is light years better this year, but everyone is in panic mode because of the second half the last two weeks.

This is a more recent development though. The perception of Purdue that bothers me equally is that we only have good seasons when we don’t play Michigan and Ohio State. Uh, then what happened in 2005? What happened in 2000 when we beat both and went to the Rose Bowl? True, we are only 3-9 against them under Tiller, but considering that we only have like 24 wins against the two combined in our entire 120 year history, at least the fact the losses for the most part have been competitive is a plus.

Coach Tiller had a great quote after the 1998 Alamo Bowl when we had just beaten #4 Kansas State in a game we dominated and the only reason it was close was because of two horrible snaps on punts that led to Wildcat touchdowns. Some reporter asked him if he thought things would be more difficult the next year when Ohio State and Michigan returned on the schedule. His reply was something like, “We just beat the #4 team in the nation, how much tougher can it get?” Unfortunately this perception will continue until we break through and beat a good team again. We have a shot next week against Ohio State to make a serious statement, our first since the game against Wisconsin three years ago.

3. It is only week 5 of the season, but you've been asked to create your team's highlight reel for the season. You get to choose one song. What is it and why?

I’d have to go with Pulse of the Maggots from above. Simply view the video clip and tell me you can’t get jacked up to that song.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why does Purdue hate Notre Dame?

It is Notre Dame week, and that means only one thing: It’s time for the Purdue message boards to be rife with anti-Irish rhetoric. This year it seems to be turned up a notch, as there is the rare opportunity available for the Boilermakers to put a serious hurting on the Irish in retribution for the last two years. In scanning the Irish Illustrated boards even many Notre Dame fans seemed resigned to their fate as the Irish are mired in the midst of its worst start in school history. Many of these are the same fans who stated last year that losing to the Boilers was a thing of the past, but this season has brought a sharp wake-up call that things can change quickly.

But this is a Purdue blog, and I am trying to figure out exactly why we hate our neighbors to the north so much. Personally, I hate them because of many members of the fanbase that, while they do not represent the fanbase as a whole, they are so irrational as to think that Purdue is somehow vastly inferior and beneath them that they are shocked if we ever beat the Irish. I recognize Purdue will never have the same tradition, national exposure, or nationwide following that the Irish have, but come on. It’s not like we’re Navy and have never been competitive in the series. The last ten years alone show only a 6-4 advantage for the Irish, and before that our program struggled to score regular wins against anyone, let alone Notre Dame. Four of those six Purdue losses were by less than a touchdown as well.

Secondly, I think that many Purdue fans, at least football-wise, view Notre Dame as our primary rival considering the recent one-sidedness of the Old Oaken Bucket Rivalry. In that same 10-year period we are 9-1 against the Hoosiers with many of those results being one-sided blowouts. We almost tend to view our game with Indiana as a mere formality, much like the Irish viewed us from 1985-1997. Since our program as a whole has improved we have sought out a better team by which to measure ourselves, so it is a bit of a tribute to Notre Dame’s tradition that we view them in this right. Instead of battling Indiana for the #2 slot in the state pecking order we have firmly grasped it and want to naturally go for #1.

Even in year when Notre Dame is down it still is a huge boost to the program for the Boilers to beat them. Simply because they have the name Notre Dame associated with them means that, even this year at 0-4, for one week the nation’s eyes will be on us. Every time we face them we are on national TV and therefore it’s a chance to show the country Purdue football, a chance that we rarely get unless we are at the top of the Big Ten.

Personally, I think we put a little too much into a game that doesn’t even count as a conference win for us. We build up this game like it is the end all, be all of our season too many times. Yes it is an important rivalry for us, even a trophy game that everyone looks forward to, but putting the score of the game on our bowl rings as we have done before is a little too much.

The reality of the situation is that Notre Dame is not nearly as good as they are perceived as being in the eyes of many of their fans and the national media, but neither is Purdue. Notre Dame has and always will have decided advantage in terms of recruiting, exposure, and sheer raw talent. What has made the difference though in this series recently has been coaching. Coach Tiller has found a way to often get more out of a recruit than anyone expects, while coaches Davie, Willingham, and even Weis to an extent this year are finding ways to get less out of more. Is this a case of Notre Dame simply relying on their name too much? Possibly, but I doubt it. As a whole college football has changed and it is more difficult than ever to get to the top, let alone stay there.

In the early part of this decade Miami was being talked about as one of the greatest dynasties of all time while USC was struggling to 6-6 seasons. Now the reverse is true. There will be ebb and flow every year, and even a program as storied as Notre Dame with all the decided advantages it has over the other 119 schools can’t climb to the top and stay there long.

It is also some of those advantages that cause the hatred to flow. I respect the tradition, but it has been 20 years since the last national title. Most of the kids playing weren’t even born yet. The Irish also get oversaturated to the point where the average fan simply wants them to go away, whether they are good or bad. There are currently seven other 0-4 teams right now, but can you name one of them? How about three? Yet we all know Notre Dame is 0-4 and it is made out to be a national tragedy.

The opposite is true if they are 4-0. Suddenly the echoes are awakened, Knute is back on the sidelines, and we are all to pause and honor the greatest team to ever walk the face of the earth. It’s no wonder that many kids find it difficult to play there with these wild swings of emotion. When you couple this with their special BCS rules that only they enjoy and the massive deal they get from NBC it draws even more ire. Who can blame the Irish for not joining a conference though when they would have to give up that sweet deal?

For Purdue fans it is a combination of all of this. Most of us know we will never be on Notre Dame’s level nationally in terms of respect, and for that we are a bit envious. What bothers us is when Notre Dame automatically disrespects us even though we are one of their regular opponents. Obviously there is a good relationship between the two universities because they continue to play each other. More than once we have ruined a potentially good Irish season with a shocking upset. Through all this we are still not respected, yet Navy, a team that has gone nearly fifty years without a victory in the series, is held in awe.

Personally I do see them as our biggest football rival, and I am relishing in the suffering that they are going through right now because it seems well deserved for the false cockiness of the past two seasons. I do know that the Irish will rise again as they always do. Purdue has a long way to go before we can even get to .500 in the series, but it still doesn’t mean we can’t try. As a whole we may put a little too much into the rivalry, and we certainly put more into it than Notre Dame gives in return, but it is the stick by which we have chosen to measure ourselves by. If we beat them it is a feather in our cap because no matter how bad they are, we get the honor of beating Notre Dame nationally.

Like my wife, a University of Miami alum says though, “At least they’ll still play you guys. They say they won’t play us and call us criminals but they’ll still play Florida State.”

Monday, September 24, 2007

Big Ten week 4 in review

This week is the last shot for the Big Ten to get a good non-conference win before the bowl season, and that is only because Notre Dame is still a "name" win. It was good enough to get Michigan State a surprising ranking. That is the coming week though, and this past week was the first week of conference play. It was a good week to be the road team as three of the six teams playing on the road went home with a win. Since it looks like most teams are going to be evenly matched this season each win is important, especially if you can steal one on the road. Ironically though the team many were saying was the best in the conference was one of the three teams that had a long bus ride home.

