Wednesday, November 28, 2007

2007 that was (As usual, three good quarters before blowing it in the 4th)

Here at Off the Tracks I have been everything but scientific in my analysis. This is my 120th posting, and to honor that I will harken back to my days as a freshman taking Statistics 120. Yesterday on the GBI forums I posted a poll asking how much a bowl win would help our struggling program. Coming into the year I predicted a 9-3 regular season and a winnable bid to the Alamo Bowl.

Through 10 weeks this still seemed probable, as a promising game at Penn State certainly had me believing wins over Michigan State and Indiana were going to happen. Instead we crashed in both games, not only giving away what could have been a New Year’s Day bowl, but falling so far that we’re likely going to be selected behind both teams when bowl bids our handed out Sunday. Obviously we need some kind of boost, and a bowl win, be it in the Motor City, Armed Forces, Humanitarian or Texas Bowls would help. So posted a poll to see how much a win would help with six possible choices:

1. Totally Delusional: A springboard to the 2008 national title
2. A huge boost to the sagging program
3. A small boost to recruiting, but nothing major
4. A great way to send off the seniors, but nothing more
5. It still doesn't matter, Joe must go!
6. What's this bowl win you speak of?

As of 8:30pm on Wednesday the overwhelming response was with choices five and six. 26 of the 46 total responses went with those two choices, while five felt we had no chance to win the bowl game at all. That means there isn’t a ton of optimism out there even if we should win said bowl game. Right now there is even a question if we will go, but we are at least to the point where any door the BCS closes will likely open another.

We took a hit when the Armed Forces bowl took Air Force this week, meaning TCU is likely headed to Houston if still on the board. The Big 12 will most likely get two BCS teams, leaving that spot open and TCU a perfect fit. Should UCLA upset USC and Arizona upset Arizona State we then lose the Armed Forces bowl as a spot even if the Pac-10 still gets two into the BCS in the form of Arizona State or USC plus UCLA grabbing the automatic bid in that scenario. The Big East is unlikely to get two BCS teams, so a Louisville upset of Rutgers ruins them of having an open spot even if they do. The SEC will get two teams in the BCS, and they won’t have an open bowl to go to. That leaves the ACC and the Humanitarian bowl open if both Va Tech and Boston College go to the BCS.

With all that we’re only totally screwed if Hawaii goes to the BCS, Arizona beats Arizona State AND the Pac-10 somehow still gets two into the BCS, the SEC gets two, and the Big 12 gets two allowing TCU to go to Houston. At that point we’re hoping for the Big Ten bowls to pick us or nothing. My vote there is nothing, because we don’t deserve to be picked ahead of anyone but Iowa and Northwestern in the Big Ten. Since Arizona beating Arizona State would likely at least send the Va Tech-BC loser to the BCS we would still most likely go to Boise in that case.
So how did we get to this point in a season so promising? Let’s review:

Sept. 1 at Toledo W 52-24 (original prediction W 31-21)

This win gave me promise because I knew we were going into a charged atmosphere to face a team that appeared to be one of the better ones in the MAC. I wasn’t sure how we would handle things, but we dominated in the type of game we never dominate. The defense played well until garbage time, and the offense was lights out once it got going. All in all, a very good win that had me excited for the year.

Sept. 8 vs. Eastern Illinois W 52-6 (original prediction W 49-13)

Unless the big school loses you can’t really take much away from these 1-AA games. Eastern Illinois did go to the 1-AA playoffs again only to lose in the first round, but when they may be the second beat team we beat you have a problem with your program. At least we got a sweet Jake Standeford block out of this game.

Sept. 15 vs. Central Michigan W 45-22 (original prediction W 28-24)

The first half may have been our best half of football all year. The defense was dominant against a pretty potent offense, and the offense was simply unstoppable. Who cares that we gave up three touchdowns in the second half. We won comfortably and were never seriously threatened. Central Michigan is likely going to win a second MAC title, but was simply annihilated by every non-MAC foe on its schedule including 1-AA North Dakota State.

Sept. 22 at Minnesota W 45-31 (original prediction W 38-24)

This game featured our defensive play of the year with Cliff Avril’s pick 6, but I honestly expected more out of Minnesota. This was just a bad, bad football team we beat as they were lucky to have the one win they did get. Still, they ended up being close in several games, so if they get over the hump, watch out. It’s hard to argue with any conference win on the road regardless of opponent, but this was our only one. It was much like the Central Michigan game in that we got up big and coasted.

Sept. 29 vs. Notre Dame W 33-19 (original prediction W 31-24)

This is the post that elicited a record 12 comments, some of them questioning my ability to tie my own shoes because I predicted the mighty Irish would lose. This game was alternately encouraging and discouraging. It was encouraging in that we got four field goals from Chris Summers and won despite playing ugly. It was discouraging because we played a crap game against the worst Notre Dame team ever and it was still close into the fourth quarter. A better Notre Dame team beats us on this day, but thankfully this Irish team won more games (2) in the state of California than it did in the state of Indiana where it played eight times. Gerry, if you’re out there, am I still biased for predicting 1-7 or 0-8? How is the rainbow sherbet smell coming from your toilet?

Oct. 6 vs. Ohio State L 7-23 (original prediction L 10-21)

Looking at my original prediction I wasn’t that far off, but I was expecting much more than a garbage time touchdown. Other than the first quarter the defense really played well, and as well as our offense had been moving at that point I certainly thought we could score enough to beat them by holding them to 23 points. We should have seen the signs from the Notre Dame game, but as usual we were stopped on the ground and completely went away from it. To add insult we had to watch as the Buckeye fans did O-H-I-O in our house. What was an electric atmosphere ended as a truly miserable game. Not only that, the Cubs were eliminated from the playoffs that night.

Oct. 13 at Michigan L 21-48 (original prediction L 14-38)

Maybe we should have done more onside kicks more often with the way we kept recovering them late in the game. I actually drove all the way to Ann Arbor for this game, and left when it got to 48-7 because there was so little point in staying. Michigan made us pay for every mistake, and we made plenty of them. I had predicted a big loss before the season, but when game time came I actually predicted a win. Oops! Well, the streak has to end up there some time, right?

Oct. 20 vs. Iowa W 31-6 (original prediction W 31-21)

I got burned last year by taking the Drew Tate Kool-Aid, so I told myself it wasn’t going to happen here. Whether it was the fact that Iowa’s offense was terrible or just a great effort by our defense we played probably our most complete game of the season. We were in total control from start to finish and for once we completely dominated a Big Ten opponent. We also got Jaycen Taylor back, making the rest of the season look great. I really thought we had turned a corner by actually responding after two straight butt-whippings to administer one ourselves. Had we played like this in any of the final three games we would have won.

Oct. 27 vs. Northwestern W 35-17 (original prediction W 34-24)

One week after playing a complete game we were back to our two quarters on, two quarters off style of play. Fortunately for us the first and fourth quarters were more than enough to get the job done against a Wildcats team that helped us out with four turnovers. Taylor turned in one of the best days we have seen from a Purdue running back in just his second game back. Our defense also held a really good offense to under 300 yards for the first time in who knows how long. Things were indeed looking up heading to Happy Valley since the Nittany Lions weren’t as good as originally expected.

Nov. 4 at Penn State L 19-26 (original prediction L 24-31)

You couldn’t ask for a better start than we had. Much like the Wisconsin game from 2004 we will always wonder how well things would have turned out if not for a critical fumble. I didn’t get a chance to watch this game, but in reading about it I wonder why Kory Sheets, a proven goal line touchdown machine wasn’t in the game getting Taylor’s carry, especially after Taylor had fumbled in almost the exact same spot the week before. If we convert that touchdown we go up 17-3 and possibly cruise to a rare easy in Happy Valley. Everything looks different now if we turn that around.

Nov. 11 vs. Michigan State L 31-48 (original prediction W 38-20)

It’s funny, but before the year started I thought this was going to be the easiest game on our Big Ten schedule. I was not impressed with what the Spartans had coming back, and the old Michigan State would have been even more of a walkover by game time after what they had gone through. Just look at the “know thy opponent about this game to see how much I disrespected the Spartans, and how right the Anonymous commenter at the bottom was. There was no effort, heart, or hustle from us and the coaching staff completely botched a game we really had no business losing. I mean come on, we stopped a team from doing what they wanted to do so they adjusted, yet we didn’t adjust ourselves.

Nov. 18 at Indiana L 21-24 (original prediction W 34-28)

This is another game where I had changed my prediction by game time, and successfully called a three point loss. In another game where we didn’t adjust, we kept in check what a team wanted to do, only to see them go nuts the other way. This time we kept the passing game mostly in check, but let a bad running team run all over us. It’s like we had never seen a halfback draw up the middle. Giving James Hardy single coverage on 3rd and five on the final drive was another huge mistake and non-adjustment by our coaching staff. I don’t feel bad losing to Indiana because of the Hep factor, but we still could have won if we had shown any heart.

What next?

The first step has to be winning the bowl game no matter what should we get selected. As Boilermouse on the Purdue boards said in response to my poll, we’re going to one of the lowest bowls out there. The higher the bowl the easier the loss is to take so we need to win. Winning a bowl game for the first time since 2002 would be a step in the right direction, and just look what happened after that win. We came back the next year and had our best post-Rose Bowl year and possibly played better than that Rose Bowl team.

Much like that 2003 season we face a difficult schedule in 2008 that offers few gimmes outside of the opener against Northern Colorado. Winning our bowl game can be a reason for at least a small amount of renewed optimism which is sorely needed after finishing the season the way we finished. A loss could easily mean a major step back next season, and a possible 3-4 win campaign for the first time in more than a decade. The tools are there to improve and still have a good year next year, but after another season that quickly unraveled there are no more excuses.

