Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Big Ten Bloggers Week 10

Mascot beatings, disappointing players, and dreaming of bowl games. It sounds like the ravings of the number one team in the country. This week's Big Ten bloggers' roundtable is headed up by Adam at Buckeye Lane. You may remember Adam from our blog trade before his Buckeyes kicked the crap out on national TV. He's back for more this week with a series of questions for all the Big Ten bloggers.

1. With the Big Ten season about to be wrapped up, it is a little easier to predict what Bowl games are possible for your school. Tell me what Bowl games would interest you as a fan. Where do you want to go? More importantly, who do you want to play?

I have heard wonderful things about the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio from Purdue fans that made the trip in 1997 and 1998. Those were our first two bowl trips in 13 years and many of the fans that went absolutely enjoy the city of San Antonio and the experience. Since I was lucky enough to go to the Rose Bowl after the 2000 season I would like to check this trip out.

As for a team I would like to play, I think I would like to play the Miami Hurricanes simply because I want to see how we would stack up against a traditional program like that. Plus, there is the matter of having bragging rights over my wife's school

2. In honor of Black Shoe Diaries' question about the Big Ten Moron Coach of the Year Award. Tell me who is the most disappointing player in the Big Ten this season. Also, tell me who is the most disappointing on your team.

I would have to say the entire Minnesota defense. I have no idea what happened with this unit, but when you can't stop Florida Atlantic or North Dakota State there are some serious issues. These guys weren't that bad last year, but something is amiss because they can't even slow down anyone.

The most disappointing Boilermaker at the moment is our defensive line, but they have begun to turn things around after our slow start. We did not have much of a pass rush at the beginning of the season and struggled even against a bad Notre Dame squad. Against Northwestern and Iowa we've actually been able to get to the quarterback and that has made us a whole lot better.

3. Ohio State is rumored to be building a giant buckeye nut outside the football stadium. This will lead to the new tradition of "rubbing the nut." I'm sure Michigan fans will use that against us. I know it is pretty late to start new traditions in the Big Ten, but pitch me a new tradition idea for your school.

This was actually a discussion on the Purdue football message boards not too long ago. I would love to see us come up with some kind of flashy nickname for Ross-Ade Stadium and get into the tradition of everyone wearing black for a game. I'd love to nickname the place the Depot, the Rail Yard, or the End of the Line.

I am a huge fan of the train theme because of its uniqueness. One that I love, but not many people know about is that we put the hat of every team we beat on the cowcatcher of the Boilermaker special during football season. I think we could build this one up more as well by symbolically doing it at midfield after home games.


- You are a big-fight promoter - Talk up your team's mascot and how/why they could kick the living crap out of any opposing team's mascot - inspired by Oregon's mascot

It's Pete, so it's about time he used that hammer he carries around all the time. Once that works we can to the old tie them down and runt hem over with the Special. About the only one he would be vulnerable against is the West Virginia guy who has a musket, but I think Pete can get the drop on him with the hammer.

I actually witnessed this at homecoming on Saturday, as a guy in a gorilla suit with a Northwestern flag came out of the stands and actually attacked Pete. I don't know if it was legit or not, but Pete looked legitimately pissed and they did escort the guy out of the stadium.

- Now you're an agent - Convince me that you have the top 2008 NFL Draft pick on your team -

We have a couple of good guys, but I am a realist. We don't have the #1 guy overall. We just had our first first rounder since Rod Woodson last year when Anthony Spencer got drafted, so we have a ways to go yet.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Big Ten Week 9 in Review

As promised, things look a lot more clear when it comes to the Big Ten bowl picture. Two more big games loom as to teams moving up and down quickly, and those are this week when Purdue travels to Penn State and next week when Indiana goes to Northwestern. Purdue can suddenly vault itself into a New Year's Day spot by beating the Nittany Lions, while Indiana desperately needs a win over the Wildcats to assure going to any bowl. This past week both did a lot to head in opposite directions, but neither will believed until they win those respective games remaining on the schedule.

Elsewhere this past week no one received more damage to its postseason chances than Michigan State, while Iowa made a statement of its own by outlasting the Spartans in double overtime. That win moves Iowa ahead of Michigan State should both teams become eligible, and Iowa can move ahead of another team if they can get past Northwestern this week. The Hawkeyes suddenly find themselves going from no potential bowl to being 7-5 and getting at least to Detroit. As a result they move up in a vastly shaken up version of the Power Rankings with the return of the predicted bowl for each team.

1. (1) Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) BCS title game

The Buckeyes stay on top but Wisconsin comes to the Horseshoe this week in what could be a difficult game. The Badgers are beginning to play their best football of the season with a back to back slate of Ohio State and Michigan back. Unfortunately without a completely healthy P.J. Hill Wisconsin doesn't have much of a shot of pulling the upset. Surviving a white-out with ease in Happy Valley will make this week seem like a cakewalk

So what else does Ohio State have to do to prove they are the number one team in the country? I certainly don't know. They have completely shut down three of the best offenses in the conference with Minnesota, Purdue, and Northwestern. They've won with ease in one of the most hostile venues in the league where the crowd did everything possible to will Penn State to a win. All they need to do is hold serve at home and we get a second straight Michigan-Ohio State game for everything. I'm not picking against them at home.

2. (2) Michigan (7-2, 5-0) Capitol One Bowl

As expected Michigan dominated in the win over Minnesota and got some valuable rest for the banged up Mike Hart and Chad Henne. With the way Michigan State is struggling right now they may get even more rest this week when they go to face the Spartans. While all the attention is on the missing offensive stars and how the backups kept things rolling one should pay attention to how much the Wolverine defense has matured. They've done a very fine job the last three weeks in keeping Michigan in games.

I don't think Michigan can pull off the win against Ohio State though, much as the bottom of the conference wants them to. Michigan has the more difficult road to getting to the big game unscathed with a pair of road games the next two weeks, and I am not convinced they can get past Wisconsin without getting burned.

3. (5) Wisconsin (7-2, 3-2) Outback Bowl

I would really like to see Wisconsin play Penn State and Illinois again right now, because their offensive performance the past two weeks would have been good enough to at least get them a split against the two. Their remaining schedule could sneak them into a BCS bowl if they win out and get some help, and being a second team from the conference in the BCS is possible if things really break right. It's not quite what the Badgers wanted, but it's something to play for.

Against Ohio State the offensive line has to continue to play at a high level and the offense as a whole must provide some balance. The defense cannot let Ohio State build a lead like it has in so many games either. I was rather impressed by the way that Wisconsin completely shut down Indiana after struggling so much earlier this year, and that gives them some promise for this week.

4. (4) Purdue (7-2, 3-2) Alamo Bowl

So here we are again with another "prove it" game on our schedule. Will the third time be the charm? It depends on how much Penn State has left in the tank after being dismantled like we were against Ohio State. At least we have something in common with the Nittany Lions before facing them, but will it be enough? Personally, I can't help but be pessimistic and think we'll actually get a big win on the road until it happens.

I'd like to say the noon kickoff helps, but in two night road games we have won easily while we struggled during the early kickoff at Michigan. Of course, Michigan is a much harder venue to play at than the Metrodome or Glass Bowl. Much like Wisconsin and their chances at Ohio State, we have to maintain offensive balance with the running game and not fall behind early. Penn State is a team I know we can beat, but it will take the most complete effort we have turned in all season. If we play as inspired as we have it times these past two weeks we will do well.

5. (6) Illinois (6-3, 3-2) Champs Sports Bowl

It wasn't a pretty win over Ball State, but it was a win and Illinois is bowl eligible for the first time since 2001 when it went to the Sugar Bowl. Now they get Minnesota in what may be an easier game to go after a seventh win. That win would assure them of a trip somewhere for the holidays, as well as at least a .500 conference record. Considering where this program has been of late Illini fans should be ecstatic.

Illinois is too one dimensional to be a threat on the road against Ohio State, but beating Minnesota and Northwestern are certainly possible. At 8-4 would they be picked ahead of us should we finish 9-3? They would likely have a couple of better wins than us, but the Iowa loss may come back to haunt them especially since we dominated the Hawkeyes a week later. I'd certainly like to see Illinois if it had a quarterback that could throw the ball.

6. (3) Penn State (6-3, 3-3) Insight Bowl

This is where Penn State will find itself if they lose to Purdue this week, and at a neutral site I would pick us, but I am nervous about heading into Happy Valley. Despite the trouble Penn State has had this season no one is giving Purdue a chance this week, and that is the way I like it. The running game has been too inconsistent and we have a defense that is playing very well against the run since facing Michigan. Albert Young and Tyrell Sutton are better backs than Penn State has, and we stopped them.

I can't get past their defense though. Even though it gave up 37 points to Ohio State they are still pretty tough. If they get the crowd behind them with a few early stops against us it could turn in a hurry. Call me crazy though, but I really think we can win this game and even win it going away because of how much Penn State has struggled in their own big games this year. If the Penn State that demolished Wisconsin shows up we lose. If the Penn State that played Michigan shows up we win.