Penn State now faces the unenviable task of having to play catch up against Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan State and Illinois. At least they won't get another one of those god-awful Lou Holtz pep talks again. With Michigan they doubled their pleasure by not only getting their season back on track and announcing they would stay in the conference race, but they essentially have a two game lead for the Rose bowl berth by holding the tiebreaker over Penn State. The Nittany Lions now face no margin of error with home games still against Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Purdue, but a trip to Illinois isn't as easy with the Illini running game rolling. They will drop in this week's power rankings.

1. (2) Ohio State (4-0, 1-0)

I probably would have moved the Buckeyes up to number 1 even if Penn State hadn't lost. Good criminy was that a message they sent to the rest of the league not just this week, but the past two weeks. The win in Seattle was impressive, even if only for the fact that it's always tough to play well on that long of a road trip. The home win against Northwestern was simply a demolition. Northwestern usually has at least some pop to its offense, but only 120 yards, 0 yards rushing, and the only score coming on a 99 yard kickoff return to start the second half? These guys are the front-runners now, and only we stand in their way of a 7-0 start. Even then I don't know if we can stop them.

They get Minnesota this week, and the Ohio State defense has to be licking its chops to face an offense that can't hold on to the ball so far. Minnesota has enough of an offense to get a few scores and we should have an idea of how well Purdue will perform a week later, but right now this Ohio State defense is playing at another level. It's getting to the point that if the offense can just score three touchdowns, maybe even two, it's game over.

Of course, Northwestern could just be that bad.

2. (3) Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0)

Gritty could describe that win over Iowa. With a weapon like P.J. Hill and a defense that can keep most games in the teens though you can afford to simply gut out a win over another defensive minded team. The Badgers turned the ball over three times, but had enough left in the tank to get a come from behind win in the fourth quarter. They now have a very interesting game against Michigan State that should take on a similar tone as the Spartans are playing fairly decent on defense and have a nice running game.

This attitude is going to come back to bite them eventually though, and this may be the week. Michigan State can throw the ball a little better than Iowa can, and Wisconsin has yet to have a real impressive game to live up to their ranking. Right now I just kind of feel, "meh" about the Badgers, and it is mostly because their style of play isn't real impressive. It does, however, get results.

3. (8) Michigan (2-2, 1-0)

I think the Michigan defense might have finally woken up, either that or Penn State just had a really, really bad day offensively. How can Appalachian State and Oregon run up and down the field against them, but Penn State can barely move the ball? This week's game made it just that much harder to rank the Big Ten. Because Penn State got exposed on the road, but Michigan still has those two glaring losses and a lot to prove yet. Purdue and Michigan State still have incomplete grades because they haven't played solid teams yet, and no one else measures up to the number three spot. It is a big jump, but that was a big win and much needed for the Wolverines.

The big question now is should Chad Henne start when he returns from injury? Ryan Mallett has already showed a ton of poise, but it helps that Mike hart is having a Heisman-worthy season so far. Now Michigan needs to hold serve against Northwestern and Eastern Michigan before the next real test comes against Purdue.

4. (1) Penn State (3-1, 0-1)

That was a crap game from Anthony Morelli, and it looks like he will be the Achilles heel for Penn State this year. There's no excuse for him not stepping up to the moment and not finding the end zone against a Michigan defense that has struggled early this season. The running game didn't do a whole lot either and Penn State really should be ashamed of its offense right now. It's not like Michigan blew them out, but the Nittany Lion offense did nothing all day. The defense is too good to have that crappy of an offensive performance.

Now Penn State needs to be careful, because if they were susceptible to a running game this week Illinois could cause some problems with as well as they are moving the ball on the ground. It's not like the Illini are moving the ball through the air with regularity right now. Illinois' defense hasn't been too bad either and they did a good job of shutting down a good Indiana offense this week. Of the top four, Penn State suddenly looks the shakiest.

5. (4) Purdue (4-0, 1-0)

I am very nervous for this week, because this is the type of game that Purdue always seems to lose. Many Purdue fans are riding high and expecting them to crush Notre Dame on Saturday. By all rights we should. Notre Dame can't score, and I am confident our defense will put together an entire game to keep them from having a breakout week. Our offense should feed off the home crowd, shake off a lackluster week (by our lofty standards this season) and get rolling. You get the sense though that if Notre Dame keeps it simple can run the ball for a full game like it did early against the Spartans it could be a tricky game. It shouldn't be a difficult win for Purdue, but people are saying it will be and is just one of four tough wins in a row.

And I know we are fully capable of making this a difficult game. How well Purdue plays against the Irish will say a lot. Saturday night people were in panic mode because of the second half performance of the defense and nationally people are questioning it again, but the important fact is this. When games have been close (i.e. only in the first half) the defense has been dominant and very good. Only with a big lead have they slacked, and it's not like Minnesota didn't know how to move the ball. Purdue should be able to roll over a weak Notre Dame this week, as even Irish fans are saying we should rare in a rare concession. Then the Boilers will finally have a chance to make a statement with everyone watching. Why wait a week though? Make one this week too.

6. (5) Michigan State (4-0, 0-0)

Barring a total collapse Michigan State will make a bowl game, and that marks them down as the biggest surprise of the season so far in the conference. While many teams were lining the Spartans up as a win before the season started, who really wants to play them now? That running game can control the clock and the defense is playing with a lot of confidence. They haven't really played anyone yet, and they have a big chance to show how far they have come with a visit to Wisconsin this week.

Brian Hoyer had a pretty good week and so far hasn't done anything to cost Michigan State. He really only needs to do just enough each week to keep teams from keying on the running game, and four TD's against Notre Dame was more than enough. They now get into the conference but catch a bad break by missing Minnesota and Illinois. Still, they'll get someone this year they aren't supposed to.

7. (7) Illinois (3-1, 1-0)

It's weird to say this, but the win over Indiana could be a turning point. With northwestern, Minnesota, and Ball State still on the schedule, plus enough of a defense and running game to put a scare into someone like Iowa or Penn State Illinois can seriously think about making a bowl. If Juice Williams can figure out the concept of the forward pass they will be even more dangerous. Most importantly the win over Indiana gives them priority in the bowl selection order if the teams each finish with six wins (more on that in a moment).

Rashard Mendenhall is making an argument for being the most underrated running back in the Big Ten, but Illinois will need more than just him to pull off a big upset. He already has 536 yards on the ground in four games.

8. (6) Indiana (3-1, 0-1)

Indiana needs to gain some respect back in a hurry and a win at Iowa this week would do the job. If the Hoosiers lose they may face the agony of winning six games, yet not going to a bowl game simply because there are not enough spots out there. Think about it for a moment. The Big Ten has seven guaranteed slots. Right now Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, and Penn State are obviously going to take five of them. Michigan is a good bet to take a sixth, and now Illinois with the exact same Northwestern-Minnesota-Ball State trifecta of hopeful wins to get to six is a slot ahead of them. Should Iowa win this week that puts eight teams ahead of the Hoosiers if they get those three and only three wins. Even if the Big Ten gets two teams into the BCS (unlikely) the Hoosiers would be the odd team out, hoping that another conference has an empty slot.