NEXT UP: The most surprising players and most disappointing players of 2007.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Purdue's bowl destinations (I have put WAY too much thought into this)

It is Sunday night and we still have not received any word as to a bowl destination. This is not unexpected, as most likely we needed a slot to open up from another conference in order to get a spot for us. This past weekend saw mixed reviews for that, as the UCLA upset of Oregon hurt us, but the Fresno State win over Kansas State helped us. We’re looking at the Big 12 as our friend at the moment as they have eight bowl slots with eight eligible teams. None of the other four can get eligible, and the Big 12 is almost assured of getting two teams into the BCS so there will be one open spot.

Next is the Pac-10, who already has six teams eligible for its six spots, but also stands a decent chance of getting a second team in the BCS. Should Arizona State beat Arizona that helps us twice since Arizona could not gain eligibility and it would give the Sun Devils a shot at staying home for the Fiesta Bowl as an at large team. We could have gotten some help from the WAC if Hawaii goes to the BCS since they would then have a free spot, but that will go to the winner of the Nevada-Louisiana Tech game.

Just about the only other conference that can help us is the ACC, which also has an 8 and 8 scenario like the Big 12. The only two teams that have a realistic shot at the BCS are Virginia Tech and Boston College who will meet in the championship game. What are the chances the loser also goes to the BCS and opens yet another slot for us?

Since there are four BCS at large spots we can be served well if the Pac-10, Big 12, and ACC take up three of them. No conference can send more than two teams, so everyone can calm down about the SEC getting three or four bids. Here is likely how things will play out.

Big Ten Champ: Ohio State
Big East Champ: West Virginia
ACC Champ: Boston College or Va.Tech
Big 12 Champ: Oklahoma or Missouri
Pac 10 Champ: USC, Oregon, Arizona State or UCLA (It’s mathematically possible)
SEC Champ: Tennessee or LSU
At Large 1: Hawaii (If they beat Washington they are in)
At Large 2: Georgia or LSU (If they lose to Tennessee)
At Large 3: Kansas or Big 12 title game loser
At Large 4: Arizona State, Illinois, or Va Tech-BC loser

That fourth at large spot will determine if we go to a bowl anywhere or not, and all three scenarios help us. Arizona State means they beat Arizona and it opens up a spot for us assuming USC wins the Pac 10. A second ACC team opens up an ACC bowl, and Illinois winning opens a Big Ten bowl. Should Hawaii lose to Washington (Who did beat Boise State already this year) we will almost assuredly go somewhere. The Big East won’t get a second team in the BCS, meaning that four conferences would be fighting for three of the spots since the SEC is a shoe-in to get one more team in. Assuming Illinois is not selected, that would leave a bowl open from the Big 12, ACC, and likely the Pac-10 if Arizona State wins. Here is who we would be fighting from the 7-5 teams in the country that would be bowl-less:

TCU (7-5) (The Mountain West has five teams for four spots)
Troy (8-4) (If they lose to Florida Atlantic, giving FAU the one Sun Belt bid)
Bowling Green (8-4) (The Falcons are not in the MAC championship game, but will get a second MAC bid if Central Michigan beats Miami (6-6) in that game)
Ball State (7-5) (The Cardinals will get the third and final MAC bid if CMU beats Miami)

We are the only power conference team that is 7-5 and may go without a bowl at the moment. The SEC has two left over teams, but South Carolina and Alabama are both 6-6 and therefore cannot be picked ahead of us. The SEC by getting a second team into the BCS will find room for one of them anyway. Louisville may get to 6-6 and be an extra from the Big East, but again can’t get picked ahead of us. The Big 12, Pac 10, and ACC will not have extra teams no matter what happens, leaving just Iowa and Northwestern at 6-6 from a major conference. This makes us very attractive as someone will have an open spot.

Just about the only way we get shut out of a bowl game now is if Arizona beats Arizona State, assuring that even if the Pac-10 gets two into the BCS they won’t have an open bowl. We would also need the ACC and Big Ten to get shut out of a second BCS spot, which is impossible if the Pac doesn’t get a second BCS bowl. One spot is all but guaranteed to be open, with two or even three very likely. This means we will go somewhere now, thanks to the results of this past weekend. Here is our most preferred scenarios in order:

1. Ohio State goes to the national title game and the BCS selects Illinois to fill their spot in the Rose Bowl for tradition’s sake.

Yeah, it sucks that we would likely go to Detroit in this case, but it also guarantees we have to go somewhere. Plus Joe Tiller knows how to beat the MAC, and playing a MAC team could mean our first bowl win since 2002. This is also the only way we could go to a better Big Ten bowl than Detroit, and it would involve back room deals to keep Michigan State in Detroit for the Motor City bowl and Indiana in Phoenix for the Insight Bowl.

2. Arizona State beats Arizona, gets a second BCS Pac-10 bowl, and we go to Pac 10 Bowl #6

This bowl would be the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on December 31 in Fort Worth, Texas at 12:30pm. Doesn’t this sound an awful lot like the Sun Bowl? We would be facing a Mountain West team, and they don’t have a specific order listed as to what bowl chooses their teams first. This game would be against BYU (9-2), Air Force (9-3), New Mexico (8-4), TCU (7-5), or Utah (8-4). Obviously they would want TCU to sell tickets, but they have the worst record of that group. This bowl could help our recruiting efforts which have always been strong in Texas, but we would need to win over a lesser team like that to make any headway. At least it is on ESPN.

3. Two teams from the Big 12 go to the BCS, and we go to Big 12 bowl #8

This would be the Texas bowl in Houston, Texas on December 28th at 8pm. Much like going to the Insight Bowl, this game would suck because it is on the NFL network. A second strike against us is that Houston has already accepted a bid to play in this game, so it is a virtual road game. Much like the Helicopter bowl above, it would mean a chance to make some more recruiting inroads in Texas, but Houston is 8-4, so we’d have to finally beat a team with a winning record not out of the MAC or Ohio Valley Conferences.

4. The ACC gets two into the BCS and we go to their #8 bowl

If you thought Detroit in December was bad, at least it is in a dome. This game would mean a New Year’s Eve trip to good old Boise, Idaho to play on the blue turf of the Humanitarian Bowl. My wife’s Hurricanes played here last year against Nevada and won, so that means a game against the WAC. The WAC also has no picking order for its bowls, as many of their teams like Hawaii and Boise State would be playing at home bowl games if eligible and not in the BCS. Guess who is bowl eligible and not going to the BCS this year? That’s right, the host Boise State Broncos. They haven’t officially accepted the invite yet, but Boise State will almost certainly be playing at home for the holidays. I want to avoid this game at all costs, as no team that goes out there has anything to gain facing one of the best non-BCS teams in the country. At least it would be a chance to beat a ranked team.

5. Hawaii takes a BCS slot, the Big East miraculously takes a second, the SEC a third, and the Big 12 a fourth leaving just the Houston bowl open and they take nearby TCU. The Big East then has an open slot that would not be filled if Louisville (5-6) loses its season finale to Rutgers.

This is just a ludicrous scenario, but it would leave open one of the six Big East bowls. Since they don’t seem to have any selection order either that would mean the International Bowl (January 5 in Toronto against the MAC), the Papa John’s Bowl (December 22 against Conference USA in Birmingham), or… THE SUN BOWL, BABY! (December 31 against the Pac 10). The thought of a fourth Sun Bowl in our last six bowls simply makes me shudder.

So that is that. If Central Michigan beats Miami in the MAC title game and Troy beats Florida Atlantic we are assured of going somewhere because there would then only need to be two bowl slots open, which will happen. I can’t say any of them are ideal or glamorous, as in all four possible bowls we would be playing a virtual road game (assuming Central Michigan goes to Detroit), but it provides us a chance to face some adversity to get a win. Perhaps I am delusional as always, but such is the plight of the Purdue fan.

The only way we don’t go bowling is if Hawaii takes a BCS slot, the Big East miraculously takes a second, the SEC a third, and the Big 12 a fourth leaving just the Houston bowl open. In that case they would almost definitely take a close by 7-5 TCU team rather than us simply because they want to sell tickets. Then the open Big East bowl would have to be forced to take a 6-6 Louisville team, which would have to eliminate Rutgers as a BCS possibility for that to even happen.

I am confidant we will be ahead of Troy, Bowling Green, and Ball State as other 7+ win teams, and since the Big East doesn’t have anyone else who can get 10 wins other than West Virginia they will not be getting a second BCS team ahead of a 10 win ACC runner-up or Pac-10 runner-up. This means a Hawaii loss, an Arizona loss, or any scenario that gets Ohio State in the championship sends us bowling.

Does everyone have all that? At least 3 open bowls would give Iowa and Northwestern fans some hope.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Big Ten regular season in review

Now that the regular season is over and we are staring the bowl season in the face it is time to go back and review my original predictions for the league. I admit that I was very wrong any many levels, especially about my own Boilers, but at least I was dead on with my predictions through 10 weeks of Purdue's season. As promised I will have a Purdue season review up in a few days, as well as my thoughts on the Tiller situation and the 2008 season, but I wanted to take a look at the Big Ten as a whole and investigate if it really was a "down year" as all the national pundits suggest. Personally, when 91% of your conference has an overall record of .500 or better I find it hard to believe they had a down year, especially considering that the "best conference in the country", the SEC, is in the exact same boat.

As stated here before, the real judging of the Big Ten this season will come from the seven or eight teams that will be playing bowl games. The out of conference schedules, thanks to an epically bad Notre Dame team, lacked any teeth other than Illinois vs. Missouri and Michigan vs. Oregon. Minnesota and Iowa embarrassed the conference with their pitiful showings out of conference, and Northwestern has to absolutely be kicking itself over the Duke loss right now. With favorable matchups, especially two against the SEC, the conference can take a step out of this shadow. Because of some poor performances in conference though by teams like Purdue, Penn State, and Iowa there may be some truth to these lies.