7. (9) Northwestern (5-4, 2-3) Motor City Bowl

I debated quite a while on who to put in this spot, especially since it is beginning to look like a six win team could go here. All the teams above will likely lock up the first six Big Ten slots because they have or will have seven wins. Everyone else will be fighting for this coveted spot to ensure they will go somewhere, and Northwestern has the edge with the win over Michigan State and games remaining against Iowa and Indiana. If they split and get to six wins they will become the #8 team, meaning they are in if the Big Ten somehow gets two into the BCS.

I was impressed by the Wildcat defense in the middle quarters on Saturday as they took it to Purdue by forcing a ton of three and outs. The offense just didn't have enough of a running game to consistently move the ball and while the turnovers didn't lead to many Purdue points, they ended drives where Northwestern could have scored. They can beat both Indiana and Iowa, and both are at home.

8. (8) Indiana (5-4, 2-4) eligible, but needs the Northwestern game to assure a bowl

Sometimes fate is cruel. Indiana finally has a season where it can get to a bowl game by starting 5-1, then a three game losing streak starts to bring a ton of doubt. The Penn State game was winnable if not for all the turnovers and the Hoosiers have to feel like they gave one away. The last two road games have been terrible efforts, and the trip to Northwestern is far from a layup. Even this week against Ball State is no guarantee, as the Cardinals have had a pair of close calls and could very well get their first win over a BCS conference opponent this week.

I put Indiana here ahead of Michigan State because I don't think Michigan State will win another game this year, making them ineligible. That means Indiana has the edge over Iowa in a tie, but if Iowa beats Northwestern this week the Hawkeyes will move into the #7 spot with easy games against Western Michigan and Minnesota remaining. We must beware the bucket game, because Indiana could be desperate by that point.

9. (10) Iowa (4-5, 2-4) eligible, but needs the Northwestern game to assure a bowl

Saturday's game against Michigan State makes me feel a whole lot better about our run defense because we kept Iowa from doing what they did to us last year. Iowa did what it wanted to on the ground against the Spartans, and only Michigan State could allow a comeback to a team that hadn't even come close to 37 points all season, even against such powerhouses as Northern Illinois and Iowa State.

There's little question Iowa can beat Minnesota and Western Michigan to get to six wins, but the Northwestern game could be a play-in game for the Motor City Bowl. Who knew there would be such a fight over a trip to Detroit? Does this make Kirk Ferentz a genius for overcoming the injuries and suspensions that just made him such an idiot a few weeks ago?

10. (7) Michigan State (5-4, 1-4) not eligible

I never want to hear about Purdue riding an easy non-conference schedule again, not after what Michigan State has done this season. Once again, the Spartans have started hot, only to gack away winnable games against Iowa and Northwestern. How in the heck did they go nuts against Indiana, then struggle to put away Iowa after how bad Indiana beat the Hawkeyes? Yeah the Spartans have the tiebreaker with the Hoosiers, but with games against Michigan, at Purdue, and Penn State left I don't think they'll get a sixth win to make it matter.

How can this happen? Mark Dantonio as the new head coach was supposed to change this, but Michigan State still can't beat the conference teams it should beat and as a result they will probably be home for the holidays. What a season to miss Minnesota too. The Spartan fans have to be shaking right now, telling themselves, "This is not happening…"

11. (11) Minnesota (1-8, 0-5) not eligible

Minnesota needs to make it a goal just to win a game this year. They can ruin the seasons of Iowa and Illinois if they win one of those games, and it would be a big step forward for a program that really needs one right now. Unfortunately the offense has to play lights out for this to happen, and Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin have too good of defenses to allow that to happen.

At least the Gophers played Michigan closer than we did.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The ability to turn on the switch

Through the Halloween party I attended last night and most of today I was trying to come to terms with the unusual events of yesterday. In our first win over a winning team this late in the season since 2004 I saw a vastly different Purdue football team than the one I am so used to seeing. It has long been a disturbing truth when it comes to Purdue football that once things start to go awry, we rarely pull things together. We seem to always progressively struggle more and more as the game goes along, unable to break out of a self-imposed funk until we lose a game that we probably had no business losing after the start.

Through three quarters yesterday this certainly seemed to be the case. Our defense was struggling to get off the field, allowing numerous third and long conversions as Northwestern went on three length-of-the field drives. We had banded together to stop the Wildcats one a first and goal from the three, but the offense had done little in two quarters to let us think we were going to overcome that deficit. A quick three and out followed that quieted the crowd and saw most of us nervous of falling behind by a pair of scores against an offense we had not stopped on consecutive drives and was beginning to wake up.

This is where things turned, as for the first time in eons it seemed, we turned on a switch and began to dominate. It didn't seem like much when we forced a punt on the final play of the third quarter, but with Neal Armstrong providing the most emotional opening to Shout we've seen the crowd actually seemed re-energized by the song. The offense itself went from dormant (five three and outs in the previous seven possessions) to what we expected. Until that point, Northwestern over-achieved on defense. We would then generate 140 yards on 18 plays to score a pair of quick touchdowns sandwiched around a Northwestern three and out quickly turned the game on its edge as we suddenly couldn't do anything wrong. We started catching passes we had been dropping. Holes started opening up in the running game. The defense became a brick wall, allowing just 24 yards and no first downs in the fourth quarter. We were playing so well on defense that even Chris Summers got in on a huge hit to end a kickoff return. You just don't ever come to Chris Summers' side of the field on a return.

It was a pleasant surprise, as we have never had the ability to just turn it on like that and blow a team's doors off in the fourth quarter of a close game. Most of the time if it is a three point game in the fourth quarter I am normally sitting nervously in my seat begging the clock to go faster. I've come to think that no good can come from those scenarios, but instead we won handily. There was no hanging on until the final minutes, and I must say that is a nice change.

The Good:

Jaycen Taylor – Is he really just two weeks removed from being sidelined with a broken arm? Our offense is obviously better with him in the backfield and on the sideline. He even played a very smart game, falling down in bounds after his 50 yard run.171 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns clearly made him the player of the game. I've long been a fan of Kory Sheets, as I even have his jersey, but right now Taylor does more for us on and off the field than Sheets. The important thing is that these two are doing it as a team. Against Iowa they were almost even, while Saturday was Jaycen's day. Later on it will be Kory's turn while Jaycen will fill in a support role. We need the both of them to continue producing to have a chance at Penn State. Even though Sheets didn't fill the stat sheet yesterday one play in particular stood out when he held on to the ball and kept pushing for yardage while being gang-tackled. I've said it before and I will say it again: we are very tough to beat when we rush for 100 yards as a team. When we get to 200, like yesterday it becomes almost impossible for us to lose.

Terrell Vinson – Just another two pick game for Terrell, who very nearly ended up with a third interception later on. His first pick ended a promising Northwestern drive before they could get an early lead, while the second and subsequent return set up our second touchdown. It's been awhile since we've had a corner that is such a danger to pick the ball off, but Vinson is clearly stepping into that role. He actually leads the Big Ten now with five picks on the year.

Ciff Avril – A pair of sacks, a forced fumble, and a couple of hurries are exactly what we expect from the big guy. Keep it up Cliff, you're opening things up for a defensive line that is finally beginning to get some penetration.

The Defense as a whole – 297 yards. Northwestern had been putting up some monster numbers of both points and yards of late. In his last two big Ten games C.J. Bacher had thrown for just under a thousand yards against Minnesota and Michigan State. Yesterday afternoon we held him to just 208 yards, sacked him five times, and picked him off three times. Tyrell Sutton gained 72 yards in his first full game back, but Sutton is one of the best running backs in the league when healthy. We once again held a team under 100 yards rushing, which when paired with our offensive goal of 100 yards on the ground make it all that much easier to win.

I've been very impressed by the play of our defense during this two game homestand. Iowa proved yesterday against a Michigan State team that is supposed to have a better defense than us that they can move the ball and score points. Dropping 31 on the Spartans shows that our defense did a little more than just stop a punchless Hawkeye team. Now we held Northwestern to just 17 points and under 300 total yards. They struggled on a couple of drives, but ended drives with turnovers in the first half and by more conventional means in the second. I feel pretty content to hold teams under 20 points the rest of the way and let the offense do its job. Just remember, they didn't perform that badly against Ohio State, holding them to 23.

Dorien Bryant – He can be endlessly frustrating at times, but man oh man can he make the occasional great play. That touchdown catch to seal the deal was one of the best catches I have ever seen at Ross-Ade Stadium and he actually managed to get both feet down in bounds. Just a sensational play.

Dustin Keller – He didn't have a great day, but he was in the right place at the right time with the fumble recovery in the end zone.

Coaching – Did we actually show some gumption and go for it on 4th down inside the one not once, but twice? Did we start running reverses and mix up the playbook when we had been stagnant? Did we continue to commit to the running game even after falling behind? Who has kidnapped our coaches and replaced them with ballsy ones?

