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Sunday, December 30, 2007

It's business time

Perhaps I was a tad premature in promoting the Baby Boilers to Toddler Boilers. Because of the Motor City Bowl and the fact I haven’t been able to actually watch a Purdue basketball game since attending the Wooden Tradition here in Indy I haven’t written much about the basketball team. Now that football season is done until September I can turn my full attention to the hardwood, or at least as much as possible gleaned from highlight shows and ESPN box scores.

After the big win in the Wooden tradition the Boilers took a couple of steps back in the Las Vegas Classic, and their stage fright at home is something they will need to get over in a hurry. As a senior-lead team last year Purdue lost just one game in Mackey Arena, to Ohio State. Considering that the Buckeyes finished as national runner-up and featured a few guys that are making some phat cash this year there is no shame in that. Should Purdue repeat that feat this season they will go to the NCAA tournament with some impressive wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State, but the lone loss carries a lot less luster in Wofford.

First of all, the Terriers, one of the wussiest mascots out there. At least Southern Illinois as the Salukis are a regal, noble type of dog. The only thing I fear from a Terrier is that it may pee on my foot. Secondly Wofford plays in the Southern Conference. That conference has some quality teams with Davidson, College of Charleston, and Appalachian State, but they don’t exactly break down the door when it comes to the NCAA tournament. Occasionally they sneak a second team in, but they are usually just one very difficult out in the first round. Third, Wofford is one of the teams that, to my knowledge at least, has never made the tournament since joining Division 1 in the mid-90’s. I would feel better had the Terriers held on at Alabma to win round one of the Vegas tourney and walk away with a surprise championship in the pseudo-tournament, but they didn’t.

Since Wofford is our one horribly bad loss we had better hope they go on to have a good year in the SoCon. So far they are 7-4 with losses to Alabama, Wisconsin, and Arkansas, but the fourth loss, to Elon College, doesn’t exactly inspire fear in the hearts of men. We overcame bad losses to Minnesota and Indiana State to make the tournament last season, but we have our work cut out for us this year. The sad truth is that the Wofford and Iowa State losses probably erased any goodwill we gained from the Louisville win, and we must cheer hard for Louisville to have a great season from here to get as much mileage out of it as possible.

Non-conference season recap:

Truthfully, as young as this team is we should be thankful that we walk into the conference season at 9-4. Considering the 2004-05 and 05-06 seasons netted 7 and 9 wins respectively with much more experienced rosters we’re already further down the road than we have been before. We will turn over the calendar with hope of making the NCAA tournament, which is what you always want.
Obviously the Louisville win is the quality win we will hang our hat on. The four losses aren’t too bad in retrospect. Clemson is a probable NCAA team and I am more frustrated we let one slip away than anything. Missouri is a possible NCAA team, but the same is true in that we let one get away. Wofford at least has a winning record and may sneak into the NCAA’s by winning the SoCon. Iowa State is a major conference team, so it is not too bad, but it would have still been nice to get that game.

Other wins that may have some mileage are Missouri State, who is always tough in the Valley, Lipscomb, and Bethune-Cookman. The last two are a pair of teams that are entering their conference seasons at or near .500. The better they do in those weaker conferences will help us, and should they win auto-bid our wins over them will gain even more merit. Indiana State could be a surprise as well, as they don’t have a horrible loss and play in the always tough Valley. The better that Clemson and Missouri do, since they were true-road losses, will help as well.

In the end I think only the Wofford loss will hurt us, as it is still a home loss to a low-major opponent. Not only is it a “bad loss”, but it means we must get at least 11 wins in conference play to get to the magic number of 20. Of course, this could be a blessing in disguise, as 11 conference wins would look much better than 10 anyway.

Conference season goals:

To me this season is all about just getting to the NCAA’s, as that would be a major step forward for our freshmen. That means we must win at least 11 conference game before the Big Ten Tournament here in Indy. I say 11 wins because that makes anything done in Indianapolis gravy as opposed to being absolutely critical. It also makes us tougher by winning at least three games on the road. As bad as we have played at home I am not expecting to run the table through all nine conference home games. Since the selection committee values road wins over home wins the more we grab on the road the better.

Four teams have been underwhelming at best, and they happen to be four teams that Purdue plays both home and away. If Purdue going to make the NCAA tournament they must win at least seven of those eight games. That is a very reasonable goal and one that, if not achieved, means we probably shouldn’t go dancing anyway. Those four teams are Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa, and Penn State.

That leaves 10 games to get four wins. I feel we are fairly evenly matched with teams like Illinois, and Minnesota. We only get Minnesota once, and that is in Mackey Arena. This will be one of the most critical games for us since we don’t get a second chance against them. If we can split with Illinois and beat Minnesota at home we are looking at getting two wins in the remaining seven games against Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan State, and Ohio State. To me, an Ohio State split would be the easiest, but getting one in the next five would be difficult. Obviously a win in the five games between Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Indiana would carry a lot of weight as well, making it even more important we get one.