What follows is the final edition of the Power Rankings before heading into the bowl season. What will also be reflected is my original position in my pre-season preview as well as projected record. It's not enough for me to be wrong here, but I want to see just how wrong I was! I'll also try to project whether each team will be better, worse, or about the same going into next season as well as what they need to improve most based on this year's performance.

1. (3) Ohio State (11-1, 7-1) Original prediction: 10-2, 6-2 and the Capitol One Bowl

The weekend couldn't have been better for Ohio State as they crushed the dreams of their rival, ruined the retirement party of Lloyd Carr and senior day, and now have the Rose Bowl as a nice fall back in case they don't back into the national title game. Three of the teams they needed to lose to get there also lost, meaning the door is now open a little wider. I honestly felt Ohio State would take a bit of a step back this year, but other than the Illinois game the defense was stifling and prevented anyone from doing anything.

Ohio State exceeded expectations, and unless they lose a ton of that defensive talent early to the NFL they should be really good next year. The offense needs to work on not turning the ball over, as Todd Boeckman struggled with interceptions in a few key games this year. Chris Wells had the kind of game against Michigan that served notice to the rest of the league he will be a force next year. It's an old routine, but Ohio State will be a national title contender again next season.

2. (10) Illinois (9-3, 6-2) Original prediction: 4-8, 1-7 and no bowl game.

Well, at least I got their non-conference prediction dead on. You could argue that Illinois is an Eddie McGee interception away from being in the Rose Bowl, as if he closes out the late drive against Iowa for a touchdown Illinois is headed to Pasadena. The Michigan loss was also due to a turnover, as a muffed punt return set up the winning Wolverine score. Take away either of those and Illinois probably wins those games. Take away both, and Illinois could be playing for an unexpected national title. They calmly took Northwestern apart this week, and will at least be going to Florida on New Year's Day. If things get really crazy the last few weeks they still could go to the BCS.

The scary thing is that because of the youth of the team they will only get better. If Rashard Mendenhall returns they should aim for nothing less than a Big Ten championship, as the turnover problems and struggles in the passing game started to go away by the end of the season. I certainly don't expect Illinois to be a one-year wonder like it was in 2001, and 2008 won't be a fall off to 5-7. With as much talent coming back as they have this team could end up being among the best in the country, so thank God we don't play them.

3. (4) Wisconsin (9-3, 5-3) Original prediction (10-2, 6-2) and the Outback Bowl

The above two teams and probably Michigan State were the only teams that truly exceeded expectations this year. Everyone else either met them or fell short, and that includes Wisconsin here at the number three spot. They survived a game effort from an improving Minnesota team to finish the season, but they have to be regretting the losses to Penn State and Illinois on the road. Wisconsin was the only team in the conference to defend its home turf, posting a 7-0 record at Camp Randall this year. Even them more was expected from the Badgers.

I honestly don't know a ton about the Badgers for next season. Since Illinois has been the hot team recently I know much about them even though Purdue doesn't play them, but I virtually ignored Wisconsin most of the season because of the two year hiatus from the Boilers. They also are not represented in the Big Ten bloggers' network, meaning I hear less about them. They've positioned themselves as a solid #3 team year in and year out in this conference, so if they can overcome the injuries they had this year there's little reason to think they won't be back.

4. (1) Michigan (8-4, 6-2) Original prediction (11-1, 7-1) and the Rose Bowl

The only loss I predicted was at Wisconsin and I was dead on there. Outside of that, Michigan's season was certainly lost by a baffling slow start and a ton of injuries to their stars at the end. In retrospect Michigan was very lucky it did not finish at 6-6 or worse, as it escaped with wins at Michigan State and Illinois, and any kind of an offensive performance by Penn State would have meant yet another loss in Ann Arbor. For a team with as many seniors as it had and eight home games three losses at the Big House is inexcusable.

Michigan has the pieces in place to simply re-load talent-wise, but it must settle the coaching situation first. It will be the talk of the Big Ten offseason until it is resolved, and I am sure the Wolverines would like to have their man in place by the time their bowl game comes around. Ryan Mallett gained valuable experience this season and will be a great leader for the next three years. Losing as much as they do Michigan should be a little worse, but don't expect a slide to the basement. That doesn't happen at Michigan.

5. (2) Penn State (8-4, 4-4) Original prediction (11-1, 7-1) and a BCS bowl

Penn State could have won the title of most disappointing team in the conference if not for Purdue's stumble at the end and Iowa's horrible year. Penn State had its toughest games, outside of Michigan, at home and did well there except for the Ohio State game. Its main struggles came on the road, as a last minute win against Indiana was its only conference triumph away from Happy Valley. They probably frittered away a sure New Year's Day bowl with the loss at Michigan State, and they certainly threw a wrench in Purdue's post-season plans by first not living up to expectations by getting a second BCS bid, then by blowing the Michigan State game and putting the Spartans in a bowl. Thanks guys!

In my discussion with Mike of Black Shoe Diaries he mentioned that 2008 could be the farewell tour for JoePa since he is in the final year of his contract. If it is he will being doing it with a new quarterback as, for better or worse, Anthony Morelli is gone. The running game wasn't fantastic this year, and Dan Connor will be gone. There are 31 juniors this year, but the offense simply has to get better to match the defense. The defense also cannot collapse like it did against Michigan State.

6. (11) Michigan State (7-5, 3-5) Original prediction (2-10, 0-8) and no bowl game

This is another team I was drastically wrong on, and I really should extend my apologies to our newest member of the network; SpartyMSU. I had the poor Spartans losing to Notre Dame, a fate that no one wants this year. I also had them at 0-8 in the conference, which before the Purdue game was pretty close. While I was wrong on Illinois, but felt they had the talent to at least make a bowl game, I was totally surprised by Michigan State this year. Not only did they get off to their traditional hot start, they showed a stunning amount of heart in recovering to win these last two games and salvage a bowl bid.

Because of that finish Michigan State is my pick to be the biggest surprise of 2008. Mark Dantonio has changed he culture in East Lansing, as the days of collapsing and limping to the finish appear to be over. Brian Hoyer played a great ballgame each of the past two weeks, and could emerge as the best passer in the conference next season. All Michigan State needs to do is learn how to win close games. Illinois was in the exact same position last year and look how that turned out.

7. (7) Indiana (7-5, 3-5) Original prediction (7-5, 3-5) and the Insight Bowl

Assuming the Hoosiers go to Phoenix like many are predicting I absolutely nailed this one. I guess one out of 11 isn't too bad. I felt they would beat Illinois and Michigan State rather than Iowa and Purdue, but other than that things went exactly as expected. In reality, Indiana performed exactly to expectations, and as mentioned in the review of Saturday's bucket game, rode a ton of emotion to a bowl bid. I was amazed that they didn't give too much into emotion on Saturday, as they used it to fuel their performance as opposed to getting too jacked up for it.

I wouldn't exactly book reservations for Pasadena in January 2009 just yet, but Indiana is a team that is improving. A huge key to their success will be if James Hardy returns for his senior season. It's amazing to see that of two very talented receivers from Ft. Wayne in the same class, Hardy may head to the NFL a year early while Selwyn Lymon's career is over. Indiana needs to improve its running game away from Kellen Lewis and get its defense to be stronger later in ballgames. The defense cost them the Penn State and Northwestern games late, and therefore must improve. Kellen Lewis always gives them a shot.

8. (5) Purdue (7-5, 3-5) Original prediction (9-3, 5-3) and the Alamo Bowl

I could have lived with a 9-3 season. Even after the close call at Penn State I could have lived with beating Michigan State and Indiana in games we could and probably should have won. I could have even accepted the Indiana loss under the circumstances because I honestly feel good for the Hoosiers right now and I want them to be good so the Bucket game can matter outside of Indiana. The Michigan State loss and the deer-in-the-headlights performance against Michigan ruined it for me though. It has indeed been a rough week to be a Boilermaker, and my colleagues at Boiled Sports summed up the Tiller and Lymon situations the best. If we get invited to a bowl we had better play like an angry football team and win it, because I won't tolerate another uninspired performance.

2008 will be a huge year for Purdue, and the degree of difficulty will certainly be there with the schedule. We must get better offensive line play and we must get a new defensive coordinator. I am tired of having a team that simply refuses to make any defensive adjustments throughout a game. In three of our five losses we could have handled the struggling offense had we simply adjusted, but Brock Spack wouldn't do it. We also must commit to a running game where we will have two good, experienced backs to make up for a green receiving corps.

9. (8) Northwestern (6-6, 3-5) Original prediction (6-6, 2-6) and the Motor City Bowl

If only they had beaten Duke. If only they hadn't fallen apart against Iowa. If only they hadn't had so many turnovers against Michigan. If only they had played the fourth quarter against Purdue. Northwestern is a team that probably hurt itself the most, as it was genuinely only out of the Ohio State and Illinois games. This seems to be the trademark of this team, as they always have surprising losses to go with the surprising wins to even things out. They are team enigma, and you never know if you're going to beat them easily or have them score 50 on you.

Lake the Posts seems to think 2008 will be the next cycle year where Northwestern makes a run at the top, and with a healthy Tyrell Sutton there is reason to believe they can. Illinois and Ohio State have to come to Evanston, but Northwestern must get over being so erratic and settle into games. The Wildcats also need to beat the teams it has to beat at home, as both Iowa and Duke were set up to be easy home wins at the time.