The Bad:

The second and third quarter offense – Wow, that was epically bad. Northwestern has been unable to stop anyone and after our second touchdown we made them look like the 1985 Chicago Bears. Not only were we not moving the ball, we were going backwards by committing penalty after penalty. At least we held on the ball and didn't turn it over.

Speaking of turnovers – Did anyone else think of the 2001 Illinois game when we couldn't do anything with all the first half turnovers. In that game we forced five turnovers in the first half only to barely lead 13-10 at the half. We ended up losing 38-13 because we couldn't capitalize on turnovers. Being tied 14-14 after forcing four in the first half yesterday had me thinking of that game, and thankfully we didn't have the same result.

The officiating – Good lord was there some bad officiating yesterday. These guys consistently were mis-spotting the ball, would flag some plays but not others, and didn't seem to realize that when you land with the ball on the goal line it is a touchdown, and you're allowed to say so after a review.

A missed field goal – It didn't end up costing us the game, but Summers just missed his first field goal since the Toledo game (I don't count the block against Minnesota). You're going to have a miss every now and then and he just barely pushed it to the left, denying the fans at the north end of the stadium to actually see a score on the day (Not that I mind in section 128 on the south end). It's not a big deal, but hopefully it won't effect him mentally and he can get back on track. After that hit he had on Roberson in the fourth quarter I certainly don't want to mess with him. He's becoming the Chuck Norris of our kick return team.

Justin Scott's penalty - Just a dumb, dumb play. It kept a Northwestern touchdown drive alive too. Don't let it happen again!

Up next:

Penn State suddenly becomes a very big game for us because it likely means the difference between a New Year's Day bowl and not playing in one. If we can beat the Nittany Lions and hold serve against a fading Michigan State and Indiana I have a hard time seeing us being held out of a New Year's Day bowl at 10-2. We would also finally have a "good win" that people were not expecting from us. A loss could still mean a 9-3 finish, but they would all be expected wins and because of no head-turners we could end up be relegated to sixth bowl-wise. We won't pass Ohio State or Michigan. Penn State would likely finish 9-3 if they beat us and go ahead of us. Wisconsin would probably be selected ahead of us, as would Illinois if they finish with 8 wins. There's still a lot of football to be played, and Wisconsin is a bit of a wild card since they are playing well and still play Ohio State and Michigan, but Penn State is our last chance to truly control our bowl destiny.

The thing is I know we can beat them. It will take our best effort of the season and we can't afford the lapses that plagued us against Michigan and Ohio State, but if we can at least stay with them we have a chance. I want to at least be competitive in this game, but I am encouraged by the way our guys have recovered the past two weeks. They want a 10 win season, and beating Penn State suddenly makes that a very real possibility, as well as a top 20 finish nationally.

We have to continue running the ball as well as we have the past two weeks. We've seen that early struggles on the ground can give way to later success if we stick with it. We have to keep playing defense, especially since the Penn State offense isn't that great. This week we did something we haven't done in a long time by quickly reversing our own fortune. Let's continue that surprising trend by going out and winning a game we're not supposed to. Who knows, we might even gain a little respect along the way.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Big Ten Week 9 Preview

Everyone has been talking bowl bids this week, especially since there can be nine or ten teams from the conference eligible for only seven or eight spots depending on how the BCS unfolds. In reality on Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State hold out hope for the BCS without something even crazier happening. According to this article (thanks again to Lake the Posts), any Big Ten team not going to one of the seven Big Ten bowl games has to have seven wins and not just six. For teams that are already at six wins they now get a shot to get that seventh win beginning this week as a safety measure, with three other chances along the line. Everyone else like Indiana, Michigan State, Illinois, and Northwestern are suddenly in the boat of likely needing two wins to feel secure they are going somewhere after November 17th.

Of these three Illinois is probably the safest, as their win over Indiana will likely put them in a Big Ten bowl. The same could be said for Michigan State, but they also lost to Northwestern. The Wildcats finish with Indiana and Illinois in the conference so they can do the most remaining damage. Indiana, having already lost to both Michigan State and Illinois is in serious trouble if they can't get past the Wildcats, even if they get to six wins by beating Ball State. None of these four play each other this weekend, but all four have an excellent chance to move ahead of already bowl eligible teams except for Illinois.

Remember, this is a conference that many are saying is the worst BCS conference in the land.

So who gets left out right now if there are only seven spots, but nine teams? Well, at the moment you would have to put Indiana as one of the two left out because they have yet to beat one of the other teams. If they get to the seven wins needed for an extra bowl then they will have a win over either Wisconsin, Purdue, or Northwestern, improving their profile (plus not having been to a bowl in 14 years could mean more ticket sales). The next would be Michigan State, who even if they beat Iowa this week could only end up at 6-6 with a tough remaining schedule. Will the Motor City Bowl then save them by taking a team so close by? If Northwestern, Michigan State, and Indiana all finished at 6-6 the Spartans would likely get that last Motor City bowl spot because of proximity even though Northwestern won head-to-head.

The biggest game in this scenario may be on November 10th when Indiana and Northwestern play. Both may already be at six wins (Indiana over Ball State and Northwestern over Iowa) with the winner guaranteeing a post-season spot, while the loser would have to win a rivalry game to get in.

Of course this is all speculation at this point, and could all be blown to hell if the four teams closest to eligibility lose this weekend.


#1 Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) at #25 Penn State (6-2, 3-2) 8pm

Penn State will get its seventh insurance win when they face Temple in two weeks as a worst case scenario, but facing the Buckeyes in Happy Valley gives them a chance to all but lock up a New Year's Day bowl game with a win. If they beat the Buckeyes this weekend I have a hard time seeing them losing to Purdue, Temple, or Michigan State to end the season, and the Rose Bowl is even a distant possibility at that point with a lot of help.

You have to think though that Ohio State is not really afraid of Anthony Morelli and the Penn State offense. Ohio State already completely shut down better overall offenses in Purdue and Minnesota, so what do they have to fear about Penn State's? Not a whole lot, that's what. Penn State has as stuttering of a running game as Purdue has with a worse passing game. It's not that I don't have confidence in the Penn State defense to take it to Ohio State. I don't have confidence in the Penn State offense to score enough.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 20, Penn State 10

Northwestern (5-3, 2-2) at Purdue (6-2, 2-2) 12pm

I actually think this game will be quite fun because both teams need it for that seventh win. Lake the Posts assured me that if the Purdue offense is moving we will score more than 50 points. Statistically Northwestern is ranked ahead of Minnesota, Toledo, and Central Michigan as defenses we have faced, but not much better and we did score at least 45 points in each of those games. Northwestern is also ranked 117th in kickoff return defense when we have already returned two kicks for touchdowns this year. This bodes well, because even if they score we can get it right back.

Northwestern can pass the ball very well, but they have struggled to run the ball with consistency. They get a huge boost in that department with Tyrell Sutton retuning to start this week and the sudden development of Omar Conteh as a quality backup. Where we should be concerned is if their defense plays as well as they did against Michigan, where if not for a sudden bout of turnovers the Wildcats would have probably beaten the Wolverines. Where Purdue has a solid edge is the ability to stop the run. Purdue has stopped the run decently this year, while Northwestern hasn't. This game could easily be an offensive shootout where the last team with the ball wins.

PREDICTION: Purdue 45, Northwestern 35

Indiana (5-3, 2-3) at Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2) 12pm

In an almost identical matchup to the one above both teams need this game, but with Minnesota remaining on Wisconsin's schedule they probably need it a little less. It is looking more and more like Indiana is going to need to get seven wins to get a bowl because of their previous losses. Even six wins is not a guarantee at this point because of the difficulty of Indiana's remaining schedule. The old bugaboo of stopping the run is starting to come back and haunt the Hoosiers, and they will find no one harder to stop on their remaining schedule than P.J. Hill.

This is Indiana's most difficult game left, and Wisconsin is always tough at home. If Indiana doesn't get past Northwestern in two weeks they will find themselves looking up at three teams they don't need to be looking up at. Even the win over Ball State isn't a guarantee anymore. Since Wisconsin's defense has struggled to slow teams down Indiana has enough offensive firepower to stay with them. This could easily be another fun shootout to keep track of on Saturday.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 38, Indiana 31

Ball State (5-3) at Illinois (5-3, 3-2) 12pm

I am very curious about this game because it just has the feeling of a Ron Zook special. By Ron Zook special I mean it could end up being a game where Illinois does everything in its power to blow it and Ball State takes advantage of it. The Illinois fans will certainly take the Cardinals lightly and expect a win, but Ball State showed earlier in the year they can play with just about anyone. Nate Davis is developing into quite a quarterback, and you can bet the Cardinals, who are the closest team to being bowl eligible out of the MAC, are looking for a shocking win to wake everyone up.