So that is my formula for getting Purdue to the NCAA tournament. When you think about it, it’s not really all that unreasonable and it gives us a good number of quality wins to get an at-large bid. I think we can throw out pulling off a win in Assembly Hall, but who knows. We’ll know more when we face Michigan next week in Mackey Arena.

Pre-conference Big Ten Power Rankings:

(1) Michigan State – Playing as well as anyone in the country
(2) Indiana – Same as Michigan State, though the non-conference sked was weaker
(3) Wisconsin – Very impressive win at Texas
(6) Ohio State – I liked the Florida win. We’ll know more with the opener at Illinois
(7) Minnesota – They’ve beaten everyone they should have, more than anyone below them
(5) Illinois – Stuck in the middle with Purdue
(4) Purdue – I really hope the Wofford loss doesn’t bite us.
(8) Penn State – Will open with key game against Northwestern
(10) Northwestern – Someone please call them and tell them they have a game this week
(9) Iowa – I am not confident in them at all
(11) Michigan – Again, they lost to Harvard, coached by the guy that couldn’t win when he coached Michigan!


Falling behind 16-0 to a team like Florida International at home is not something we want get in the habit of doing. To have a successful season we must simply get over our stage fright at home and learn how to close teams out on the road. If we take to heart the lessons learned from the Louisville game we will do fine.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Motor City Bowl wrap

I will not take the road of a Notre Dame fan. That is what I think many Purdue fans are becoming by thinking certain teams are beneath us, and the fact we have close games with them means we are some horrible team. In viewing the Purdue boards last night you would have thought we lost another bowl game rather than won one. Sure, it’s not a glamorous win, and yes, it was probably closer than it should have been, but a bowl win is a bowl win.

Central Michigan is a good football team that has won 18 games in the past two years, which is two more than our total in that time. They have a very, very good quarterback who came up one rushing touchdown short of matching a feat that only one other person, this year’s Heisman winner, has accomplished in the history of college football.

As much as Purdue has struggled recently shouldn’t we at least be marginally pleased that we came through when it mattered most for once? Shouldn’t we be happy the offense delivered with a clutch drive and answered with less than two minutes to go after the defense blew yet another lead? Shouldn’t we be happy for a kid who couldn’t be trusted to make a 19 yard field goal last year with time still on the clock who just nailed a 40-yard winner with no time left? Do we have a right to feel elitist as fans when we have a team that hadn’t won a bowl game in five years and hasn’t even played in a decent bowl game in four?

I, for one, plan on taking this win for what it is worth: it is a bowl win over a good team, but we still have a lot we need to work on unless we want to settle on Detroit as a destination each year. To me every win over a team with a winning record, be they from the MAC or the Big Ten, is a step forward from the way things have been. Central Michigan is very well coached and obviously has a very talented quarterback, so why should we be shocked that they didn’t give up? We have a lot of positives we can take from this game, but there were also some glaring things that we need to work on as well.

Off the Tracks Game MVP:

Jake Standeford – I’d like to think of this as kind of a lifetime achievement award, but Jake saved his best ever game as a Boilermaker for his last. 8 catches, 112 yards and a TD from a guy that was only on the roster originally because of his record-setting brother. It is also appropriate that his last catch made the game-winning field goal more manageable, and he had the presence of mind to get out of bounds rather than fight for more yards. He was a better possession receiver than the highly-touted Bryant and was more of a go-to guy in the second half than him. If anyone has any sense they will hire this guy as a graduate assistant for next year because his attitude needs to be spread to every single receiver on the team. He does all the little things well, and Jake will be missed.

Happy Trails Award:

Dorien Bryant –
I appreciate the numbers that Dorien has put up in his career, but I certainly will not miss his dropped pass for an interception special that made not one, but two encore appearances last night. Dorien is certainly talented, but the bad that he has had in his career has probably cost us just about as much as the good he has produced. The top receiver on the team shouldn’t drop every key pass thrown his way, or fumble in critical situations like the Michigan State game and (almost) at the goal line last night. His propensity to disappear in big games will not be missed either.

OTHER POSITIVES:

Curtis Painter –
Were his struggles in the final three games a result of his shoulder injury? Maybe against Indiana and Penn State, but it certainly didn’t matter as badly as the defense was against Michigan State. I don’t count last night’s interceptions against him, as if they had been the catches they should have been we would have won going away and he would have moved up a few places more on the “most passing yards in a bowl game” list. Last night was the performance we’ve been waiting for from Curtis, and the way he engineered the final drive, even against a terrible defense, is promising.