10. (6) Iowa (6-6, 4-4) Original prediction (9-3, 5-3) and the Champs Sports Bowl

I was wary on Iowa before the season after getting burned by them last year. Still, they had the easiest schedule in the Big Ten except for maybe Indiana with more overall talent to boot. This team should have finished 9-3 in their sleep, as the only predicted losses I had were to Purdue, Wisconsin, and Penn State. It's amazing Iowa got to six wins this year, as the Illinois and Michigan State wins were obvious flukes. They struggled to beat Minnesota, they lost to bad Western Michigan and Iowa State teams, and struggled against a bad Northern Illinois team.

Injuries and suspensions decimated this roster, but they need to develop more offense especially with Albert Young leaving. Much like the other black and gold team in the conference, 2008 will be a huge year for the Hawkeyes. They must take advantage of another year of missing Ohio State and Michigan, meaning they could have a big turnaround. A nice bonus from this season is that many young receivers got plenty of game experience they normally wouldn't have gotten.

11. (9) Minnesota (1-11, 0-8) Original prediction (5-7, 1-7) and no bowl game

I have ripped on Minnesota all season, but they really weren't that far from being 7-5. All three of their non-conference losses were close game or in overtime, meaning the Gophers were right there against some teams they should have beaten regardless. Once they got to the conference they played hard fought, close games against Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa. This shows me they really aren't that far off.

Certainly 2008 won't be another 1-11 campaign, as Adam Weber is developing into a very nice quarterback for them. All they need is a defense, any defense, and a lot of those close losses could have been wins this past year. Don't expect a ton of sentiment over the final season in the Metrodome, but this team is obviously building toward a big 2009 when TCF Bank Stadium will return Gopher football to campus.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The bucket is gone.

If we were going to lose it, and let’s face it, we’re going to lose it eventually once in awhile, I don’t mind losing it to an inspired Indiana team that simply outplayed us. I have a ton of respect for coach Hep and what he did for that program, so they certainly deserve their victory, the bucket, and a bowl game. They came out and punched us in the mouth, built a big lead early, and played the entire game with more emotion and fire. We were handed most of the breaks on some questionable penalties and even after storming back Indiana had enough to get in position for the winning field goal.

Simply put, Indiana wanted it more, and we only showed we wanted it in the last 20 minutes. In the past that would have been enough against the Hoosiers. These are not the same old Hoosiers. They are becoming a team that you have to play the entire four quarters against. Just ask Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern, and now us. If hardy returns for another year they will likely be even better next season.

This Sunday morning Purdue football and Indiana football find themselves at almost the exact same spot after years of domination by the Boilermakers. The teams have identical records, and their most recent meeting was decided by a last minute deep field goal. Indiana’s 7-5 brings a lot of joy, taking the program to heights it has not seen in 14 years. As Purdue experienced in 1997, when you have a drought that long any bowl is a good bowl. It means you get to continue the season, keep practicing, and build for next season.

Purdue’s 7-5, achieved in almost the exact same way since we were both 4-0 out of conference against similarly weak schedules and had wins over Iowa and Minnesota, is nothing short of a colossal disappointment. Because of the heights we have reached we no longer accept a 7-5 season where we failed to beat any good teams an achievement. One could say this year was slightly better as we have three wins over bowl eligible teams as opposed to just one from last season, but it has been four years since our last win over a ranked team. Big things were expected this year from our offense, but it faltered when we needed it the most. The defense showed improvement in spots, only to fall apart again at the end of the season. Now we have a coaching staff that is in serious trouble despite presiding over the most successful period in the program’s history.

This fact makes it ironic that we just lost to Indiana, as they were in a similar situation at the end of Bill Mallory’s tenure. Mallory is Indiana’s winningest football coach ever with 69 wins. Tiller, assuming he returns next year, will become Purdue’s winningest coach. Mallory coached Indiana to six of their now nine total bowl bids. Assuming Purdue gets selected to a bowl this year, Tiller will have coached Purdue to 10 of their 15 total bowl bids. Tiller immediately took a 3-8 team and had them finish in the top 25 in three out of his first four years. Mallory took Indiana to six bowls in eight years with two top 20 finishes. Both coaches saw their programs decline from those heights at the end, as expectations of more never panned out.

This sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? A similar thing happened with Gene Keady on the basketball side of the ledger. I am not one of the apocalyptic posters on the Purdue message boards that says Tiller must be fired immediately. The work he has done in 11 seasons compared to what was there in decades before is nothing short of incredible. He has taken a program that averaged 3-4 wins per year and turned it into one that averages 7-8 wins per year. He has had us as a regular visitor to the top 25 even this season. He has put us into bowl games year in and year out when such historically strong programs such as Alabama, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Nebraska have been unable to sustain such success recently. This modest success has lead to facility improvements and has at least had us in the discussion nationally well into October instead of being eliminated before the season starts. He’s been far from terrible, and has really done nothing that warrants a sudden firing.

On the other side of the ledger though you cannot argue the numbers against him. Tiller has built his record against the MAC Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Illinois while struggling against the upper tier of the conference. Against those five teams he is now 39-9, but five of those losses have come in the past three seasons. One could argue we are on the same level as Iowa at the moment, and Tiller is 4-5 having never won in Iowa City. The upper echelon of Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State is even worse. We are just 8-23 against those four under Tiller, with only three of those wins (twice at Wisconsin, once at Penn State) away from Ross-Ade Stadium. We haven’t beaten one of these four since 2004.

Let’s look out of conference for a moment. We’re 10-2 against the MAC and 3-0 against 1-AA teams. Against Notre Dame we’re 5-6, but many of those wins have come against bad Notre Dame teams. Against BCS conference foes (regular season only) we’re 5-2, but Arizona, Wake Forest, Cincinnati, and Syracuse aren’t exactly world beaters.

Coach Tiller has become the master of taking advantage of the non-conference schedule, beating the mediocre to bad, and losing to the good. We used to at least be competitive with the top four in the conference, but Only this year’s Penn State game has come close to netting us a win since beating Ohio State in 2004. That is a step back, and with everyone in the conference getting better we cannot afford many steps back before we are back at 3-4 wins per season.

This is not meant to be a full regular season wrap, as I will go into that between now and bowl time, but we are clearly at a crossroads. We are now dead even with our rivals to the south. Yesterday’s atmosphere in Bloomington was the best I have ever seen from a Bucket game, and I would love to see it continue that way because both of us get better from here. It is a long time from now until November 22, 2008. Hopefully we will be ready to get the bucket back.

Getting back to yesterday’s game for a moment there was a particular sequence of plays that stood out to me. Due to the wonderful urban planning and traffic direction by the powers that be in the city of Bloomington Our 1pm departure from Greenwood didn’t allow us to actually get to the game until midway through the first quarter. The first play I got to see was the Justin Scott interception. We got the ball at the Indiana 39 yard line, but were unable to do anything with it. To me this is where the game was lost, because an early score would have put all the pressure on Indiana. Instead we bailed out the Hoosiers, and they built off of the momentum of that stop.

The rest was history and decided by the running game as many football games are. We were unable to get the run going against a team that has been unable to stop anyone from running all season. Conversely, our improved run defense was lit up by one of the worst number 1 running backs in the conference. Marcus Thigpen’s best day this season had been against Western Michigan when he ran for just 81 yards. We allowed him to run for 140 of his 512 yards on the season, mostly on simple delayed handoffs up the middle that we seemed to have no idea were coming. I can understand concentrating on Lewis, but you’d think we would adjust to Thigpen after getting burned two or three times.

The failure to adjust also came through on the game’s biggest play at the end. Facing third and five at the Purdue 45 everyone in the world except our defense and coaching staff knew the pass was going to go to Hardy, and that he would be past the first down marker. There was no attempt at double coverage, and Lewis easily made the same type of completion that Hoyer kept making last week on third down. This even came out of a timeout, one of many ill-advised timeouts down the stretch that only helped Indiana and hurt us.

We showed a lot of heart coming back in such an emotionally charged atmosphere, but if we had played like we are capable of playing we never should have been down by three touchdowns. The way we played down the stretch tells me we easily could have won, but the disturbing trend of getting going only when we have our backs to the wall seems to have returned.

It’s amazing to see just how even these teams were yesterday, and that is why I am excited for the future if both can find a way to improve. They made us pay for a critical turnover (the Orton fumble), and we made them pay for their late fumble. Both teams missed makeable field goals. Both teams had dominant stretches of play where they ran off a bunch of points without answer. We have gotten worse, but Indiana has gotten better.

The bottom line is that we walked into a volatile situation yesterday and still came one play away from getting a stop and potential win. As I write that I thought of how frustrating that was during the 2004 season, and how we have departed from even being that close in losses only to return to it. Indiana gave us everything they could for 60 minutes and we still came back to tie it, despite the emotion they were playing with, and made a game of things. I hope the returning players remember what happened and build on it, because it is the only way we will avoid sliding further back.

Congratulations to the Hoosiers. You deserved yesterday’s win, your bowl game, and the bucket for this year. You have come a long way from the 63-20 thrashing just three years ago, and you have made this a rivalry game again. I am glad you did this for Hep, as I have nothing but respect for what he did at IU and you have done a wonderful job of honoring his memory. Enjoy your bowl game and take care of the Bucket for us, because it is a rivalry again.