Unfortunately for Ball State it cannot stop the run. They rank 110th against the run and give up more than 214 yards a game. Illinois does like to run just a little bit. Now all they need to do is settle on a quarterback, as Ron Zook seems to be writing a book on how to undermine a quarterback's confidence by constantly switching between Eddie McGee and the Juice. If you can't trust Illinois to simply field a punt in a close game how can you trust them to respond if a team hangs around much longer than expected? Illinois will likely win this, but do not be surprised at all if Ball State springs the upset.

PREDICTION: Illinois 31, Ball State 21

Michigan State (5-3, 1-3) at Iowa (3-5, 1-4) 12pm

If the Hawkeyes can manage to win this game you could have a case of two teams headed in opposite directions. Michigan State has a difficult finish, while Iowa has Northwestern, Minnesota, and Western Michigan to close out. All that being said I don't think Iowa can do it. I mean come on, they managed only six points against our defense and we gave up 19 to Notre Dame. All Michigan State has to do is be patient with the running game and pound away until the Iowa defense gets tired.

This was before hearing about the Michigan State robbery charges this week, and one has to wonder how those will affect the team. All three players will still play, and that is good news since SirDarien Adams is really beginning to come into his own at linebacker. Jehuu Caulcrick and Javon Ringer should be able to find room to move if Jaycen Taylor and Kory Sheets were able to combines for 138 on the ground against Iowa. As long as Michigan State doesn't revert to late-season Michigan State they should be fine.

Michigan State 20, Iowa 10

Minnesota (1-7, 0-4) at Michigan (6-2, 4-0) 12pm

The battle for the Little Brown Jug will go down as the first time in a season when both teams lost to a 1-AA team. Sure, they were good 1-AA teams that could play for the national title if North Dakota State were eligible, but they are 1-AA teams no less. The difference is that Michigan has certainly turned things around and they are only getting better and better. Minnesota is already looking toward next year with a promising offense, but almost no defense.

It is that promising offense that could keep Minnesota alive in this one if Michigan is apathetic. Michigan should be smart and rest Henne and Hart for bigger battles ahead. They should have plenty of talent to get the job done without them. Minnesota hasn't stopped anyone yet and they have the official worst defense in the country, so this one will probably be quick and merciful.

Michigan 41, Minnesota 14


In looking forward to next season I am interested in the #12 USC at #5 Oregon game. I'm not sure how much we will learn about the Ducks before they come to Ross-Ade next season because they will be breaking in a new quarterback by then, but this year Dennis Dixon has them in the thick of the national title race. As Michigan continues to improve the win in the Big House looks better and better for the Ducks. Meanwhile USC has already struggled with Arizona and Stanford this year. No team with that much talent should struggle with teams that bad. The game is at Autzen Stadium, so I am giving the edge to the Ducks. Oregon 27, USC 24

The second game of national significance is #9 Kansas at Texas A&M. I know it's a game where only one team is ranked, but since we are projected to go in the Alamo Bowl to Insight Bowl range we could end up playing one of these teams in the post-season. Kansas remains as one of the five unbeaten teams in the country, but their best win is over Kansas State. Texas A&M is a sham in every sense of the words, as since I watched them against Miami earlier this season they looked terrible. They didn't even bother to show up in a nationally televised Thursday night game, and therefore we might have a chance to beat them if we played them in a bowl game. Kansas 24, Texas A&M 16


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

GUEST POST: Lake the Posts drops by Off the Tracks

In honor of my 100th post here at Off the Tracks I am going to sit back on my lazy butt, kick my feet up, and let Lake the Posts take over for the day. Seriously though, Lake the Posts is one of the most highly thought out blogs in the Big Ten Bloggers' network, and I have enjoyed reading his take all week on the upcoming matchup of the only two teams without a state in their name in the Big Ten. The good writing has to come from that great Northwestern education. Apparently he thinks we draw some sort of comparison to Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. Since Rocky did personally end the Cold War I have to respect his parallel. After all, if I can change, and you can chage…

Anyway, without further ado please welcome Lake the Posts to the stage for this week's Q&A session. As always, I ask the questions and my fellow blogger provides the answers about our upcoming opponent.

1. It's been more than a decade since Northwestern came out of nowhere to go to the Rose bowl, yet teams still sleep on you and play the, "It's just Northwestern" card even though you've won a piece of three conference titles in six years there (95, 96, and 2000). You always have enough of an offense to bite someone, and you've proven to be more consistently dangerous than Indiana, Illinois, or Minnesota, so what gives? Why do teams sleep on you?

Great question. This is the primary reason for starting Lake The Posts. I was sick and tired as a fan of the "weren't you guys good in, like 1995?" sentiment. Fact is we have the 6th best BIG TEN record in the past 5 years. Granted, that is smack dab in the middle of the pack, but I'm sure a poll would reveal that most fans would think the answer is 11th. I think the coaches respect us, but 40-year season ticket holders are habitually circling "win" every August when they see NU on the schedule. If Fitz can get his own coaches in there and finish strong this year, we'll be looking at our once every 4-year noise-making year where we can compete for the conference crown. With the exception of a couple key linemen, we have every key skill player and most everyone else back next year. We prey on teams sleeping on us. It will take sustained winning - like we've done against teams like Iowa for them to really start keying on us. Come on, even though we've won 2 of our last 3 vs Purdue, a loss to us would be the end of the world in Boilermakers fans eyes right?

2. What is the real story behind Tyrell Sutton this year? Is he going to make an effort to play or redshirt? How pleased are you with the development of C.J. Bacher in the mold of Brett Basanez, Zack Kustok, Steve Schnur, and your other great spread QB's? How is the rest of the team coming along?

Tyrell went down in the first quarter of the second game of the season (vs. Nevada). It was a nasty high ankle sprain and he "returned" vs. Eastern Michigan and played in one play and was used as a decoy. I had hoped he could apply for a medical redshirt, but there was a lot of speculation on why/why not and whether or not he would be granted the redshirt. If you had told me we'd lose him after essentially 1 game, I would have told you 5-7 best case scenario. I actually revised an 8-4 projection to 5-7 as a result. Everyone knows how good of a runner he is, but he is the best receiving RB in the conference. Period. This enables our spread to be lethal when clicking.

CJ's development in recent weeks is the story of the year at NU. He was inconsistent early on, yet has put up numbers all year. The Michigan game was infuriating as we outplayed them and essentially shut down Hart as much as you can shut him down. We were up the whole game and then he melted down, throwing picks and not feeling the weakside blitz, coughed it up more than once handing the game to Michigan. Schnur wasn't an option QB, but Bacher is definitely going to be held in the same sentence as Kustok and Basanez by the time he graduates (he has one more year). Baz started all 4 years and thus was able to put up sick numbers (3rd all time Big Ten passer). Bacher, when he is on, seems to be even better. He is less consistent than Baz, though. The WR corps is scary. We're 7 deep. The O-line has been fantastic for the past 3 weeks, but it was not early on. The defense has been the major disappointment. And Purdue may get 300 yards of kickoff returns as we are the worst cover team I've seen.

3. What are your thoughts on the Big Ten as a whole? How can a conference in a "down year" possibly be down when it's still highly possible for 10 of its eleven members can get to bowl eligibility? Where do you see Northwestern falling in the bowl mix with 4 games left?

I feel that the entire nation is mediocre. Anyone who saw the South Florida-Rutgers game can't say these teams measure up to years past. Everyone is down - not just the Big Ten. The difference is Big Ten teams' non-conference schedules seem to be getting weaker and weaker each year. NU's was a joke - and we lost to Duke. Duke! (See next question). This is actually bad for NU since we are such a tiny school (7400) and have such a small alumni base. If it comes down to NU and anyone else in the country, we'll lose in most cases because we simply don't travel well. We somehow manage to always travel decently for Bowl games, in part b/c our alumni base is so spread out in NY, LA and other places. I've got the wins over/under at 1.5. Would love a 7-5 which i think would get us either to Champs or more likely Detroit for Motor City.

4. It happened with Miami (OH) in 1995, Iowa in 2000, Duke this year, and numerous other teams in past seasons. How does Northwestern have such good years but end up losing inexplicably to bad teams like that in years where the Wildcats have great seasons? Does this play into question #1 and the "It's just Northwestern" factor?

Yes...this is the other foot of being an NU fan. It has happened EVERY single year since 1995. We have not run the table non-conference in more than 40 years. Pick a year - Duke, UNH, doesn't matter - infuriating. I truly believe the mark of Fitz could be that he wins the games he should and is competitive in those that he/we should not win. It truly is inexplicable. I will tell you, school starts late (trimester system) so our September home games are usually a joke. We have a small fan base and only seem to crank it up when a) we play Big Ten schools who travel well/have big Chicago bases and b) after big years (late 90s was good). I'm amazed that we get recruits based on how inferior our atmosphere is week in and week out. It's great for the big games (Ohio St., Michigan) but I'm always disappointed with our inability to capture Chicago. Our attendance has been the weakest its been since I've been following (1991) and that TRULY is inexplicable.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Big Ten Blogger’s roundtable, Hosted by Black Shoe Diaries

This week's Big Ten blogger's roundtable questions are submitted by the Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries. Mike runs one of the many Penn state blog who will undoubtedly be flooding us with questions next week after they take care of the big, bad Buckeyes in Happy Valley. In the meantime though I will go through Mike's questions before welcoming Lake the Posts to the stage for tomorrow's blog trade about Northwestern. On to the questions!