Obviously this is all speculation at this point, but if it happens Indiana could be forced to stay home even with six wins. Ball State's performance at Nebraska this week shows even that won't be automatic for the Hoosiers or Illini. If Indiana wants to be safe they had better get two out of their next three just to slot themselves above an Iowa or Michigan State just to be safe.

9. (9) Iowa (2-2, 0-1)

Iowa seems to be suffering from the same problem as Penn State only more pronounced. The Indiana game will be big for them because they can't afford to go to 2-3 or 0-2 in the conference with a very difficult stretch following the game against the Hoosiers. If Indiana's offense wakes up the Hawkeyes are in serious danger because they may not be able to score enough to keep up with the Hoosiers. A finishing kick against Minnesota, Northwestern, and Western Michigan is as easy as they come, but Iowa needs to at least get one of its next five to make those matter.

There is still no word on the suspensions of the Hawkeyes best two receivers, and even if they return at this point it will take some time to get back into an offense that has played four games. The Iowa-Indiana game may be one of the most to watch on Saturday, as both teams suddenly really need the game for postseason hopes.

10. (10) Minnesota (1-3, 0-1)

That Minnesota offense can do just enough that if two things happen, namely they hold on to the ball and the defense stops someone, they could be dangerous. Much like my colleague over at Gopher nation said in his wrap-up of the Purdue game though, they need to learn to be ready to play before they fall behind 24-0. The play on the blocked field goal really shows how rough of a season Goldy is having. Jamal Harris simply dropped the ball with no one anywhere near him. It wasn't even like he had to catch it or anything; he already had it and merely needed to do two things: 1. Hold on to ball, 2. don't fall down.

This season is clearly a wash as even the game against North Dakota State, who simply annihilated Central Michigan and isn't even eligible for the D-1AA postseason yet (they are transitioning from D-2), isn't looking easy. They have enough firepower though to bite someone not paying complete attention if the defense can just get them the lead early.

11. (11) Northwestern (2-2, 0-1)

Northwestern fans should take heart: the Ohio State loss still only counts as one in the standings. They still have Eastern Michigan as a likely win on the schedule, and if Tyrell Sutton can come back to give the offense a little more pop they might, might be able to snag three wins in the conference to get to a bowl game. My best advice is to simply throw out the tape from this week and start over. Northwestern needs to set its sights on Eastern Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana as wins if they want to salvage a bowl this year, but those are all no guarantees.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mission Accomplished

That's about the best I can say about last night's Minnesota game. We had a mission to go on the road and get a win to start the Big Ten Conference season. We also were given a point spread of 14 points and did exactly that. It wasn't an overly impressive win or a statement win, but neither was it an ugly win where we absolutely needed Minnesota to make the mistakes it did in order to come away with the victory. Much like the Central Michigan game we built a big lead, got a little lax on defense, but you were never left with the impression that the offense wasn't capable of rolling back down the field for another score to make the Gophers' job that much more difficult. Indeed that's what you could call all three of our second half touchdowns as they were response scores to Minnesota touchdowns.

We won this game because we were the better team. Had the Gophers been a better team we would have been in some danger, but they made the mistakes a 1-3 team at this point in the season makes. A 1-3 team gives up the opening kickoff for a touchdown. A 1-3 team drops a surefire touchdown simply because a guy can't hold on to the football while running in the open field. The only hope Minnesota had was to come out and get up on us early, which we didn't let them do. We've proven this season to be the type of team that will jump on another team early and build a big lead, and then slowly throw more dirt on as the game progresses. It's nice to be at that point where we don't have to be 100% perfect to get a win, and is a sign of progress.

And that is what makes this game so interesting. In the first half the defense was pretty good and made a difference even while the offense didn't do a whole lot. Then again, they didn't have to. We got 17 of our 24 first half points via special teams or the defense, yet people are complaining because the defense slacked off in the second half again. If anything this makes us a more dangerous team, because we proved that we didn't need to just go nuts offensively to put a team away. We've returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this year; we're hitting harder on defense, and causing 2-3 turnovers per game. If that keeps up teams will have a very difficult time beating us.

The offense vs. Minnesota

They struggled and only came up with 7 points in the first half, but at least they did a good job of keeping the ball away from Minnesota. The second half they performed more to their usual expectations by answering Minnesota's first three touchdown drives with touchdown drives of their own. I don't care how much the defense gives up. If the offense can continue to come back down the field and answer then we have little to worry about. We were able to have a steady ground game behind Kory Sheets, who thrived with 171 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Most importantly he didn't fumble. He is the key to keeping the offense on track, because with him we have a ground element that allows us to mix things up. We also were able to run with Painter a few times; just enough to show it's still there.

Painter had another solid game even if he did throw his first pick. That throw was a little off and was just tipped to the right place. The more dangerous throw was the one Jamal Harris nearly intercepted in the second half, but apparently he took unction at having another good play handed to him and politely dropped the ball again. Bryant once again was his normal self. Anything said badly about the offense after this game is simply nitpicking, and we're facing a defense that is just as bad or worse next week.

The defense vs. Minnesota

Cripes! If you read the Purdue message board this morning you would have thought we gave up 35 points to Indiana State again. Minnesota's offense wasn't bad and in all three games before last night they had shown a proclivity to light it up in the second half. They are ranked as the second most productive offenses in the Big Ten behind our own, and rank 15th in the nation averaging 490 yards per game. They're also averaging 35.5 points per game for a #30 ranking in that category. This was not some punchless MAC squad we were facing, and they're going to score points all year. We should be happy we held them to just three points while our defense outscored them.

Cliff Avril's play on the pick was simply incredible, and it may have been the play that salted things away. We forced a total of four turnovers didn't give up much until the game was well in hand. Any team is going to give up points at that point because players relax, opposing teams start passing more and more. Again, this was a good offense; we weren't going to keep them in check the whole game. We were able to keep the lead at at least 14 points the entire night, so all those who are worried about the defense need to relax.

Here's some perspective: Last season through four games we had a defense rated higher than 110 in all categories. So far this season, against better competition (Minnesota, Central Michigan, Toledo, and Eastern have better offenses than Indiana State, Miami (OH), Ball State, and Minnesota did last year) we are ranked 59th in total offense, 61st against the run, 62nd against the pass, and 42nd in scoring offense. We've actually shown we can get a stop early in the game so far, and even a three and out. We're tackling a whole lot better, and we aren't giving up nearly as many big plays either. The only thing I would like to see more of is consistent quarterback pressure, but we're mixing it up and blitzing well to force incompletions on third down. But hey, as long as we keep opening up 24 point leads we shouldn't have a lot to worry about.

Special Teams vs. Minnesota

Another pretty good game here, especially now that we've proven that you don't have to kick to Bryant in order to have a good runback. If we give up an average of 3-4 scores in per game we have a good chance to at least shorten the field on one of them with a good runback. We've seen nothing but good from our kick return game, and it is simply another weapon for us right now.