We will be ready on November 22, 2008.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Big Ten Rivalry week preview

I have spent most of this week trying to figure out Purdue’s best-case scenario for bowl positioning. Since everyone short of Minnesota is already eligible each game has an effect on us. In Monday’s recap of last week’s action I outlined our worst scenario, but today I will try to figure out what we need to cheer for on Saturday. Obviously some things are more likely to happen than others. Here is what I have come up with, in order of how critical we need them to happen for our best bowl:

Purdue beats Indiana (Obviously we need this)
Michigan over Ohio State
Penn State over Michigan State
Western Michigan over Iowa (since they travel well)
Minnesota over Wisconsin
Northwestern over Illinois

Obviously all of this not going to happen, but it is my hope that the first three happen as they have the most effect. If we beat Indiana that likely sends the Hoosiers home for the holidays. Michigan over Ohio State opens the door for the two BCS scenario that would move everyone up one spot. Penn State over Michigan State assures that even though they beat us, the Spartans could not be selected ahead of us at 6-6. The same is true for Iowa, but I think it is a crock they are even in the discussion about being selected ahead of us even though we could finish a full game ahead of them and have a solid victory against them. The other two games are inconsequential really. Illinois will be selected ahead of us and Wisconsin will be ahead of us unless they lose in such an embarrassing fashion it makes the bowl scouts question them. Say we get the first three to happen, which is well within reason. I see the bowls being handed out as such:

Rose: Michigan (9-3)
Other BCS: Ohio State (10-2) (no guarantee)
Capitol One: Illinois (9-3)
Outback: Penn State (9-3) (by virtue of beating Wisconsin)
Alamo: Wisconsin (9-3) (maybe us if they do lose?)
Champs Sports: Purdue (8-4)
Insight: Iowa (7-5)
Motor City: Michigan State (6-6)
1st in line for next selection: Indiana (6-6) (thanks to the Hep factor)
2nd in line for next selection: Northwestern (6-6)

Really the one that kind of gets screwed here is Northwestern, having wins over the other two 6-6 teams, but the Motor City bowl won’t pass up Michigan State and the Indiana story would be too good for another bowl to pass up. Getting both of them to bowls would be easier than getting three homeless teams into games.

As for Purdue, it would suck to go to the same bowl for the second consecutive year, but I’ll take it over the Insight or the Motor City. At least I can watch the Champs bowl on ESPN, the Insight bowl is on NFL network which is in slightly more homes than the Big Ten Network. The Motor City bowl would just suck, as it possibly means another game against Central Michigan. Since we play them next year that would be three times in 13 games, something I sure no one wants.


#7 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1) at #21 Michigan (8-3, 6-1) 12pm

I tried to see if Michigan and Ohio State played for a trophy like everyone else in the conference this week, but I couldn’t find one. Then it dawned on me: They do play for a trophy. It’s called the Big Ten trophy. They have played 23 times where the winner won the Big Ten conference, so they don’t need some petty minor trophy to trade between them.

Ohio State still has an outside shot at the national title with a ton of help, but Michigan has been looking forward to this game all year. It’s amazing they have a shot at winning the conference with three losses, especially considering how bad they looked at the start of the season. The group of seniors Michigan will send to the NFL is banged up, but you know they are going to play in their home finale.

Being in the clubhouse at 11-1 would be big for the Buckeyes since the six teams ahead of them would still have to play. Remember, only five need to lose, and two are already guaranteed to out of the Oklahoma-Missouri-Kansas trifecta. They are healthier, have more to play for, and are the better all around team, but I think Michigan held back against Wisconsin for a reason last week. They had nothing to gain by playing everyone, and they have nothing to lose this week.

Michigan 21, Ohio State 20

The Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy

Northwestern (6-5, 3-4) at #19 Illinois (8-3, 5-2) 12pm

This is one of the closest trophy rivalries in the conference with Illinois holding a 32-28-2 edge. Last year it was a battle for last place in the conference with Northwestern gaining an edge late. This year Illinois is almost certainly going to be playing on New Year’s Day while Northwestern may not go anywhere even if it does win this game. If the situation outlined above happens though, Northwestern would gain an edge with that seventh win giving them a little bit more leverage. Therefore, they will cheer hard for Michigan, Purdue, and Penn State.

Northwestern already lost to Ohio State 58-7, so do they really have a chance to knock off a team that just beat the Buckeyes? Illinois has already come out flat after a couple of big wins this year, losing at Iowa in a game it probably had no business losing. I saw what our ground game did to Northwestern and that is making me shy away from picking the Wildcats.

This game could be a little crazy as Northwestern’s offense has the potential to go off like it did against Minnesota and Michigan State. I am afraid that is what they will need to do, since the defense has struggled against good teams all year. If it becomes a shootout I like Northwestern, if there is defense played my pick is Illinois.

Illinois 31, Northwestern 21

The Old Oaken Bucket

Purdue (7-4, 3-4) at Indiana (6-5, 2-5) 3:30pm

How can one loss mean so much? It’s not like Michigan State is a bad team. They have won six games and have been competitive in each loss. It’s probably because they are likely the best team we were supposed to beat and we were unable to do so. Maybe it was the lousy performance and knowing that we still would have won had we not beaten ourselves. I do know I have a bad taste in my mouth and serious concerns before we play the Hoosiers.

We’ve dominated both the recent series and the overall series. We hold a 54-25-3 edge since the two teams started playing for the bucket, but it’s been a long time since there’s been more than that at stake here. As I said yesterday on the Hoosier report; I am terrified of James Hardy and fear he will break multiple NCAA single game records because we fail to adjust on a hot receiver. If we don’t play up on him, double cover him, bump him at the line, or give him a debilitating but not life-threatening case of explosive diarrhea he will have a career day against us.

I feel like Bill in Kill Bill Vol. 2 facing these Hoosiers trying to warn Budd of impending disaster. I fear we don’t respect them because we’ve owned them for so long. I fear we’re being warned that without the assistance of a game plan solely for Hardy and Lewis we will get beat and beaten badly. I will be in attendance, potentially the last Purdue game I will go to for a long while if we end up moving, so I don’t want to lose.

To quote Han Solo, “I have a bad feeling about this.” Indiana has a ton of emotion and we had better be prepared to get everything they have. I know we won’t give everything we have because we didn't last week.

Indiana 41, Purdue 38

The Land Grant Trophy

Penn State (8-3, 4-3) at Michigan State (6-5, 2-5) 3:30pm

This is the most awkward trophy game in the Big Ten, as it is not created off of geography or history, but because of two wayward teams that are deemed to meet at the end of every season and to make Penn State feel welcome in the Big Ten. Can’t we get Pittsburgh into the conference, make them Penn State’s rival, hype the Michigan State-Wisconsin series as another year-end rivalry, and have Iowa and Minnesota finish against each other? Would that be possible?

Penn State leads this trophy series 11-3 and has won three in a row, but you get the feeling it’s about as nasty of a rivalry as the Purdue-Illinois Cannon series where hte players are barely aware a trophy is played for. Michigan State proved last week that it can win through the air when the ground game is struggling, but Penn State actually has defensive coordinators that watch the game and adjust to how it is being played.

The Nittany Lions really don’t have a ton to play for outside of a New Year’s Day bowl if Michigan beats Ohio State. Even that is not a guarantee, and they will have a good idea of that result by kickoff. Michigan State is playing to get in its first bowl game in quite a while. Playing at home I think they do it.

Michigan State 17, Penn State 16

Paul Bunyan’s Axe

#25 Wisconsin (8-3, 4-3) at Minnesota (1-10, 0-7) 3:30pm

This is it. Minnesota is the only team in the conference that knows their season will come to an end on Saturday, and I am sure they would like to go out guns blazing. It’s a situation where if they have to go down they want to take out their rivals and the Axe with them. This is actually the oldest rivalry in Division 1-A, as the two have played 116 times. Wisconsin leads the trophy portion of the series 32-24-3. There is a history of teams running to the other sideline to grab the axe. They really shouldn’t run with sharp objects like that.

The last time Minnesota won was on a last second field goal, where the kicker hit the winning kick and immediately turned around to run for the axe. If a similar situation happens on Saturday Wisconsin could fall far in the bowl order, but it is unlikely. They have the good win over Michigan, and they bring larger crowds, meaning they are a more likely pick than Purdue if they have even records.

Minnesota simply doesn’t have enough on either side of the ball to hang with a good Badger team. They came close to a win last week, but Wisconsin is a step up on Iowa right now and they will play like it. Minnesota only has a chance if it goes completely nuts offensively. It’s not going to happen.

Wisconsin 48, Minnesota 24

Western Michigan (3-7) at Iowa (6-5, 4-4)

Iowa already had its rivalry game last week, taking back the pig in a close game against Minnesota. Now the Hawkeyes need this win for bowl positioning, and as stated it is quite a crock to think they could be selected ahead of us at 7-5 if we finish 8-4. Western Michigan can always play for the surprising upset, but aside from Minnesota and Michigan the Big Ten has had little trouble out conference this year.

There is no way Iowa loses this game at home.

Iowa 27, Western Michigan 10


#6 West Virginia at #22 Cincinnati
– Are the Bearcats really that high? This may be West Virginia’s most difficult game remaining as they hope to sneak into the national championship knowing two teams ahead of them will lose (plus Oregon is losing BIG as I write this). Since they close with a pair of games at home they have a shot. Cincinnati has been surprisingly tough at home. West Virginia 30, Cincinnati 24

#16 Hawaii at Nevada – A ton of people are ripping on the Warriors right now for having a weak schedule. Every team but Kansas has no right to bitch though. Those two teams have done only what they can do, and that is beat everyone put in front of them. The other 118 teams can’t say that and only have themselves to blame for not beings where the Warriors and Jayhawks are. This is the last trip to the mainland for Hawaii before a potential BCS bowl, and a win makes that return trip possible. Other team can complain, but if they really wanted to be where Hawaii is they should have won their games. Hawaii 42, Nevada 41


Thursday, November 15, 2007

GUEST POST: The Hoosier Report

It's bucket week, and that means the final blog trade of the season. This week John from The Hoosier Report takes part in some ruthless questioning with both myself and Boiled Sports. Please welcome John to the mic as he dissect what looks to be the most competitive and entertaining bucket game in years.