Pretend for a moment you're the little Japanese guy on Heroes. You can close your eyes, clench your fists, crap your pants and go back in time. If you could go back and change one play for your team this season, what would it be?

Well, we're already 6-2 and in the two losses one play probably would not have made a difference in all the bloodletting, but I would probably go back and either duct tape the ball to Kory Sheets' arm before he fumbled at Michigan or screamed for everyone to run off the field while the first Wolverine punt was in the air of the same game. Both plays were huge turnovers early in the game that could have turned things around if they had not happened. Instead they gave Michigan two touchdowns off of short fields and a 17-7 lead after one quarter that only got uglier as the day went on. Again, they may not have made a difference, but they might have. I honestly don't know what we could have done different against Ohio State to make a difference.

We're now two-thirds of the way through the season. Everyone likes to debate who will be the Big Ten Coach of the Year. I want to know which Big Ten coach is a complete moron that should be demoted back to fullbacks coach on a team that runs the spread offense.

There have been a few boneheaded plays this year, but Kirk Ferentz' game prep this past weekend for Purdue was pretty bad. You have two good running backs that have gashed us each of the past two years. You have a dominant defense against the run. You also have a young quarterback with very green receivers and a shaky offensive line. You're also playing a team that has been epically bad against the run for the past three years. Naturally, Jake Christensen threw the ball all over the field Saturday; Iowa only had the ball for 25 minutes, and managed just six points off of two short fields.

Second place goes to Joe Tiller for punting from the 31 yard line in the same game with a kicker that has made multiple 47 yard field goals in his career. That call just REALLY irked me.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife. But the Bible doesn't say anything about your rival. Which current Big Ten player do you most wish played for your team?

Can I just have the entire Ohio State defense please? Last season I watched a ton of Miami and Purdue football because of my wife and I coveted her team's defense to pair with my team's offense. The Hurricane offense is dismal, but they have had quite a defense the past years while Purdue has been the opposite. This year Ohio State's defense is shutting down everyone they face no matter if they pass the ball a ton (like Purdue), run the ball a lot (like Michigan State), or do a little of both well (like Minnesota). Our own defense is improving and played its best game in years this past Saturday, but I would love to have a defense that simply shuts other teams down and lets our own offense work at its leisure.

Bonus Question

It's probably too early to start thinking about next year. Well, unless you're Minnesota in which case you've been thinking about next year for a month or so already. Assess your team's future. Was this year your chance to make a run or is this just a rebuilding year with greater expectations in 2008? Or do you plan to suck in 2008 just as much as you suck now?

I have mixed expectations about 2008 because we do get quite a bit back, but the schedule is much harder, especially out of conference. We were blasted this year for a non-conference slate of Toledo, Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan (which won the MAC and 10 games, but can't win outside the MAC this year), and a the worst Notre Dame team ever. Next year we lose key players in Dorien Bryant, Dustin Keller, and three offensive linemen in Sean Sester, Jordan Grimes, and Robbie Powell. We also must replace all three starting linebackers and Cliff Avril on defense. We have quite a bit coming back though on both sides of the ball so if some newcomers can play early the pieces will be there, but this year was really the year to do it.

Next season the schedule starts easily with 1-AA Northern Colorado, but then it gets nasty in a hurry. Next we get Central Michigan, who is still the best team in the MAC and will be better next year. We follow that up with a home game against Oregon, who quite possibly could be the defending national champs at that point. We then go to Notre Dame where we've only won once in 30 some odd years, but until they show drastic improvement I'll consider that one winnable. In the conference we open with Penn State at home, and then go to Ohio State and Northwestern. We come back for home games against Minnesota and Michigan before going to Michigan State and Iowa. Indiana closes the season by coming to West Lafayette.

The Oregon-Notre Dame-Penn State-Ohio State is a brutal slate that could very well leave us at 2-4 overall and 0-2 to start the conference. To make any kind of noise next year we have to at the very least split those four games if not win three of them. Iowa is another place we have struggled to play at on the road of late, meaning there won't be any late season help. At least if we're 5-0 to start next year no one will say it is because of a weak schedule.

I honestly expect to take a step back record-wise next year, but that is based on finishing at my goal of 9-3 this year. Oregon may not be as bad as it looks because they lose Dennis Dixon after this season and they do have to come to Ross-Ade. Notre Dame has a long way to go yet, but they obviously have some very talented athletes. With a senior quarterback and some key cogs returning offensively I'd like another 9-3 or so record, but I could easily see us sliding to 7-5 or 6-6 against a tougher schedule. I'll say Northern Colorado, Central Michigan, and Minnesota are almost guaranteed wins, Northwestern, Iowa, and Indiana should be wins, and the rest are toss-ups at best.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Big Ten week 8 in Review

Illinois confirmed it this past weekend: the Big Ten race is officially over for everyone not named Michigan or Ohio State. Again. We are now down to wild scenarios involving Minnesota beating Michigan or hoping for four way ties as pointed out by my colleague at Black Shoe Diaries for anyone else to have a chance. The most realistic thing anyone can do at the moment is play for pride, a better bowl, and hope they spoil one of the Big two's seasons. Even then the best case scenario might be for those two to be at 7-0 before the big game at the Big House and then cheer like hell for Michigan to win so the conference can get two teams into the BCS and a crapload of extra money that comes with it.

As usual, the Big Ten is being called down because everyone is beating everyone else, but if it happens in the SEC or the Pac-10 it's because of the "depth of the league". Someone please tell me how the league can be down when we have a strong likelihood of getting nine teams to bowl eligibility at this point, and even Iowa could still be a 10th team if things broke right. The last time I checked that was 90.9% of the league that could go bowling. It's really starting to get ridiculous at this point. Four teams joined Ohio State on the happy side of bowl eligibility this past week, as Michigan, Purdue, Penn State, and Wisconsin all qualified for the postseason with wins. Sure, in this age of everyone going to bowls there are now almost as many bowl slots (64) as there are in the NCAA tournament (65), but it still means something to make it to the postseason.

There is not a ton of change this week in the power rankings, but I do feel there's more separation between the #2 and #3 spots, as well as the #5 and #6 spots. On to the rankings.

Week 8 Big Ten Power Rankings

1. (1) Ohio State (8-0, 4-0)

There was no flashback to 1998 as the Buckeye defense dominated again against the Spartans. Illinois should be very afraid now, as they run as run-oriented of an offense as the Spartans do and Michigan State was only able to manage 185 yards against the Buckeyes. A cause for concern though has to be the turnovers. I was watching the third quarter of this game at Harry's and Ohio State got very careless with the ball in the second half. Two straight defensive scores were very nearly followed by a third as Ohio State had a rare meltdown. The Buckeyes have not been burned badly yet by turnovers, but the day may come.

Michigan State only managed 59 yards on the ground as one of the better running offenses Ohio State will face this year. Ohio State may have to run a juggernaut of increasing difficulty each week as the season progresses, but the defense continues to play at a high enough level to make it plausable. Right now Ohio State is a team that, if the offense reaches the 20 point plateau, the game is over as long as they don't hurt themselves. They aren't the flashiest team in the country, but as we have seen this year the important thing is to just keep winning, and that is what they do.

2. (2) Michigan (6-2, 4-0)

You have to wonder what Michigan would do to Appalachian State if they played today. I still think the Oregon win was legitimate as the Ducks are a very good team, but the Wolverines are just getting stronger and stronger as the season goes on. Even with a banged up Chad Henne and no Mike Hart Michigan outlasted Illinois on the road. It helps that the Illini had one of the worst mistakes you can make in a big game, but the Wolverines are the type of team you can never screw up against. My Boilers will attest to that after a four turnover performance in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines thrive on mistakes, and this week the walking mistake that is Minnesota at the moment comes to town in the last home game before Ohio State. Right now I would say Michigan has the tougher road to 7-0 before Ohio State, but that is because Michigan State and Wisconsin will both be lying in wait needing a big home win to improve bowl stakes. I also think Michigan is in a weaker position because of injuries and they have already shown more weakness this year than the Buckeyes. If they lose both games though they still could play spoiler against Ohio State's national title hopes.

3. (3) Penn State (6-2, 3-2)

Times have indeed changed when a gritty win over Indiana can be used as a measuring stick. Penn State walked into a bear trap in Bloomington and came out clean thanks to a defense that made big plays when it had to. Thanks to Black Shoe Diaries they still have a small chance at getting to Pasadena, but with a home game against Ohio State this weekend they have perhaps the best shot of anyone else to get there.