We also made a field goal, and possibly would have had a second if not for a breakdown in protection. We also simply got lucky when Harris dropped the ball on the return, but credit should be given to both Armstrong and Summers for never giving up on the chase and to Armstrong for being there to fall on the ball. The mistake cost Minnesota seven points, but Armstrong's chance made sure it was the full seven and that they wouldn't get a cheap three on a field goal. The blocked field goal was not Summers' fault, but hopefully the breaking of his streak won't affect him from here on out.


I'm not going to complain because we scored 45 points and got a 14 point on the road in the conference. Penn State only gave up 14 points on the road yesterday and they're looking up at us in the standings right now. Now Notre Dame comes to town. If we give up 469 yards and 31 points to a team that is 120th (dead last) in the nation at 187 yards per game and 119th in scoring at 6.8 points per game (and seven of the 27 points they've scored came on defense) then we need to have a cause for concern. Maybe we started looking ahead to Notre Dame in the second half, I don't know. The important thing is that we won.

And so begins a big week, because we face the rare pressure of being the ranked and heavily favored team in this series. How will we handle our new top 25 ranking? Notre Dame finally showed a little life last week by having some success on the ground early, but they still weren't able to sustain anything late. They are still struggling to contain anyone defensively, so I doubt they will be able to keep up with us if the offense performs well, but if they go with a basic package and simply run the ball to control the clock we might have some problems.

Personally, I can't wait. My regular readers will notice the most commented (a record 12!) posting ever on this blog was the Notre Dame preview, and there were some attacks directed at me. Some examples:

Anonymous said...

ND MIGHT have more talent on the field?
Are you kidding?
Beginning this year, ND will have almost as much talent on the field as USC, LSU and Michigan.
I agree it will be young talent, inexperienced talent. But let's be careful to describe it accurately--ND is loaded.
This could be the year for Purdue, as all that talent is green. After that, the door is slammed.

Loaded. Well, I hope they can get some offensive line talent for all that loaded talent to explode from. Example 2:

Gerry said...

1-7 or 0-8? Ay yes, and I'll believe that when me sh*t turns purple and smells like rainbow sherbet ...

Your hatred of Notre Dame has you selling the team a bit short, while ignoring the fact that the Irish aren't the only team in college football who have changes from year to year. Georgia Tech no longer has Calvin Johnson and Boston College is without one of the men (Tom O'Brien) responsbile for their streak against the Irish (the other two men would be Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham). Michigan and USC should have the upper hand on the Irish, and Penn State looks to be evenly matched. Notre Dame should be the favorite in their other 9 games.

Had you said 4-4, you might be making some sense. 0-8/1-7 makes you look like a biased fool. Do better.

This was my favorite. I guess being a biased fool isn't so bad now, and I am doing quite well thank you very much. In a related story, Gerry here must have been surprised this morning when the scent of rainbow sherbet wafted from his bowl. Hopefully he can tell me how much Notre Dame will be favored against us, UCLA, Boston College, and even Navy at this point. If we lose on Saturday I'll take it like a man, but right now this biased fool is doing just fine.

Finally, one last post, as this was the most recent comment posted just this morning:

Anonymous said...

I take offense to the fact you don't consider Michigan State a good team, where's your big ten love.

My deepest apologies, as I was most definitely wrong about Michigan State this year. That I will cop to.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Big Ten Preview week 4

The Canes are on tonight in the Off the Track bungalow, so I apologize if I am a bit distracted. It's also the beginning of the Big Ten conference season this week and we have two really good games that will set a couple of teams back in an early deficit. I'm excited for two reasons: 1. since there are now only six games a week I can write a little bit more about each game, and 2. we can start gaining some separation because we have those good games this week. Both Michigan and Iowa were entertaining dreams of a Big Ten title this season, and a disappointing non-conference season can be forgotten with a win on Saturday.

In a surprising move this week we have quite a few late games with three of the six starting at 3:30 in the afternoon and both the Wisconsin-Iowa and Purdue-Minnesota game starting after 8pm. Personally I like this, as I am really tired of noon kickoffs. Plus it leaves my last free Saturday of the season available to do something else for at least a few hours. It's a toss-up for game of the week honors this week, but I believe I made a worthy choice.


Iowa (2-1) at #7 Wisconsin (3-0) 8pm Saturday

Say what you will about the Iowa offense, the Iowa defense has been stellar so far. Through three games the Hawkeyes have allowed only six field goals and no touchdowns. That doesn't amount to much though as it has been a week of fuming and cursing coming from the direction of Iowa City after losing to a terrible Iowa State team. The Hawkeyes have a solid run defense, but they will be facing one of the conference's best running backs in P.J. Hill who has been a touchdown machine so far with six touchdowns, including five against the Citadel last week. To quite the band Drowning Pool, "Something's got to give."

Wisconsin's defense has played well so far, but they were pretty bad last week against the Citadel. Do the Bulldogs have a better offense than Iowa though? Right now, the answer is probably a yes. If Iowa couldn't move the ball against Iowa State last week they will have trouble moving the ball against a living, breathing Big Ten defense this week. I tend to think Wisconsin's struggles are more of an aberration and a team merely going through the motions that past two weeks and doing just enough to win. This one has all the makings of a defensive struggle.

Iowa has to find a passing game, plain and simple. They cannot rely on Albert Young and Damian Sims all season long because otherwise teams will key on them and dare Jake Christensen to beat them through the air. Both of these teams are very similar in that they have good but inexperienced quarterbacks, good defensive lines, and good running games. Tyler Donovan already has a win last year over Iowa and the Wisconsin receivers are light years better than Iowa's at the moment. That will be the difference.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 20, Iowa 10

Illinois (2-1) at Indiana (3-0) 12pm Saturday

While there are better games this week, this one may be one of the most interesting as the winner will suddenly have a very, very good chance of getting to a bowl game. Both teams have the longest active bowl streaks in the conference, and fan bases that would gladly flock to Detroit to face the MAC in the Motor City Bowl if it meant a 13th game. Illinois still has games against Northwestern, Minnesota, and Ball State it can easily win, so they need this game. Ironically, since Indiana still has those same opponents left they can probably afford a loss here. A win all but assures Indiana of a bowl bid barring a complete collapse.

Neither team has really beaten anyone of note yet, but who has in the Big Ten? Other than the first half against Missouri Illinois has played fairly well on defense, but as usual turnovers have been a problem. The Illini have yet to develop much of a passing game, but Juice Williams has been quite successful running the ball, as has Rashard Mendenhall. It's pretty bad when the backup quarterback who has played only one game has more passing yards than the starter who has played in all three, although was limited in one.

On the other side of the ball is Kellen Lewis, as this could be quite the game to watch dynamic rushing quarterbacks. Lewis, however, has been the only real rushing threat for the Hoosiers and has racked up more than 300 yards on the ground. He's playing better than Williams right now because he's proving to be a dual threat both running and passing, while Williams has only been a threat running. Illinois has the better defense, but Indiana has the more dynamic and balanced offense.