OTT: Three of the last four times (2006, 1992, 1989) Indiana has met Purdue needing the Bucket to gain bowl eligibility the Boilers have won. The one time Indiana was successful (1994) was the Hoosiers' last winning season, but they weren't selected for a bowl. What will it take for the Hoosiers to finally break through in this game? How much will the motivation they can possibly steal a bid from the Boilers with identical records and a tiebreaker should they win play into it? How much will be for the bowl bid and how much for the Bucket?

HR: As I noted on the blog, at least by the numbers, this is a fairly even matchup. It should be a high-scoring affair, and I think the most important thing IU can do is limit mistakes and turnovers. Kellen Lewis has become a turnover machine, and while he seems to have improved his focus on sliding and avoiding big hits when he scrambles, he still coughed one up while trying to make something out of nothing on the game-ending play against Northwestern. I don't imagine that stealing a bid from the Boilers has much impact on the team. The team has been focused on its own accomplishments and I imagine will remain that way. No one on this team has won the Bucket or been to a bowl game, so I would imagine both are quite important, but I think going to a bowl has been the main thrust all along.

OTT: 1979 was the only year both Purdue and Indiana have played where both went to a bowl game, although both would have gone in 1967 if there was more than one bowl bid from the Big Ten then. Is it possible for both teams to be good at the same time with the limited in-state talent pool? Will there ever be a year like 1967 when the game decided the Big Ten title?

HR: Anything is possible. Next weekend, Kansas and Missouri will play a game with national championship implications for both teams. As you note, the talent pool is an issue. In basketball, one or two players can turn the tide for a program. A football program needs to sign a bunch of quality players every year. Neither IU nor Purdue will ever succeed recruiting exclusively in Indiana, so I think that both schools can be good at the same time if they can recruit regionally and nationally. The two programs always will fight with each other (and with other Big Ten programs and Notre Dame) for the best players in the state, but it's a big country, and with the right recruiting strategy it could happen again.

OTT: The story of the year has obviously been the Hep factor. I've read your great work on the four tiers of bowl eligibility. How much will this play into the bowl selection process? Does it truly give Indiana an edge even if they finish 6-6 and there are enough spots open nationally?

HR: I do think the Hep factor gives IU an edge. IU never has been known for great football attendance, but given the 14 year drought I would guess that many bowls would take a gamble that IU fans will travel for this one. IU also should provide some nice TV ratings. The Hep factor, the novelty of Indiana in a bowl game, and exciting players like Hardy and Lewis might make IU a better draw than ordinarily would be expected. As for 6-6, I'm not sure how the math is going to work out. It will be close.

OTT: Finally, how big would going to any bowl game be for Indiana? I admit as a Purdue fan I feel like we've been a tad whiny about not being satisfied with 10 bowls in 11 years, all while Indiana has none. What is the perspective of being 7-5 and in a bowl for the first time in 14 years? I'm sure it is quite different from being in 7-5 and feeling like the Motor City bowl is beneath you like some Purdue fans think.

HR: Any bowl game would be big. It's been a long time, and a bowl bid will help IU's program in many ways. Still, I really don't understand why the Big Ten has the Motor City Bowl tie-in. I don't think it's in the interest of a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten program to go to less-than-desirable Detroit and risk losing to the MAC champion. The MAC champion usually is a good team, so there's no shame in it, but there's the perception of shame. I would rather see the Big Ten tied in to the Vegas Bowl or some other warm location. I don't mean to sound ungrateful. I'll take whatever we get, but if IU does win seven, I would just as soon hit the open market.

Thanks John!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Advent Conspiracy

I wanted to take time out today from the business of rivalry week in the Big Ten to promote something that has become very close to my heart. While I enjoy writing here and following Purdue football, I find that there are times where I wish I could use the audience I have been blessed with to make a difference. Now could be one of those times.

This is not a plea for money or a call to action. It is me merely stating something that think can make a difference in the lives of thousands and allowing those that see these words to make up their own minds. I have already committed myself to this challenge because I believe in it wholeheartedly.

It is called the Advent Conspiracy. It is a challenge of giving set up by my church here in Indianapolis with the purpose of making Christmas change the world again. Instead of saying you got this and that for Christmas, you can say that you got together with some friends to save a school, feed and help the homeless of Indianapolis, provide clean water for people in Rwanda who would otherwise die without it, and help stop such despicable acts such as forced prostitution and sex-trafficking.

I don't know about you, but this certainly makes my "want" of a Playstation 3 a little less important.

While the challenge specifically sets a goal of $200 from 2000 any amount donated will be welcomed and put to good use. The entire staff of Off the Tracks (that being myself and my web-designing guru of a wife) have already agreed to complete the challenge, so only 1,998 people to go!

This is not a forum for proselytizing, as I have a completely separate blog for that. This is merely a place for me to put something out there that can put this humble commentary on football to good use. It is a way for me to make a difference because if even one person contributes a single dollar I consider this a worthy exercise. Check it out for yourself and feel free to ask any questions you might have.

Big Ten Bloggers’ Roundtable Week 12

This week's Big Ten Bloggers' roundtable is hosted by one of the many Ohio State blogs in mourning this week, Around the Oval. He takes time from hating Michigan and hurting over the loss of the Illibuck trophy to post his questions so we can fire away.

1. Call me crazy, but it seems like the refs have been even worse this year
than usual. I've noticed what seems like an unusual amount of questionable
calls/non-calls go against the Buckeyes this season, but then, I am just a
little biased, and the only referee performances I notice are the crappy
ones. What have you thought of the Big Ten refs this season? Do any
especially bad calls stand out to you?

I thought things were pretty good until the last couple of weeks, but there are have been some sketchy calls in the last two games against Penn State and Michigan State that have caused me to question the sanity of some officials. Both here and at Boiled Sports there were several critical calls from the Penn State game, but they would not have made a difference had Purdue played more disciplined football. There were also some bad, bad calls against Penn State in that game as noted by Black Shoe Diaries, so things may have evened out.

Against Michigan State I felt the officials had another bad day, but again Purdue's poor play made more of a difference. The 15 yard face mask on the fake field goal was a shock to me, but we made too many other stupid mistakes for one penalty there to make a difference. Essentially in both games Purdue was undone by their own mistakes more than the officials', but those official mistakes certainly didn't help matters.

2. How is recruiting going for your team? Any incoming players that
opponents should be concerned about for 2008, or will the cupboards be left
bare? (Note: If you don't follow recruiting, please post an entertaining
picture of some sort at this point.)

I do follow recruiting a little, but I know it doesn't matter much for us since the few four and five star guys we get don't end up working out. The last five-star guy we got was Kyle Williams, who played part of one season before injuries knocked him off the field. He then went crazy, was involved in three different assaults on women including one while awaiting trial for the first two, and is no going to be in jail for a long time.

So far Purdue has two four star guys in Roy Roundtree, a receiver from Ohio, and 6-8 offensive tackle Ken Plue from New York. Almost every true freshman we get redshirts anyway, so Roundtree may be one of the few to see the field next year with the departure of Dorien Bryant. The rest of the class is our typical haul of two and three star guys we hope to be diamonds in the rough. We've had most of our success from this type of player in the past. Another guy to consider is four star Juco transfer Brian Ellis who is not playing this year due to academics. He could be an impact player for us.

The only recruit I have seen in person is Carmel, Indiana receiver/tight end Jordan Brewer. He's only a three star guy, but he reminds me a lot of current tight end Dustin Keller. He also has a basketball pedigree for a bit of a Antonio Gates element to his game. I saw him in one high school game I covered and he only had three catches, but two were for long touchdowns over the middle that he made look easy. He's had a highly recruited quarterback throwing to him the last few years, and that player, Morgan Newton, is also being sought by some of the better programs in the country. Brewer also could end up playing basketball for us at some point.

3. The OSU-Michigan game is taken pretty seriously 'round these parts. For
at least this week, the rivalry is all-consuming for just about every OSU
fan I know. But let's face it, there's plenty more to hate (or at least
dislike) in college football than our rivals. So, other than your team's
current rival(s), what team, person, rule, concept, intangible object, etc.,
would you like to declare a rival, the better to focus your hatred on

This one is a bit off the wall, but there is one athlete I hate above all others. His name is Zach Randolph, and it is appropriate he plays for the hated New York Knicks.

I am an Indiana high school basketball fan at heart, and my love for my Kokomo Wildkats goes so much deeper than my love for the Boilers. Growing up I dreamed of being a Wildkat and winning a state championship. When I was a junior we made the last ever true final four in Indiana before they went to class basketball, so I came very close. As a senior we won our sectional and played Randolph's Marion squad in a one-game regional in our gym. Now Kokomo's Memorial Gym is my favorite place on earth, and this would have been my last game there regardless. Marion was one of the best teams in the state, our bitter rival, and had pounded us in the regular season. There was a huge crowd as well, perhaps the best for a home game I have ever seen, making the atmosphere even better. We were actually leading by 2 with about 20 seconds to go in regulation when our best player got a rebound and got fouled. If he hits both shots he can almost ice the game away.

Of course, he misses the front end of the one-and-one and guess who rebounds. We ended up fouling him with 12 seconds left as our one post player who could play against him picked up his fourth foul. The sophomore Randolph hit the first shot, but missed the second. On the rebound our same post player picked up his fifth foul and was done. Marion hit one of two to tie, and we missed a shot to win at the buzzer. We ended up losing by four in overtime in a game that still makes me feel hollow inside thinking about it even ten years later. To add salt to the wound they got to celebrate in our house for my last game, went on to the state championship game where they lost in a close game. Two years later Randolph would win a state title over Jared Jeffries. I can't stand watching him play and boo him any time I see him in person at Conseco Fieldhouse.