Penn State's offense was very balanced against Indiana with 195 passing yards and 192 on the ground. Evan Royster and Rodney Kinlaw were almost even on the ground as well. If Penn State can knock off Ohio State this weekend a 10-2 record to finish is not outside the realm of possibility. Right now Penn State controls its own destiny for a New Year's Day bowl, and very few teams in this conference can say that.

4. (4) Purdue (6-2, 2-2)

Again, I place Purdue here because they should be able to win three of their remaining four games and finish 9-3 overall. That should be good enough to get a team like Purdue at least to San Antonio, and no matter who you play you can't argue with having nine wins. The Boilers convincingly got off a losing streak in a game they easily could have struggled. To me, we looked night and day better than the week before.

Iowa has a good run defense, but Purdue was able to run the ball and committed itself to running the ball for the first time in years. The return of Jaycen Taylor was a spark that will pay huge dividends if he can continue to stay healthy. The defense has also been surprisingly stout thus far against the run, a factor that has not been there the past few seasons. Right now the only team remaining on the Purdue schedule that runs the ball well is Michigan State, but that is a little down the line yet.

5. (6) Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2)

With Ohio State and Michigan both still on the schedule Wisconsin may have a better chance than Penn State to make a statement. The Badgers won't get any schedule help from Minnesota but if they get past Indiana then shock the two titans they could potentially get into the BCS at large discussion. Since Michigan and Ohio State still must play each other one well placed loss by those two would suddenly throw Wisconsin back into the BCS picture after the Iowa and Penn State losses.

It was only a win over Northern Illinois, but the margin as much needed for the Badgers after struggling with UNLV and the Citadel this year. P.J. Hill had a huge game as Wisconsin simply ran over the overmatched Huskies. The game against Indiana this week should be surprisingly good as the Hoosiers have to be getting a little desperate to get win #6.

6. (5) Illinois (5-3, 3-2)

One play summed up Illinois this year perfectly. On the muffed punt Kyle Hudson flinched under the most basic of pressures to make a fair catch. Michigan didn't do anything special on that play, as it happens hundreds of times each Saturday in college football. Sean Griffith simply stood there with the pose of, "Go ahead, catch the football. I'll be right here if screw up." Hudson screwed up, and Griffith made him pay. It was an unforced mistake on a very simple play. You can't do that if you want to dance with the best.

Illinois is not quite ready yet. They have the talent, but they must play a perfect game if they hope to beat a better team. An older, more experienced team doesn't let a single play like that do them in. Illinois will still probably get to eight wins and go to a bowl game, but the last two weeks they have to be kicking themselves because they should have won each time.

7. (7) Michigan State (5-3, 1-3)

They have the win over Indiana under their belts, but if Michigan State can't get the job done this week in Iowa a finishing kick of Michigan, at Purdue, and Penn State does not guarantee a sixth win for bowl eligibility. This is where the Northwestern loss hurts double-time, and the fact that the Spartans don't play Minnesota becomes even bigger.

If Iowa's running defense goes back to its usual stout self then Michigan State will struggle this week. They only need to ask Illinois what that is about. Iowa's defense was picked apart by Curtis Painter early this past week, and the running game only got going once the defense got tired from being kept on the field. Michigan State needs to balance some passing if Iowa gets some early stops, or Iowa may find themselves back alive for the post-season.

8. (8) Indiana (5-3, 2-3)

If Indiana doesn't turn the ball over as much against Penn State they win this past weekend. It's a big step forward that Indiana was right there against the Nittany Lions, but they nearly beat them a few years ago when Penn State was terrible but couldn't finish the job. Indiana, like Purdue, has one more chance to beat a traditional power and that comes this week at Wisconsin.

The Hoosiers will find a sixth win in these last four games, and really they deserve to go to a bowl after all they have been through this year. If they can't break through this year it will be a very long time before they do so. With the way Ball State and Northwestern have played and what they are playing for at the moment neither of those games are guarantees.

9. (9) Northwestern (5-3, 2-2)

Alas, if not for Duke. Northwestern actually scares the crap out of me at the moment because they can get on quite a role and score a ton of points. The win over Eastern Michigan was exactly what was expected, a business-like win over a lesser opponent. Now Tyrell Sutton may be back in an expanded role for the Purdue game.

Northwestern is the type of team that can get on a role and win its last four games or really struggle and lose each of its last four games. Purdue, Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois all have the capacity to both win and lose against them. What makes Northwestern all the more dangerous is that each probably considered the Northwestern game a win before the year started. Do not be shocked if Northwestern wins two or even three of these last ones.

10. (10) Iowa (3-5, 1-4)

It's do or die time for Iowa now. The Iowa defense got picked apart by a Purdue team that finally played exactly like it needs to offensively to beat a good defense, but a home win over Michigan State will make the Hawkeyes a threat for a bowl. Michigan State is the better team right now, but if Iowa digs deeps and sees it still has something to play for the talent is there.

Clearly though Iowa needs to improve its offense in a big way. I don't know if it's a lack of experience or talent, but they will only get worse unless something improves drastically.

11. (11) Minnesota (1-7, 0-4)

Is this rock bottom? North Dakota State is a really good team at the moment and could have done that to a lot of teams. Still, a 1-3 non-conference record against a slate of Miami (OH), Bowling Green, Florida Atlantic, and North Dakota State will not get it done. That should be at least three big wins for a marginal Big Ten team. Instead the one win came in double overtime as it was.

On the positive side at least Minnesota is not getting blown out in these games. One could say they are a handful of plays on either side of the ball from being 5-3 right now. If the defense can be fixed the Gophers will get a lot better fast with that offense.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Time to start climbing the ladder

Well, we are bowl eligible for the 10th time in 11 years. Considering that we had only been to five bowl games period before this current stretch that is a great accomplishment. I know the team has taken a lot of flack recently, but congratulations to coach Tiller and company for helping achieve this milestone that a lot of teams can't brag about right now. I know we are far from where we want to be as a program, but we are also far from where we used to be. I won't settle for what we have because we still are short of competing for championships, but I definitely prefer it to what was here before.

Another key point that cannot be overlooked in this is that coach Tiller is just three wins away from tying Jack Mollenkopf as the all-time winningest coach in Purdue history. Mollenkopf also achieved his 84 wins in 15 years at Purdue, while Tiller has been here for just 11. Mollenkopf's overall record was 84-39-9 while Tiller is currently 81-49. While it's not as stellar of a percentage wise it is still a nice achievement.

Let's move past the coaching situation though and back to this season for a moment. Being bowl eligible means we now have a chance in each of the remaining four weeks to climb the ladder to a better bowl game. This is important in a year where as many as ten teams, if things break just right, could be fighting for seven spots. We now know we are ahead of Iowa, and each of the next four weeks we have a chance to slot ourselves ahead of other likely bowl-bound teams. We cannot control our destiny when it comes to getting ahead of Illinois and Wisconsin, but we can put ourselves in position to finish a strong third in the conference. If we continue to play like we did today we have a very good chance of doing just that.

The Good:

Purdue won, Indiana lost, and Notre Dame got shut out at home 38-0 and clinched a losing season. Since Miami also beat Florida State that made for the perfect day college football-wise. Of course, I don't know anything since I am simply a biased fool according to some for picking the Irish to start 1-7. I admit I was wrong. I was optimistic in giving them the one. UCLA ruined it for the rest of us.

Seriously though, there was a lot of good out there today. For the first time since playing Illinois during the 2005 season we kept a Division 1-A team out of the end zone. The one time Iowa seriously came close we were able to make a big play and intercept the ball. That led to one of my favorite types of drives and one that we have not seen out of Purdue in a long time. Iowa was obviously driving to score out of desperation before the Vinson interception. Once we got the ball back starting on our own two we made a long, grinding drive with our running game against a good run defense. Sure we didn't score, but we milked the clock down to the point that even the most miraculous of comebacks was unlikely. It was a brutal, ball-control drive and the drive of drive that good teams make to close games.

On that drive Taylor and Sheets were brilliant. For the first time this year we faced a good run defense and actually committed ourselves to moving the ball on the ground. We didn't have a ton of success at first, but both backs were able to wear the defense down to the tune of 71 yards and a touchdown for Sheets and 67 yards for Taylor. Imagine how much better things would look if Painter wasn't sacked twice for 22 yards. Sheets and Taylor were almost dead even in carries as well, proving that while Sheets can be dominant against lesser defenses, we need the balance of Taylor to make some hay against good defenses.

Speaking of Taylor, what else can you say about this young man? For some reason this young gentleman makes us a better team not just with his play, but with his attitude as well. Five weeks ago we were questioning if he was going to be back at all this year. Now he comes back a week early and helps to re-ignite our offense. He doesn't have a monster game and doesn't dominate, but his play seems to infect our entire offense. Even Sheets plays better with Taylor back there to balance him.