PREDICTION: Indiana 38, Illinois 31

Michigan State (3-0) at Notre Dame (0-3) 3:30pm Saturday

I really, really hope Michigan State wins this game in a rout because I have an article already planned for Sunday night in preparation for our game with them. Some choice words were said to me about predicting Notre Dame could possibly start 1-7, and I was giving them only this game in that scenario. We still need to our jobs next week, but this week it is Michigan State's turn.

Michigan State has won five in a row in South Bend, and no one has ever won six in a row. Notre Dame has been unable to stop the run and Michigan State has a two-headed monster by the names of Jehuu Caulcrick and Javon Ringer to run the ball right at them. Notre Dame has given up 23 sacks, while Michigan State is tied for the lead in the country with 17 sacks. This is starting to look like the only question will be if Notre Dame can finally score an offensive touchdown. I hope so, because I don't want that pressure on our own defense.

Honestly Notre Dame will have to play drastically better to have a shot in this game, but if they do the talk and arrogance will return. Michigan State shouldn't feel threatened by the Irish offense, and they need to just the ball down their throats when they have it. I don't think this Michigan State team will self-destruct like it did in last season's game. Notre Dame has done so little right so far that they shouldn't have much to worry about anyway.

PREDICTION: Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 10

#10 Penn State (3-0) at Michigan (1-2) 3:30pm Saturday

Now we get to find out what Michigan is really made of. If they can defend their home turf against a team that has been the most complete in the conference so far then they can still salvage the season by winning the Big Ten. If they go belly up and lose big like they did against Oregon Michigan's long bowl streak will be in jeopardy. If the Wolverines stumble to a 1-3 start with all four games at home what are they going to do when they finally get on the road? If there ever was a must win for Michigan this is it.

I think Penn State will be fine if they simply don't panic. I would key on Mike Hart and dare Michigan to beat me through the air if I were the Nittany Lions. Michigan also has not stopped an offense with a pulse so far. Penn state has the receivers to do some serious damage against a still bad Michigan secondary, but it will be up to Anthony Morelli to get the ball to them.

I can't believe that Penn State has had so much trouble with Michigan over the years, losing eight in a row to the Wolverines. Penn State remembers the last visit to Ann Arbor as well, as they were one second away from a perfect season that year because of the Michigan game. Right now the Wolverines need to convince me they are turning things around. Until that happens I'm going with their opponent.

PREDICTION: Penn State 27, Michigan 20

Northwestern (2-1) at #9 Ohio State (3-0) 3:30pm Saturday

Are we seriously expecting a team that just lost to Duke, the first 1-A team in three years to do so, to have a chance of beating a team playing at home that was in last year's national title game? For crying out loud Northwestern's quarterback threw for 368 yards last week and netted just 14 points against the worst team in America for the past five years. Even if the Wildcats get Tyrell Sutton back they don't stand much of a chance in this game.

Ohio State should be able to laze their way through this game and fine tune their offense, because the defense will likely be its rock-solid self. Unless Ohio State's offense just completely craps the bed and turns the ball over four or five times the Buckeyes should have an easy time of it.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 35, Northwestern 10

Purdue (3-0) at Minnesota (1-2) 9pm Saturday

CFN seems to think we still don't have any kind of a defense and that we'll give up 40 points in this game, but still score nearly 60 in another shootout in the Metrodome reminiscent of the 1994 59-56 game. I don't think it will be quite that dramatic, but this will be the best test for our defense yet. Minnesota has been a team that has done little early, but they have enough of an offense to score points late. If our defense really is appreciably better and we can contain their spread option attack this one will be over early. If not, it will simply be over late.

Purdue will win this game going away if it simply does not turn the ball over, because Minnesota's defense has been so bad against mediocre defenses that they will likely get torched as long as the first team offense is on the field for the Boilers. Minnesota will need to play perfect as well and not turn the ball over. With all due respect to the gophers, whom are one of my favorite Big ten teams other than Purdue, they are not going to go from turning the ball over seven times to lowly Florida Atlantic to playing a perfect game on both side of the ball against Purdue.

I am pretty sure Purdue is going to win, but I want to see how well our defense plays. If we can hold the Gophers like we have Toledo and Central Michigan then we might just have a bit of a defense to go with a tremendous offense> That will make us all the more dangerous later in the season.

PREDICTION: Purdue 55, Minnesota 24


#14 South Carolina (3-0) at #2 LSU (3-0)

Have I been asleep? How on earth did South Carolina get into the top 15? They have one good win at Georgia and two wins over cupcakes and they are the #14 team in the nation? What? Well, I guess this is their chance to prove they have earned their ranking, and they will certainly move up even more if they pull off the massive upset here. Right now 28 teams still have a legit shot at the national title, as those are the number of unbeaten teams in the six BCS conferences. South Carolina eliminates one of the top contenders and becomes one themselves with an upset. I don't think so. LSU 38, South Carolina 20

#22 Georgia (2-1) at #16 Alabama (3-0)

It must be judgment week in the SEC this week as there are a ton of good games, including the two games with two ranked teams facing each other. I still think Alabama is one of the more overrated teams America, but I think Georgia is more overrated. Maybe it's just the bitterness of losing two bowl games against them in overtime. I don't know. Alabama 17, Georgia 13

Last week: 9-4

Season record: 31-5

GUEST POST: A look at Minnesota

Charlie from Paging Jim Shikenjanski has offered his analysis of the 2007 Golden Gopher squad we face on Saturday night in the Metrodome. He echoes the sentiments of many of their fans that they are resigned to the fate of a serious rebuilding year, but there is enough pop to make a game of it if we're not totally focused. Welcome Charlie, and thanks!

Minnesota fans entered the 2007 season with high expectations. New coach Tim Brewster came in talking a big game. But after losses to Bowling Green and Florida Atlantic, our new coach has seen many of the same fans cheering his arrival have begun to question his coaching ability.

This week against Purdue, Minnesota fans are expecting more of the same. That is, we're expecting our defense to get scorched. If Florida Atlantic rolled up huge numbers, should we expect anything less from Purdue? Anyway, considering you probably haven't watched too many Gophers games, here's what to expect from the Gophers.

Quarterback: Redshirt freshman Adam Weber has shown glimpses of potential and immaturity. He was named co-Big Ten offensive player of the week in Week 2. But last week he threw 4 interceptions. He's a dual-threat type of quarterback and has run with surprising power through three weeks. The Gophers have abandonded the power running game of the Glen Mason era for the spread offense. While the running game has been OK through three weeks, the coaching staff has abandonded it too much. When the Gophers run, it's out of the shotgun. The spread offense has forced Weber to pass too much as he's maturing in the position. Be happy, Purdue fans, if the Gophers come out throwing.

Running Backs: Amir Pinnix is a bonafide Big Ten running back. His shouldn't be a new name for Big Ten fans, but the Gophers unfortunately aren't using the shove-it-down-your-throat offense that would have led to bigger numbers from Pinnix. When the Gophers run the ball from the spread, Pinnix is still a force to be recokoned with.