I know I am not rational about this, but that's what my Kats do to me.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Big Ten week 11 in review

This was an absolutely brutal week to be a Boilermaker fan. As mentioned in my wrap-up of the Michigan State game, everything that could go wrong for us did go wrong. If it happens two weeks in a row it would mean that Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana, and Michigan State would all win in week 12 meaning 10 teams from the conference would be fully bowl eligible at seven wins or more. I have no idea how things would be sorted out there, especially if the Big Ten doesn’t get two teams into the BCS. My guess is that the teams would fall like this in that scenario; assuming Ohio State beats Michigan putting just one into the BCS:

1. Ohio State 11-1, 7-1 (Rose)
2. Michigan 8-4, 6-2 (Capitol One)
3. Illinois 8-4, 5-3 (Outback) (Three good wins over Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State would outweigh losses to Iowa and NW in this scenario. Missouri loss is far from bad)
4. Wisconsin 9-3, 5-3 (Alamo)
5. Penn State 8-4, 4-4 (Champs Sports)

Here is where the real mess begins:

6. Iowa 7-5, 4-4 (Insight) (Where do I put them? They beat Michigan State, NW, and Illinois, but lost to Purdue and Indiana. 4-4 conference mark would be an advantage)
7. Michigan State 7-5, 3-5 (Motor City) (Placed here assuming win over Penn State, also beat Indiana and Purdue plus close proximity to Detroit means if they are available here, they go)
8. Indiana 7-5, 3-5 (First non Big Ten bowl choice due to Hep factor, Strong wins over Iowa and Purdue give them an edge)
9. Purdue 7-5, 3-5 (Second non Big Ten bowl choice via wins over Northwestern and Iowa. Not a strong profile after that if we lose to IU)
10. Northwestern 7-5, 4-4 (Where do I put them? They beat Michigan State, Indiana, and Illinois, but lost to Purdue and Iowa. Again, 4-4 conference mark could be an advantage)
11. Minnesota 1-11, 0-8 (It’s Tubby Smith time!)

As you can see we would have a real mess on our hands if that occurs. There should be enough open slots to get eight teams in, but nine or ten seems unlikely. It’s a crazy scenario because it assumes that Northwestern would be able to beat a team (Illinois) that has just beaten Ohio State, the same Ohio State team that annihilated Northwestern 58-7. It’s unlikely, but then again Stanford beating USC and Appalachian State beating Michigan were also highly unlikely.

Everyone outside the state of Ohio has to be rooting hard for Michigan this week, as a Wolverine win delivers the chance for a 2-team BCS bid. It’s not a guarantee though as for the four at-large bids will be hotly contested. The Big 12 will likely get one as Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma will fight for two assuming they don’t have a big gaffe down the stretch. The SEC will get a second team as well because, well, they are the SEC and everything thinks they are the best conference because they beat each other up (funny, so does the Big Ten). Arizona State and USC will play an elimination game this weekend with the winner having a great shot out of the Pac-10 for a second BCS bid. Then there is Hawaii and Boise State. Assuming they each get to their game on November 24th unscathed the winner has a chance of sneaking into the top 12 of the final BCS standings and stealing a bid. Would a 10-2 Ohio State riding two straight losses be enough to overpower some of these teams? That I do not know.


1. (1) Ohio State (10-1, 6-1)

The loss to Illinois was shocking considering how dominant the Buckeyes have been at home of late. I will humbly admit, as pointed out by an Anonymous Illinois fan earlier here, that I was wrong about Juice Williams’ passing ability against the Buckeyes, as he had an incredibly efficient game not only passing, but running as well. I don’t think the four passing TD’s were as telling as his ability to convert on third down on the game-clinching drive. The Buckeye defense showed a shocking inability to stop the run, and now could go from being in the national title game to not even going to the BCS in just two weeks. It’s not quite a Kansas State 1998 fall from grace, but close.

There’s still some hope to get to the title game, but the losses in front of the Buckeyes must start piling up quickly. Obviously they must beat Michigan, and then hope five of the six teams in front of them lose. That’s asking a lot for LSU, Oregon, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and West Virginia to lose. A dominant win over the Wolverines will help, but the Buckeyes had better hope some more upsets happen above them. The fact that the Kansas-Missouri winner still must likely play Oklahoma is a benefit, meaning two of the five necessary losses are guaranteed.

2. (6) Illinois (8-3, 5-2)

Based solely on “good wins” Illinois should be the top team in the conference. They now own wins over three ranked teams (Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin), and they may have played the toughest schedule in the conference because of acceptable losses to Michigan and Missouri. Both the Iowa and Michigan losses were because of a young team learning how to win, but it’s amazing to see how close this team is to being undefeated. I was easily the most wrong about this team as I have been downplaying their passing game all year.

The scary thing is how young Illinois is, and how much a possible New Year’s Day bowl could do for them. Obviously their best-case scenario is to win the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk back and wait to see what happens elsewhere. Right now I believe they have an edge on Wisconsin and Penn State for the Outback bowl because of their head-to-head wins.

3. (4) Wisconsin (8-3, 4-3)

I know that Wisconsin lost at Penn State, but the win over a surging Michigan team this past weekend was quite impressive. It will be difficult to see who will be picked for the two New Year’s Day slots if Ohio State is the lone BCS representative. Do you go with a pair of hot teams in Illinois and Wisconsin, or traditionally strong programs in Michigan and Penn State? A dominant win over a weak Minnesota is what Wisconsin needs as a final statement.

Because of this new logjam it is hard to say what else Wisconsin needs to assure they play on New Year’s Day. On the one hand a Michigan win could move everyone up a slot, on the other a Michigan loss could move the Wolverines behind the Badgers. Right now they probably want a Wolverine win and a loss by Penn State at Michigan State. If that happens the Badgers will go to Florida with Illinois.

4. (2) Michigan (8-3, 6-1)

The Wolverines now have a chance to be the weakest Big Ten representative in the Rose Bowl since Purdue in 2000. On paper it looks like Ohio State has all the advantages this week, but they had all the advantages last week as well. There will be a ton of emotion in Michigan Stadium Saturday as Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Jake Long, and the rest of the Wolverine seniors will look to end the Ohio State hex. The fact they can permanently ruin their rivals’ faint national title dreams helps as well.

It’s easy to see the best scenario for Michigan. A win puts them into the Rose Bowl for the third time in four years. Considering as much flack as Henne has gotten as the starter that’s not a bad career for the guy. He also still has a good chance to break Drew Brees’ Big Ten career touchdown passing mark. A loss however may label him as the Peyton Manning of the Big Ten, and could send Michigan to Texas for the Alamo Bowl.

5. (3) Penn State (8-3, 4-3)

Penn State did exactly what it needed to this past week against Temple, but the losses to Ohio State, Michigan, and Illinois kind of leaves them as the odd team out for the New Year’s Day shuffle. The game the Nittany Lions probably want back most is the Michigan game, as any kind of an offense against a weakened (at the time) Wolverine team would have provided a win.

To play on New Year’s Day Penn State needs a win over Michigan State, which may be a tall order now that the Spartans have a ton to play for at home. A miracle Wisconsin loss to Minnesota would also be helpful, but unlikely. Like most everyone else, the Nittany Lions would be helped by Michigan beating Ohio State assuming the Buckeyes also go to the BCS.

6. (10) Michigan State (6-5, 2-5)

The Spartans make the biggest jump this week with a dominant win over the Boilermakers. It was a simple equation this past Saturday for Michigan State: They did not screw up, and Purdue did a lot. The Boilers handed 20 points to the Spartans and they were more than happy to accept them. Now a win in the home finale against Penn State will assure at least one of the seven Big Ten bowl slots.

Michigan State would be helped most by an Indiana win over Purdue, as Purdue winning would still assure them of an 8-4 finish and 4-4 conference record. Michigan State did not help itself in close losses to Iowa and Northwestern, but they are helped by the fact Detroit is so close it’s a no-brainer who bowl officials there will pick if a 7-win Spartan team is available. Even at 6-6 Michigan State likely goes to Detroit in the two BCS scenario assuming Northwestern and Indiana also lose. It sucks for Northwestern, but that’s the truth of the Motor City bowl.

7. (5) Purdue (7-4, 3-4)

Goodbye New Year’s Day bowl as the Boilers waiting until game 11 to lose a game many were giving them. Usually they get this tradition out of the way early. Personally, I could feel little emotion from them on Saturday, as the loss to Penn State may have taken too much out of the team. They didn’t pounce on the Spartans early on when their offense was struggling and that could have been the biggest mistake of the game. Purdue has been at its best when it starts fast this year, and Saturday too many dropped passes early only set the tone for more mistakes.

So what is our best hope for a best possible bowl now? Well, obviously we must beat Indiana, otherwise we may not go to any bowl at 7-5. The Big Ten has indeed come a long way when its 10th place team can have seven wins and stay home. Iowa seems confident they will get selected ahead of us for Phoenix, but if we’re 8-4 I doubt it. 8-4 may be good enough for a return trip to Orlando if the conference gets two in the BCS, but we’ll have to see. A loss to Indiana would be devastating paired with a Michigan State win. I am praying we avoid the Motor City bowl, as a game there against Central Michigan would mean the second of three meetings with the Chips considering we play them next year.

8. (8) Iowa (6-5, 4-4)

The Hawkeyes survived a surprising challenge from Minnesota to avoid what would have otherwise been a disaster. Now they get a home game against a fairly easy opponent in Western Michigan and likely seventh win. Of the four teams sitting with just six wins Iowa has the best shot at getting number seven, and a 4-4 conference mark among many teams that could be 3-5 is a big plus to have.