Offensively we had our best game in week by getting over 400 total yards, finding the end zone in each quarter on long drives, and getting more than 100 total rushing yards. That's an easy equation for us to equal a win. We're not a team that can win by throwing the ball 60 times for 400 yards. We need a running game to give us some balance. If you look at our numbers historically you will find that in games where we get as little as 100 total yards on the ground we are very hard to beat. I would give an exact number, but I am too lazy at the moment to look up the exact stat. Since this is a one man operation I don't exactly have the Elias stats bureau backing me up. When I play as Purdue on my playstation game (a game, I know, but bear with me) I like to have a goal of three passing yards for every rushing yard and gaining 400 total yards. It's very hard to lose when you do that in the game, and the same is true in real life. We did that today, and won by 25 points.

On the other side of the ball the defense had a great day. I don't care that it came against a depleted opponent; we kept a Big Ten team out of the end zone. We were able to get in the backfield and cause pressure almost all day and we kept Sims and Young from having a big day against us like they did last season. The offense did its part by building an early lead against an opponent that has struggled to score point all year. The defense did their part by making sure that opponent didn't wake up today.

The Bad:

Come on Joe! You have a kicker that made two field goals from 47 yards last season when he was struggling. This year he is performing much better and has proven he has plenty of distance to make it, yet you go and punt from the 31 yard line? That was just an inexcusable and, pardon my language, a chickenshit coaching call. Not only did Tiller do this once, but he did this twice by going for it on fourth down from the same spot on the field. At least going for it was a little more ballsy, but it is still a lower percentage play against a good defense. Show you believe in your improving kicker by trotting him out there and giving him those kicks.

The only other problem I had today was our inability to wrap up ball carriers in the backfield Christensen regular broke out of sure sacks and continued to find a wide open James Cleveland. I have never even heard of this guy, but we left him so open he had a day like Antonio Gates. He was left open on too many plays, but about half of his catches could have been prevented if we had been able to just tackle the quarterback. This is a case of taking the good with the bad though since we were at least getting to Christensen in the first place.

Up next:

Today we dominated a team that was all defense and no offense. It was a very business-like performance and it's hard to not be pleased as a Purdue fan today. Next we have a team that is almost all offense and no defense. We should have no trouble moving the ball against Northwestern, so if we can slow them down after they've been on a roll of late we should be able to win. A win would also put us ahead of them slotting-wise and practically guarantee a bowl game regardless of what happens the rest of the way. At the very least it would likely means we'd be no worse off than eighth bowl-wise out of ten possible teams, and that means some conference that does not fulfill their bowl commitments would likely pick us up then in a worst case scenario.

More importantly we must take a look at Northwestern's record. They are currently 5-3 overall. This means we can actually win a game against a team with a winning record. We have not beaten a team with a winning record this late in the season since Ohio State in 2004. Since our remaining four teams each currently have a winning record we have to break through this barrier right now. No one will award us a championship for beating Northwestern, but it will be a step in the right direction.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Week 8 Big Ten Preview

I am thankful that the Big Ten schedule makers decided not to send us to Penn State this week, as a home date against a struggling Iowa team is exactly what Purdue needs. While we don't get the luxury of a non-conference breather like Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Minnesota get this week, facing the Hawkeyes is a welcome relief after getting beaten up by Michigan and Ohio State. While I have been an avid defender of the Big Ten to date I have to admit that after last week the rest of the conference behind those two heavyweights appears to be a little disappointing especially since there is no clear-cut number three team in the league. Since there are so many non-conference games this week there will likely be little headway in clearing up a very muddied bowl picture.

After this week we will know a lot more about Michigan State and Illinois, as they take their turns at battling the only two unbeaten teams in conference play. The conference's seven teams sitting at five wins also each have a shot to clinch bowl eligibility this week, but four of those 5-2 teams play each other in the form of Penn State at Indiana and Michigan at Illinois. I would consider both of those home teams winning upsets if they happened, and it would make for an even murkier bowl picture.


#25 Michigan (5-2, 3-0) at Illinois (5-2, 2-1) 8pm Saturday

A Michigan win here would most likely end the Big Ten race for anyone but Michigan or Ohio State, forcing everyone else to have that game crammed down their throats once again at the end of the season. A Wolverine win coupled with a Buckeye win would give both a two game lead over everyone else in the conference with four games, and in some cases three conference games left to play. The Wolverines played their most complete game of the season last week, but benefitted from Purdue pretty much rolling over and playing dead.

Michigan got 28 points off of turnovers last week, and Illinois is a team that has struggled with turnover issues for some time. I am very cool on the Illini after a pretty inexcusable loss last week at Iowa, and they are not in good shape if they have decided to go with a quarterback shuffled after standing behind Juice Williams earlier in the year. Michigan is good enough to stop their running game, and unlike Dennis Dixon Juice Williams cannot pass his way out of trouble if he can't run. Clearly if you stop Illinois from running they are mortal, that is why I give Michigan an edge.

PREDICTION: Michigan 24, Illinois 20

Northwestern (4-3, 2-2) vs. Eastern Michigan (2-5) at Ford Field 7pm Friday

This is a very strange midseason out of conference Friday night road game for the Wildcats and one they simply must have if they are to go bowling this year. IN an astonishing turn of events there may be room yet for someone like Northwestern to get into a bowl because Conference USA could easily fall short of its six bowl commitments, opening the door for the Cats if they get to six wins. Some projections even have this as a preview of their bowl game, placing the Cats in the Motor City Bowl. I am sure their dream is to go to Detroit the day after Christmas.

Will C.J. Bacher cool off? I hope for Purdue's sake he gets the rest of it out of his system this week because that offense coming to West Lafayette for homecoming scares the bejesus out of me and I don't even know what a bejesus is. Even though they lost to Duke and Eastern gave Michigan a decent game I don't expect the Wildcats to have too much trouble. Since they are averse to playing defense however…

PREDICTION: Northwestern 38, Eastern Michigan 21

Penn State (5-2, 2-2) at Indiana (5-2, 2-2) noon Saturday

Well Indiana, you have everyone's attention and it is homecoming, time to prove you really belong at the big boy table in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers get a nationally televised game against a name team in Bloomington and chance number to get the elusive sixth win they have been searching for since 1994. With Wisconsin coming up on the road next week this is probably Indiana's best shot to beat one of the better teams in the conference, and they have the offense to do it if the defense can come to play.

Unfortunately Indiana is fresh off of giving up 52 points to Michigan State while Penn State had a very impressive dominant win over Wisconsin last week. Indiana has the horses to pull off the win especially if they continue to get into the backfield. Under pressure Anthony Morelli is as shaky as Britney's career at the moment, and for whatever reason Indiana leads the nation in sacks at 32. If they can force Morelli to start chucking the ball with reckless abandon Penn State will go down and the Hoosiers will have a critical win for their bowl hopes. Penn State is the better team, but Morelli is the X factor in a negative way.

PREDICTION: Penn State 24, Indiana 23

Iowa (3-4, 1-3) at Purdue (5-2, 1-2)

Even though Iowa is a bit down at the moment this is a must win for the Boilermakers. We need to stop this losing streak at two games or things will get a whole lot worse before they get better. Right now I am scared of an Iowa defense that just held a pretty good Illinois offense to six points and an explosive and unpredictable Northwestern offense next week. If Purdue loses this game they could find themselves easily at 5-5 facing good Michigan State and Indiana teams just to get to a bowl game.

Iowa still cannot score this year, and I have actually been quite pleased with the play of Purdue's defense even in the last two losses. Against Michigan four times they were given a short field to defend because of turnovers and three of those times Mike Hart or Marion Manningham simply made a great play for a score. The rest of the time the defense was exhausted from the offense not helping them out. I am confident that if the offense wakes up and can get 3-4 scoring drives together this week it will be more than enough, as Iowa has only gotten to 20 points once.

PREDICTION: Purdue 24, Iowa 14

North Dakota State (6-0) at Minnesota (1-5, 0-3)

Is this a measure of how good North Dakota State is becoming, or just how bad Minnesota is this season? The Bison are one of the best teams in Division 1-AA and because of their provisional status from moving up from Division II they aren't even eligible for the 1-AA playoffs. Currently North Dakota State is ranked #2 in the 1-AA poll, They've scored at least 28 points in every game, and they already own a 30 point win over Central Michigan. Considering that the Chips are one of the better teams in the MAC and the Gophers have already struggled with lesser teams from that conference means Goldy is in trouble.

Minnesota barely got past North Dakota State last season on a 10-9 score, and the Bison are already a better team from last year. Minnesota is clearly worse than in the past, but they have been competitive at least by getting to overtime in three of six games so far. How weird would it be if they didn't have overtime like in the old days and Minnesota was sitting at 0-3-3 as a record? This is a rarity, but I am going with the Division 1-AA team over a big Ten team at home.