Wide Receivers: Senior Ernie Wheelright was supposed to be the go-to guy coming into the season. He's flashed brilliance and futility in his tenure as a wideout in Minny. But so far, he's been outplayed by sophomore Eric Decker. They are joined by a bunch of youngsters who haven't really asserted themselves yet. Mike Chambers is the only other non-freshman in our receiving corps, and he played cornerback in week one. Freshman Tray Herndon has flashed potential. But our depth at wideout is far too slim for the spread offense to be effective.

Defense: Generally, the Minnesota defense is a sieve. Our secondary is filled with true freshman. We lost standout Dominic Jones at the beginning of the year when he was alleged to have committed a sex crime that he allegedly videotaped. Genius, I know. So, the Gophers secondary is a work-in-progress and has been embarrassed when teams have spread the ball and exploited the secondary.

Minnesota's defensive line was poised to be the defense's strength. But standout Willie VanDeSteeg, and his comrades on the line, have failed to put enough pressure on the quarterback to take the pressure off the young secondary. When the Minnesota defense has put pressure on the quarterback, it has come via the blitz. But, the Minnesota coaches have now went to more base coverages, because the blitzes weren't getting to the quarterback in time and the secondary was further exposed.

Special Teams: The Minnesota kick and punt coverage has been good. But our return game has caused many Gophers fans to close their eyes. True freshman Harold Howell is returning kicks, and while he has loads of athleticism and potential, he's put the ball on the ground on numerous occasions. He could break an 80-yard touchdown or fumble twice. He's scary in more ways than one.

Prediction: A poll on my Web site indicates that many Gopher fans believe Purdue can put up 70+ points on the Gophers. That might be a stretch, but there is no reason to believe the Boilermakers can't put up 50+. The Minnesota offense can hold its own for awhile, but a shootout will put too much pressure on Weber. Pick: Purdue 56, Minnesota 31.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Big ten bloggers Roundtable week 4

It's my second week ont he segment and I can't thank the guys enough at the Big Ten blogger's roundtrable. They have been very supportive and helpful so far, and I am glad to add a Purdue perspective to the proceedings.
1. Time to break out the crystal ball. I want to know what happens at the END of the season. Give me your offensive and defensive Players of the Year in the Big Ten along with Coach of the Year and why.

Offensive player of the year: Mike Hart

With all due respect to Curtis Painter at the moment, Mike Hart is doing a lot more for his team as the only consistent offensive weapon. He's putting up massive numbers in an inconsistent offense and his team is certainly not struggling on his account. It could end up being an Andre Dawson winning NL MVP for a last place team type of year for him.

Defensive player of the year: Dan Connor or Jim Laurinaitis

I'm a sucker for a good linebacker and these two guys in the middle of those great defenses are two of the best. It will be fun to watch their competition all year long.

Coach of the Year: Bill Lynch

I went with this one simply because he could be the first coach to take Indiana to a bowl game in 13 years. He is also leading the team through the Terry Hoeppner tragedy, and both are incredibly difficult tasks.

2. With the upsets, close games, and head scratchers so far, every game we thought was going to be important has changed. Michigan State is 3-0, for Pete's sake, and they look good doing it. Pick the three games on the Big Ten Schedule that will determine the Big Ten Champion. Bonus Points for not picking three games on your own schedule.

Ohio State at Penn State

These two are the two best teams in the Big Ten right now, and they both could be undefeated coming into this game before that though Penn State must get past...

Wisconsin at Penn State

Something has been off with the Badgers the last two weeks, but P.J. Hill certianly played a good game against the Citadel.

Ohio State at Purdue

I couldn't resist not picking this as a critical game, as it is an extremely rare night game at Ross-Ade Stadium. Five of the last six games between the two have been decided by less than a touchdown, and its a great offense against a great defense. A Purdue win announces that the Boilers will have a role to play in the race, especially with their best shot at winning at Michigan in 40 years the next week and no Wisconsin on the schedule.

3. How many games, this season, have you been to? How many games have you tailgated at? If you have tailgated, name your beverage of choice. If you answered no to the previous questions, hang your head in shame, or at least give a good story about watching the game in enemy territory and giving the bouncer the finger when he asked you to quiet down.

LOL, So far I have been to just Purdue's home games, but I will be going to their remaining five, the road games at Michigan and probably Indiana, and we will be flying to Miami for the November 3rd final homecoming game in the Orange bowl against NC State. My beverage of choice is a Boiler-rita, a heavily intoxicating concoction made with a massive margarita machine powered by a generated that gets cheers every time it is fired up. And we tailgate at all Purdue home games except this year opener because of the weather and work commitments afterward.

Bitter/Angry Bonus Question!
4. As the Big Ten Season kicks off, the Conference is in somewhat of a difficult position nationally. Needing some momentum after a horrid BCS performance, the Conference needed some momentum early in the season. It hasn't gotten it. The first three weeks have been abysmal. Is this just a down year for the Big Ten, is there a change Nationally that the Big Ten just hasn't picked up on, is there some truth to the "Big Ten Style of Play" that everyone harps on, or has college football simply caught up? What so you think and why? I may be beating a dead horse, but no one looks good this year and I'm at a loss as to why.

Every year that Michigan or Ohio State is down we get the "What's wrong with the Big Ten" rhetoric going. It's almost like people cannot believe that anyone else in the conference could possibly have a good season outside of maybe Penn State and Wisconsin. The bottom of the conference is always going to be dismal, and it looks like this year it is just Indiana and Illinois finally cycling out and Minnesota and Northwestern cycling in.
It also doesn't help that no one played ANYONE of not in non-conference play except Michigan vs. Oregon, Illinois vs. Missouri, and Ohio State at Washington. In 33 games to date the Big Ten team has been favored in 32 of them, so every loss other than Illinois' was an upset. It's just hte nature of the upsets that has made the conference look bad.
The real measuring stick, as always, will be the bowl season, where we have two games against the SEC and two against the Big 12. If we have a good bowl season things will turn around. I don't think it is so much that other conferences have caught up, but things just go in cycles. The Big Ten is never down for long and will be back. Remember, we've put two teams into the BCS more than almost any other conference.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Big Ten Week 3 in review

A quarter of the way through the season already and we have too many teams (Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan) looking like disappointment than we do teams (Michigan State and Purdue, to some extent) that look like surprises. This is not good news for the long-term health of the conference and considering the most marquee non-conference game remaining is Michigan State this week against an absolutely horrid Notre Dame team there are few chances to make a statement unless it is in the conference. While I didn't expect this, there was only one loss I could really have foreseen in the first 33 games of the season (three games for all eleven teams) and two more I thought were possible, but not likely. I saw Illinois losing to Missouri, but the Illini made a good game of it. I also saw Michigan State possibly losing to Pitt and Michigan possibly losing to Oregon. That was really it. There were a few games that looked better once the season started like Ohio State-Washington and Bowling Green-Minnesota, but in reality it would not have surprised me if the conference was 32-1 right now.

26-7 isn't bad for a conference, but some of the losses have been ghastly. Michigan's loss to Appalachian State is obviously the worst, but I would argue the Mountaineers are probably better than Duke, Florida Atlantic, and Iowa State as teams that have beaten Big Ten foes so far. Of course if the conference was 32-1 right now we could have been in store for nine or even ten bowl teams if things broke right.