Since Iowa is relying the most on what its conference brethren do what helps them most? Purdue beating Indiana would be nice, as a win over Western Michigan would put Iowa ahead of the Hoosiers even though Indiana beat Iowa. Penn State beating Michigan State and Illinois over Northwestern would be good as well, but not necessary given Iowa’s previous work against the two. If the Big Ten goes eight deep Iowa may have the best shot at #8 depending on the result of the bucket game.

9. (9) Northwestern (6-5, 3-4)

Northwestern survived a late charge by the Hoosiers to stay alive, but do they have enough to shock Illinois and keep the bowl hopes alive? My colleague at Lake the Posts had a good point in that getting Illinois after playing Indiana may help because of the similar style of quarterback both teams employ. Northwestern will be both loved and hated against the Illini, as they will be loved by the top half of the league, but hated by the bottom half no matter what they do.

Along with Indiana, Northwestern needs a win this week desperately, but they face the tougher opponent. This is where the Duke loss really hurts, as their wins over Indiana and Michigan State would be that much stronger if the Wildcats had not lost to Duke. In conjunction with a win over the Illini the Wildcats could use Purdue over Indiana (because of the Hep factor), and Penn State over Michigan State.

10. (7) Indiana (6-5, 2-5)

This is not a knock to the Hoosiers ranking-wise, but it is unfortunate that the year they finally squeeze themselves to six wins they are in a dogfight to where seven wins may not be enough to go bowling. Indiana couldn’t contain Tyrell Sutton, could get to the quarterback, and made too many critical mistakes in a game it absolutely had to have. Now they must win what amounts to the most important Bucket game in decades, as only once have both teams gone bowling after the Bucket Game. That came in 1979 when this writer was barely a month old. Purdue did win the Bucket that year, by the way.

Like everyone else Indiana is hoping for a Michigan win over Ohio State. A Hoosier win over Purdue is like a double bonus because it puts them in a tie with a tiebreaker over a team they are fighting for a bowl against. If they only finish 6-6 you can’t discount the sentimental Hep factor IF there are enough spots to go around nationally. Unfortunately, they only hold a tiebreak over Iowa.

11. (11) Minnesota (1-10, 0-7)

Minnesota has been a great sport this year, languishing at the bottom here as everyone else talks about December and January destinations. When you consider everyone else is in the conference is bowl eligible at the moment, plus former opponents Florida Atlantic, Miami (OH), and Bowling Green are alive for their respective conference titles means every single opponent this year for Minnesota could be bowl eligible save for 1-AA North Dakota State (who would be in the 1-AA playoffs if not for their moratorium on moving up). Maybe it’s not all bad for Goldy.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Beginning of the End?

Today was our worst-case scenario for the rest of the season, as we finally had our token game where we lose to a team we should easily beat. It is a proud tradition started by Toledo in 1997, and continued through today. Not only did we make way too many mistakes against a surprisingly crisp and motivated team, but off the field things happened in the conference that hurt our bowl positioning even more.

When the day started we looked to be a strong candidate for Outback bowl and, with a little help, maybe even the Capitol One Bowl. Now we may indeed return to Orlando, but it would be for a lucky appearance in the Champs Sports Bowl again. Most likely we’re headed west to the Insight Bowl at best. While that means we have a better chance to get a win than we would against a tough SEC opponent, if we play like we did today it won’t matter.

Ohio State’s shocking loss not only lessens chances for two BCS bids from the Big Ten if Michigan wins next week, but it vaults the Illini easily ahead of us regardless of what they do next week against Northwestern. Wisconsin beating Michigan and finishing with Minnesota means they are now securely ahead of us bowl-wise, and we already knew there would be no catching Michigan or Ohio State. Now we can’t even catch Penn State if they lose next week, meaning we’re no better than sixth right now.

This also places pressure on us to keep the bucket next week, because a loss there and another Michigan State win at home (which is highly possible) drops us to eighth at best in a possible 10-team pecking order. Both Indiana and Northwestern have a ton to play for next week by securing a seventh win, so do not count them out.

While I had hope that we had begun to turn a corner by having a close game last week I now see what others have seen for a long time. We are a program on a decline and we desperately need a win in the bucket game to save some face. Who knew beating Indiana would be a saving grace again for us? Consider who we have beaten this year.

Toledo – While they have played well of late, they are still a 5-5 MAC team. At least it was a road win.

Eastern Illinois – Oh boy, we beat a good 1-AA team.

Central Michigan – At 6-4 they may be our best win, but they still got annihilated by 1-AA North Dakota State. At least we may get a rematch in Detroit.

Minnesota – Another ND State victim. Easily the worst team in the conference and one of the worst in D-1A

Notre Dame – This used to be a proud moment for us, but they’re 1-9 meaning beating them means nothing.

Iowa – How different would this game have been if not for suspensions and injuries? At least this is likely a seven win team and win over a bowl team.

Northwestern – This is a very up and down team we got on a down day.

I am not saying we would have been that much better if we had won today, but my goodness we came out flat on a day when we needed a good start more than ever. Even the senior day festivities seemed very subdued and there was almost no energy in the stadium at the opening kickoff. We seemed to overcome this defensively early on by shutting down the run, but as we know that meant nothing. Michigan State is a team that wanted to run the football and they are good at it. The fact that we stopped them at this and made them change their game plan, yet they were still very successful is incredibly frustrating. There was some good this week, but it vastly was outweighed by the bad in a craptacular performance.

The Good:

Kory Sheets – When he was given the ball today he was money. 80 yards on six carries, 41 yards on two catches and two long touchdowns made him the most productive member of the team today. It’s a shame we couldn’t have gotten a lead because when combines with Taylor’s effort today we could have ground out the clock with a two-headed monster in the backfield. Unfortunately we never were able to get a stop and test that theory. Sheets made a pair of great plays on both his scores and played well up to his potential.

Curtis Painter – From my view at least, Painter’s two interceptions were at least aggressive. The first one was him throwing to an open Dustin Keller who would have caught the ball in stride and had a big gain. Sir Darien Adams read the pass perfectly and made a nice play. The second was a very similar type of play by the same player. Those were the only two mistakes by Painter in what was otherwise one of his better games, but unfortunately they were very costly mistakes that led to 10 points. Since we only had the ball for little more than 20 minutes Painter was very effective in those 20 minutes gaining more than 500 yards and scoring 31 points. That should be enough to win any day.

Jake Standeford – If we had just a few more kids on this team with his attitude we would be nearly unstoppable. Here is a guy that came to Purdue and was an invited walk-on mostly as a courtesy to his record-breaking brother. He busted his ass, actually found the field, and gives us the never quit attitude we sorely need. He never filled the stat sheet, but he did everything asked of him and anything possibly to help the team. He made most of his hay late today, but it is a testament to his character that he was still fighting out there. I will miss Jake Standeford, and I hop he can transfer his attitude to a few guys before he leaves.

The Bad:

Brock Spack – Something needs to be done with him. Those who read this blog know that I am generally very forgiving when it comes to our coaching staff, but his performance today was embarrassing. Devin Thomas was absolutely killing us, especially on third down, but even in the fourth quarter when we desperately needed a stop he was still being covered one-one-one with a 10 yard cushion. 10 catches, 112 yards, and every time on third down all Hoyer had to do was throw to him and he was still open. A couple of our rare third down stops were because Thomas dropped an open pass. This is an appalling failure to adjust to game conditions, and it needs to stop now.

Dropped passes – These absolutely killed us early when we could have built a lead. Orton dropped some big ones on our first couple of drives and Keller had a huge drop of an early first down. Our first drive ended due to dropped passes, and I wonder how different things would have been if we had gotten an early lead when the defense was actually playing well.

The Defense – Not only did we give up 48 points, the second most of the Tiller era next to the Notre Dame game two years ago, but we allowed Michigan State to hold the ball for nearly 40 minutes. Our offense was hot, and if not for the three turnovers leading to 17 points we easily still could have won with that time discrepancy. We couldn’t get a stop, and even when we did like on two field goal attempts we made a penalty to keep drives alive.

A lack of discipline - It was still barely a game when we succumbed to poor tackling on the fake punt. It was easily still a game when we jumped offsides to give them three points before the half. The crap face mask call on the fake field goal gave them another three points. Simply by screwing up we handed Michigan State 27 points via turnovers, boneheaded penalties, and general dumb play. In turn Michigan State gave us three points, as their PI call on our field goal drive kept it alive. I’ll give credit where credit is due because Michigan State played nearly flawless and simply made us pay dearly for all our mistakes. This was the biggest factor in today’s game.

What next:

Michigan State played a great game. They were motivated, they were confident and that grew as the game went on, and they turned a corner of their own today. I really don’t know what to do next for us. Right now I feel like I have been punched in the gut, and even if we beat Indiana and win our bowl game I feel like we took a severe step back today. We have an incredibly difficult schedule next year, one where nearly every team we face will be getting better while we will probably be a little worse. We may be more balanced offensively and defensively, but what good that will do I do not know.

I really feel for our seniors today, who were all surprisingly quiet aside from Standeford and Dustin Keller. Yeah we had seniors as our three leading tacklers, but the defense played so badly, especially on third down, that I can’t single anyone out as having a good game. We packed it in after Armstrong shanked a punt that could have pinned the Spartans deep, and we failed to truly stop them the rest of the way.

We can only control what we have in front of us now, and right now that is Indiana and a mystery bowl opponent. There is no reason we cannot win either of those, but we have to recover quickly lest we have the bucket taken from us by a very hungry Indiana team. After that, your guess is as good as mine for next year.