North Dakota State 31, Minnesota 30

Northern Illinois (1-5) at Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2)

Wisconsin comes in very angry after a two game road trip in the league led to a pair of losses. Northern Illinois comes in to Madison having barely beaten Idaho and with a loss to 1-AA Southern Illinois. It's time for Wisconsin to play with a little bit of pride for once and simply dominate a team. They did not do so against UNLV or The Citadel and got away with it. They've struggled the past two weeks against Penn State and Illinois, but they are a little banged up offensively. It's time for them to tune up before a big bowl push against Indiana next week.

This is the easiest game of the week to pick.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 37, Northern Illinois 10

Michigan State (5-2, 1-2) at #1 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0)

If this game was being played in East Lansing there might be a modicum of concern. Michigan State got things going in a positive direction in a big way last week by dominating Indiana early and often. That showed a surprising amount of fortitude for a team that has had a habit of reeling off long losing streaks in recent seasons. Asking them to go into Columbus and beat the number one team in the country is an awful lot to ask at this early juncture, but the Spartans impressed me enough last week to give me the impression it was at least possible.

Conventional wisdom says that Ohio State's defense will dominate once again against an offense that leans toward the one-dimensional. I happen to think Michigan State has a puncher's chance though. They've played with more emotion the past few weeks than most teams in the conference, and really only lost a pair of shootouts because the defense couldn't get a key stop against Northwestern and Wisconsin. Ohio State should win, but don't be surprised if Michigan State makes them sweat a bit for it. If Ohio State wins in a walk we know they are the real deal.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 20, Michigan State 10


Can Kentucky do it again? With undefeated teams dropping left and right #15 Florida at #7 Kentucky has a ton of intrigue to it. Usually you only see rankings like this for basketball between these schools, but the Wildcats proved they were the real deal by knocking off LSU last week. Surprisingly Florida can get right back into the title race even with two losses if teams ahead of them keep losing. Purdue fans should be interested in this game because a strong finish could put us in the Outback bowl against one of them. Kentucky has already taken out a pair of ranked teams at home, and a win here may make them the favorite in the SEC. Kentucky 27, Florida 24

Another game of interest to Purdue fans as far as bowl opponents go is #24 Texas Tech at #16 Missouri. With a pair of tie-ins at the level of bowl I expect us to go to we very well could see one of these teams in either the Insight or Alamo bowls. Missouri has a very balanced offense and has played well each week except in a loss at Oklahoma. Texas Tech and Michael Crabtree are putting up numbers that are unattainable even on playstation. 78 catches for 1244 yards and 17 touchdowns are insane numbers for a single season. When you consider Crabtree has done this in just seven games and was even kept out of the end zone last week against Texas A&M you have to simply watch this kid in awe. Missouri seems to be on a mission though. Missouri 42, Texas Tech 38


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Big Ten Bloggers Roundtable week 8

As a Purdue fan we so rarely see anything coming from Bloomington that is good football-wise, but this week's Big Ten Bloggers' roundtable is much like the Hoosiers season this year: A pleasant exception to that rule. This week the roundtable is headed up by none other than John of The Hoosier Report. John has posted only a couple of questions this week, but they are great questions for discussion as we head down the home stretch of the season.

1. Call your shot. We are halfway through the Big Ten season (or, at least, most of us are). What will be your team's final record? Where, if anywhere, will your team be spending late December/early January? Who will win the Big Ten?

I started the season with a prediction of a 9-3 record and I am sticking with it. So far I have been dead on as I had us at 5-2 at this point with losses to Michigan and Ohio State. The only difference so far is that I thought we would be much more competitive in those two games than we were. Finishing 9-3 will likely put us in the Alamo Bowl at somewhere around the #4 slot, with an outside chance of reaching the Outback bowl depending on how the rest of the conference breaks. I wouldn't like to head back to the Champs Sports bowl for two reasons: 1. it would be a bit of a disappointment falling to fifth, and 2. if we play Miami from the ACC there my marriage will be in danger on game night. Right now I expect to win all our remaining home games with Michigan State being the most difficult test. Depending on whom we play in the bowl game then could mean just the second 10 win season ever for Purdue, and first since 1979.

I think we will win at Indiana in one of the best Bucket games in recent memory, while the Penn State trip looms as another chance to prove ourselves, but I tend to think we'll just crap the bed like we have done of late. I had us losing that game anyway, and won't believe we'll pull the surprise until I see it. At least we should be able to beat a team with a winning record down the stretch, as we'll have four chances to with Northwestern, Indiana, Penn State, and Michigan State.

In the Big Ten it is frustrating to see that no one has been able to rise up and shake off the recent dominance of Michigan and Ohio State in a year when both looked to be down a little. It seems like every team except Ohio State has at least one loss that made people go, "HUH?" While Purdue's two losses weren't unexpected, the margins sure were. These two teams will probably go unbeaten the rest of the way and the winner will be the conference champion. I'm sure the league office would be cheering hard for Michigan in that scenario, as the only way the Big Ten is getting two into the BCS is if Ohio State loses the Big Ten, but finishes 11-1. Right now my money is on the Buckeyes.

2. How is your team's coaching situation? Clearly, this varies from school to school, with some coaches approaching retirement (Carr/Paterno), some who are just starting out (Brewster/Fitzgerald), the unique case of Bill Lynch, and others who seem to be in their primes. If your coach is on the tail end of his career, where do you see things going from here? If he's still early in his tenure, any buyer's remorse? If he's in he's somewhere in the middle, are you happy or wishing things would go a different direction? How does your view correspond to the "majority" view among your school's fans?

Right now I am disappointed with our coaching situation because I can see the Gene Keady syndrome setting in. I am very alarmed by the fact we have been unable to be even competitive against a ranked team in three years. It is clear to me that Coach Tiller is closer to retirement than he is to being head coach for another decade, but who can argue with what he has done? He has taken a team that was mired at the bottom of the league and has made it into a program that consistently cranks out 7-8 wins a year and makes a bowl game. Of the 119 Division 1-A teams only 16 can say they have been to bowl games in nine of the past ten seasons, and Purdue is one of them. Barring an utter collapse down the stretch Purdue will get to a bowl game this year to make it 10 in 11. If not for a six-game slide in 2005 Purdue would be one of just six teams to go to a bowl every year for 10 years. Some "name" programs not on this list of 16 include Penn State, Notre Dame, USC, UCLA, and Oklahoma.

It is a testament to what Tiller has done that Purdue is to the point of being disappointed in an eight win season. Still, there are always those that naturally want more and lately the Boilers have been sliding back, rather than moving forward. In 2004, the last time we faced Michigan and Ohio State we suffered a 2-point loss to the Wolverines on a fumble while in field goal range in the final minute and we beat Ohio State. This year we scored one meaningful touchdown while each game was (briefly) in question. I would like for Purdue to work out a plan where Tiller can definitely retire and receive the accolades he deserves, while still setting things up for a smooth transition. Of course, Purdue mishandled the basketball situation and the program went into the toilet for about five years before finally recovering.

The time for change will be sooner rather than later as clearly evidence by Tiller's desire to retire soon. Hopefully he can go out with the grace he deserves. With four more wins (that can be achieved this season) Tiller will tie Jack Mollenkopf as the winningest coach in the history of the program. I am fine with him staying as long as he wants to stay, but we need to start moving forward again and at least be competitive with some good teams. I am tired of getting blown out in every chance we have to make the program look good.

BONUS BASKETBALL QUESTION: If you plan to cover basketball, give us a brief outlook for your team. Who is your best player? What do you expect from the team?

I haven't decided yet if I will be covering any basketball this year, but I may keep things going for a weekly update just to have something to write about. During basketball season I usually cover two games a week for the newspapers that I write for, plus I do a weekly feature on, so it takes a lot of time out of my writing schedule.

The Boiler basketball program this year looks to be very young, but extremely talented. I am honestly so excited about watching this team in about two years I cannot stand it, especially if we land Tyler Zeller. Purdue has a whopping seven newcomers in a recruiting class that ranked second nationally. What is best is that all of them are "Purdue guys" in that they play a hard-nosed, workmanlike style.

Sophomore Chris Kramer is the emerging leader of this team and he is recovering from two offseason surgeries to relieve compartment syndrome in both of his legs. You can already tell he is the type of player Purdue fans absolutely love, but everyone else in the Big Ten will hate for the next three years.

Freshman E'twaun Moore has a lot expected of him this year, especially after leading East Chicago Central to the Class 4A state title in Indiana last year over IU-bound Eric Gordon and North Central. Moore is a four-star recruit along with JaJuan Johnson, Robbie Hummel, and Scott Martin as the four big freshmen of the class. Look for Juco transfer Nemanja Calasan to make an impact as well, as he is being compared to Brian Cardinal in some circles. Key returners are Terrance Crump, Marcus Green, and Keaton Grant, providing much needed experience to go with the youth movement. Crump is the lone senior on the roster.

I expect this team to be very talented, but its youth will come out at times. An NCAA berth is not out of the question, but where they will really be served is in about two years when the group has gelled together and may compete for a national title.