I still think three teams are head and shoulders above the rest right now, but Wisconsin is slipping at the moment. I also think people need to calm down about Indiana and their hot start. What the Hoosiers have done is good, but let's wait a little bit before putting them into a top four finish as some are wildly saying. With that being said, here are the Big Ten Power Rankings this week, with last week's rankings in parenthesis.

Week 3 Big Ten Power Rankings:

1. (1) Penn State (3-0)

They haven't been challenged yet, and unless Notre Dame is just that bad they shouldn't face much of a challenge in Ann Arbor this week. It's amazing to see that so far Buffalo has had the most success against them, and it wasn't much. Penn State got to work on a lot of things Saturday, and if they are smart they will head into Michigan, stack eight in the box to stop mike hart, and simply dare true freshman Ryan Mallett to beat them. Austin Scott and Rodney Kinlaw are moving the ball effectively on the ground and Anthony Morelli has had three good home tune-ups.

So what if Buffalo threw for more than 300 yards? As long as the offense continues to produce and the defense stops the run Penn State can build a big lead and sit on it. How much of Buffalo's 24 points on Saturday came from losing focus with a big lead like Purdue did? The Michigan game will tell if Penn State is for real and if Michigan has turned things around.

2. (2) Ohio State (3-0)

What a second half by the Bucks in Seattle! After falling behind 7-3 just before the half Ohio State turned in a dominating performance and used a solid defensive effort to shut down one of the most surprising teams in the country. I thought this Ohio state team was going to be a lot like the 2002 team that used a stellar defense and just enough offense to pull out close win after close win. If they can turn on the offense in the second half like they did on Saturday though they will be a very dangerous team to deal with.

Now the Buckeyes have to get ready for a demoralized Northwestern team that is missing its best weapon in Tyrell Sutton. Chris Wells also finally got on track and had a solid day against the Huskies, making the offense that much more effective. Ohio State is turning into the type of team that can seal games with its defense if the offense scores more than 25. Right now the Ohio State-Penn state game may decide the Big Ten, if Ohio State gets past Purdue.

3. (3) Wisconsin (3-0)

For the second week in a row Wisconsin played a craptacular game against an inferior opponent. When I stepped inside the club section and saw The Citadel of all teams was tied with Wisconsin at the half I had to make sure it wasn't… well I can't think of any sport where the Citadel should be tied with Wisconsin halfway through a game unless it was baseball, and Wisconsin doesn't even have a team! P.J. Hill has to be the team MVP so far, and if he goes down Wisconsin will fall fast.

Because of their recent performance I don't know what to think about this week when Iowa visits to start conference play. Iowa can certainly play defense, but their offense probably doesn't have enough firepower to stay with Wisconsin if they get even a couple of scores. Both teams will probably just slug it out in Madison on Saturday. I just can't figure this team when they struggle to score against UNLV and then struggle to stop the Citadel. At least they woke up and avoided another stinging loss for the conference.

4. (4) Purdue (3-0)

The Boilers now have no excuse to be 5-0 going into the 8pm October 6th game at Ross-Ade against Ohio State. The teams they have beaten are now a combined 1-8 (with the one win being Central Michigan over Toledo) and the next two teams they face have horrible pass defenses and a combined 1-5 record. Still, this is Purdue and I know we have it in us to just completely crap the bed and lose one of the next two. It never fails that Purdue always loses a game it has absolutely no business losing if it just plays like it has shown it can play in that particular season.

That being said I have read a couple of Minnesota fan blogs as part of the Big Ten blogging network this week and they are scared to death of facing our passing attack. These guys haven't been able to stop Florida Atlantic and Miami (OH), who aren't exactly passing teams. Shoot, Ball State held Miami (OH) to just 14 points. If Curtis Painter stays vertical this week he should destroy the Gopher secondary. As much press as he has gotten, Dorien Bryant only has one touchdown catch this year. Dustin Keller, Greg Orton, Selwyn Lymon, and even Kyle Adams have more than one though. I really don't see team slowing us down as long as Painter has time to throw because he has five solid receiving options on every play. If not for drops last week he would have thrown for 400 yards easily.

Oh, and for good measure Kory Sheets got on track for 144 yards and two TD's this past week. The only concerns offensively though lie with him, as he is the featured back with Jaycen Taylor out for the season (broken arm) and he fumbled three times this past week, losing two. Dan Dierking has played well in scrub minutes, but must grow up fast.

5. (6) Michigan State (3-0)

The Spartans have been the most surprising team, in a good way, so far in the conference. It's not so much that they have won, but the way that they are doing it. A win this week over Notre Dame means a 4-0 start and they look more disciplined to avoid the collapse that has come the last few seasons. The Spartans will at least go bowling this year somewhere, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them pull off a major upset along the line in conference play. I certainly am not looking forward to seeing them just after a tough trip to Happy Valley in November.

It starts with defense and it looks like Mark Dantonio is building a good one in East Lansing. They must now carry the torch of the nation and keep Notre Dame out of the end zone lest they face the stigma of letting the worst offense in America score on them. Of course, I'd rather they give up a token touchdown than us in two weeks. This is the surprise team to watch in conference play right now.

6. (6) Indiana (3-0)

Here's what I don't understand and maybe some other people will help me on this. Indiana had one of the easiest if not the easiest non-conference schedules in the country. They got three MAC teams of which only one might be a contender and a bad, bad 1-AA team. Purdue plays Notre Dame (albeit a bad Notre Dame) a good 1-AA team, and two contenders in the MAC, yet we're a product of our schedule while Indiana is one of the surprise teams in the country. What? So far the two programs have had identical schedules and Purdue's is probably tougher, yet some are saying they have passed us in the Big Ten? Let's all calm down a moment here.

Everyone knew Indiana was going to be 3-0 unless they had serious problems. Akron made a game of it for three quarters this week while Purdue has not been challenged past halftime yet. The first real test is this week, as the winner of the Illinois-Indiana game suddenly has a long-sought bowl game starring them straight in the face if they just take care of business in games they should win the rest of the year.

7. (10) Illinois (2-1)

I think there's a huge drop-off after IU at the moment, but the Illini are my choice this week for what will likely be a very fluid #7 spot for the rest of the season. They went on the road and won a game, even though it was against one of the worst teams in America right now. They looked dominant in doing so as well. Now they face IU and a win would be a big step forward as Illinois has won three games in a season only once since 2002. It's another road contest two and really it's a case of a decent Illinois defense against a good Indiana offense, while an inconsistent Illinois offense faces a shaky Indiana defense.

Rashard Mendenhall has been a nice surprise so far with more than 300 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Turnovers actually weren't an issue against Syracuse either and that is a major positive for a team that has struggled with holding onto the football lately.

8. (9) Michigan (1-2)

This is a probationary ranking in part because Michigan finally played to its talent level and the fact that Iowa, Northwestern, and Minnesota don't deserve to be this high after last week. Who would have thought Michigan would start the season with four straight home games and possibly be 1-3 at home by the time the home stand was over? They desperately need a good showing against Penn State this week. With one they can still dream of a Big Ten title. Without one they will struggle to simply make a bowl game.

Even though they looked good against the Irish, right now Michigan needs to show its defense is really that much better and that they have more than Mike Hart on offense. Until then team will just line up to stop him and dare the Wolverines to beat them through the air until Chad Henne gets back. Of course, if Ryan Mallett plays well Henne may never return.

9. (6) Iowa (2-1)

Why can't Iowa play Iowa State well? Every Hawkeye fan knows this game should have been a blowout and the fact the Cyclones were even in the game at the end is a testament to how bad Iowa played down to their level. This is a team that got shoved around by 1-AA Northern Iowa a week earlier for crying out loud! The Hawkize page says it is not going to drink the Purdue Kool-aid this year. Well, I love their content, but after getting burned on Drew Tate last year and this week's stink bomb I am no longer talking up the Hawkeyes until they beat a team that matters. Iowa has lost six of its last nine and the three wins have been over Northern Illinois twice (who also lost to 1-AA Southern Illinois this year) and a bad Syracuse team.

They can turn it around this week if the defense shuts down Wisconsin, but the offense has been so bad they will likely need to pitch a shutout to have any kind of a chance. At least the revenge game against Indiana is next after that.

10. (11) Minnesota (1-2)

My wife is quite a big football fan and I had to consult her on this one. She said I should put Minnesota above Northwestern right now because even though the Gophers have looked bad so far, at least they didn't lose to Duke. She has a point, so special consideration goes to the team that lost to a team on a 22 game losing streak.

Minnesota shouldn't get off the hook though, as seven turnovers and 463 yards passing against Florida Atlantic is a pretty sad feat. Drew Brees had some of the best games of his Purdue career against the Gophers, but I shudder to see what Curtis Painter is going to do Saturday night if he can stay protected. Minnesota has shown some life on offense though, just enough that they might shock someone this year.

11. (8) Northwestern (2-1)

What the hell was that Northwestern? Seriously, what the hell was that, losing at home to Duke? You sit in the basement here for a week and think about what you have done.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Finally some bad to talk about, and it’s not that bad!

I don't want to harp on the bad things, but I am glad they came out today instead of later on down the road. This gives us a chance to work on things and correct them before it becomes critical. I would much rather know that we need to work on holding on to the ball now than find that out in a crucial game down there road where five turnovers costs us much more than it did today. It was very nice to have the luxury of a 38-0 lead and be in total control of the game before we started to turn it over in earnest.

I don't want to be one to look ahead, but our next two games are against teams that are lucky to have a combined 1-5 record. Neither team has shown any semblance of a defense either, meaning the offense should be able to maintain its high gear if we can get over this unexpected case of the fumbles. How is it we go from not giving up a single fumble in the middle of a driving rainstorm to losing four fumbles on a perfect day for football? Most concerning is that Kory Sheets has now fumbled the ball away three times in three games. Since he's now the featured back this makes me a little nervous. We don't have the depth that we used to have at running back in case it becomes a serious issue like with Montrell Lowe a few years ago.

Of course the most disappointing thing to take away from the day was the loss of Jaycen Taylor, likely for the season. Jaycen just seemed to be getting into his stride today when he left with the injury, and he has been a major positive both on and off the field for us since he came here. If he does end up redshirting the rest of the year we can have him through 2009, but we could use him now. My wife and I actually saw him in Tippecanoe Mall a few hours after the game. At least I assume it was him. The guy we saw had his Mohawk and his arm in a sling while wearing some Purdue warm ups. Fortunately Dan Dierking has been a very pleasant surprise so far and will now have to step up even more. It's a lot to ask as a true freshman, but we don't have a lot of other options. It's also time for Sheets to step into his vast potential and seize his role.

The defense faced a tale of two halves today. In the first half it could do little wrong and I was stunned not only by the fact we shut out a very good offensive team, but that guys were swarming to the ball, tackling well, and sealing up the middle of the line. Ryan Baker and Alex McGee seemed to have an easy time stopping runs up the middle, and we were never really burnt that badly. In the second half the defense seemed to lose its focus once we got up 38-0 and I was actually becoming genuinely concerned when the Chippewas cut it to 16. We kept getting beat on the same play where we would play off a receiver and let LeFevour dump off to him about 7-15 yards downfield. We also did not handle their no huddle very well, and once again we showed a staggering weakness against the screen pass. This is a concern because that seems to be the one play Notre Dame can successfully run at the moment and I really don't want to leave anything to chance.

Fortunately a whole lot more went right today. The passing worked with such efficiency that Painter seemed bored at times. The only thing that kept him from more than 400 yards and a couple more TD's were drops of passes that were right on the money. Dustin Keller seems to be making a delightful habit of using his strength to simply will himself to a touchdown. He's going to be fun to watch all season. The first quarter of the game was a thing of beauty, and if we can somehow harness and continue that performance we are going to have a very special year. We took a very good Central Michigan team and put them out of it early.

Even when Central was beginning to make a bit of a comeback you had to have confidence that we would find an answer, and that's exactly what we did. We came up with a big Dorien Bryant return, another quick TD, and the defense stiffened for a couple of more stops. So far we have show that we have a decent run defense, but I know much of that is due to the fact we have had a big lead in every game and forced teams to pass on us. That is naturally going to skew the stats, especially today when we were pretty laidback in the second half, but when it mattered most today the defense stepped up and played very well. Minnesota will be more of a challenge next week, but they have been an attack that will dormant for long stretches then bust out so far. It will be a good game for our defense to work on keeping its focus.

Speaking of keeping focus, we cannot afford to look ahead no matter how bad Notre Dame is playing. We need to be concerned about Minnesota and Minnesota only, because a good start in the conference is of the utmost importance. We cannot afford to lose to the team that certainly looks like the worst in the Big Ten at the moment. Minnesota has been very susceptible to the pass so far, and they haven't even faced a really good passing team yet. If we can get off to another good start in the Metrodome next week we shouldn't have too much trouble.

At the same time I cannot help but think a very special year is in the making. Minnesota, Iowa and Northwestern all lost games today that they had no business losing. Notre Dame can't find the end zone with a map, compass, Indian guide, GPS system, touchdown Jesus, and a giant flashing neon sign that says, "The end zone is over here." Surprisingly Michigan State and Indiana are looking like our toughest opponents after Ohio state and Penn State. Even Wisconsin had an unexpectedly tough day against the Citadel.

A quarter of the way through the season shows that things have gone better than expected, but we faced a little adversity for the first time today. It may be good for conditioning to have had the #1 units on the whole field for a game when they may not get a chance to do so over the next two weeks. Things that were once a concern are now a strength, but we're far from being a perfect team. I'll be happy if the offense keeps scoring 45 points a game and the defense plays well enough to just keep teams under 30. Just like last year we find ourselves about to face Minnesota in search of a 4-0 record after playing three lesser opponents. The difference this year though is night and day, as a win is expected and almost a given in the minds of many fans instead of merely hoped for.

It's time to take advantage of Goldy being down. Bring on the Gophers!