Keyon Brown – Hello pass rush! 2.5 sacks from a defensive end is much more like the Purdue defense of old. Even when we had Anthony Spencer last year we didn’t have as good of a pass rush as last night, and Brown was the star. I really, really hope Keyon keeps it together and has a big 2008 because we’re going to need him with the experience we’ll be facing at quarterback.

Chris Summers -Where are the detractors now? As mentioned earlier, we couldn’t trust him to hit a 19 yard winner last year, and now he goes out and nails a 40-yarder with no time left to win a bowl game. Chris also hit on a pair of other field goals from tough angles, and continues to set school’s the consecutive PAT’s record by bumping his streak to 97. PAT’s may not look like much, but when they are such an afterthought that they are considered automatic that is what you want out of a kicker. By the way, the NCAA record is 229 consecutive PAT’s and counting by current Texas Tech senior kicker Alex Trilica. Trilica has never missed a PAT, while Summers missed his 6th ever attempt in last year’s Indiana State game and hasn’t missed since.

Greg Orton – We will need big things from him next year, as he will clearly be the most experienced receiver returning. Number two will a talented individual like Desmond Tardy who doesn’t have a ton of a game experience. The Orton of last night is the Orton that has been missing for a few weeks. It is also the Orton we will need next year.

Dustin Keller – Another senior that saved one of his best performances for last. Dustin was unstoppable last night and had several big catches that kept drives going. Dustin continued to be a match up problem that we are going to miss next year. He could not be brought down by just one guy and often it took half the Central defense to stop him. Few people remember his first ever Purdue catch was a 47 yard touchdown against Syracuse, so it is appropriate he was the leading receiver in his final game. I cannot wait until next year when some NFL team becomes very pleased after drafting him in the middle rounds.

THINGS TO WORK ON IN 2008:

Defense – It is time for Brock Spack to go. Yes we gave 17 points as a direct result of dumb turnovers, but that’s still 31 points, often uncontested, by an offense that our first string defense completely frustrated the first time around. The pass defense was especially bad, as Bryan Anderson followed in the footsteps of many other unknown receivers by having a career day against us. He had 17 catches for 230 yards and 3 TD’s in both games against us, and is poised for more next year. He had the best yearly totals of the receivers that lit us up this year, but consider some other guys that had wonderful days against us:

Bryan Anderson – Central Michigan – vs. Purdue 17-230-3. Season: 90-1,132-10
Golden Tate – Notre Dame – vs. Purdue 3-104-1. Season: 6-131-1
Robby Parris – Notre Dame – vs. Purdue 7-93-0. Season: 29-361-1
Ray Small – Ohio State – vs. Purdue 6-70-1. Season: 19-253-2
James Cleveland – Iowa – vs. Purdue 7-101-0. Season: 36-464-0
Derrick Williams – Penn State – vs. Purdue 10-95-1. Season: 50-495-3
Devin Thomas – Michigan State – vs. Purdue 10-116-0. Season: 75-1,226-8


Those are too many guys that had a disproportionate number of catches and/or yards against us compared to the rest of their season. I thought the secondary had grown up recently, but since the Penn State game they have really taken a step back. McKinley gained some valuable experience, and getting both Williams and Irwin healthy will help greatly, but Vinson got abused last night after dominating most of the season.

Containing running quarterbacks – LeFevour is really, really good. Even considering that we kept him in check the first time around, last night he lit us up. Thank goodness Dennis Dixon is done at Oregon because he would be the first in line of many mobile quarterbacks that will destroy us next season if things don’t change. Right now we face LeFevour again with a chip on his shoulder, an improved Adam Weber at Minnesota, C.J. Bacher in an offense that needs a mobile quarterback at Northwestern, a mystery QB at Michigan who will be in a spread-oriented offense, and Kellen Lewis at Indiana.

Kory Sheets fumbling – Kory is an amazingly talented back, but it is time he learns to hold on to the ball. He stands five TD’s away from tying Alstott’s record, but we still cannot trust him to not fumble in key situations. Since our receivers will be very green next year we need more from the running game (see my next point). That means Kory has to step up and Jaycen Taylor will have to continue to push him.

Our running game – This was pathetic last night, and thank goodness Painter was on. We ran for 223 yards as a team against Central Michigan the first time around, but the same running play over and over and over again netted 41 yards. The numbers are a little better because we got three TD’s on the ground, but those numbers will not cut it next season. We need more imagination than handing the ball off up the middle from the shotgun. That play may work every time in NCAA Football ’08, but that’s because they made Kory Sheets a demigod that never fumbles.

Turnovers vs. Central Michigan – This is going to be a big game next year because they will be much more experienced and looking to gather a big win early in the season. They are good team, and they very well could be top 25-worthy next year with just a little bit of defense. We gave them eight turnovers in both games combined and collected just three in return. Curtis Painter limited his interceptions this year, and a number of them weren’t his fault, but the fumbles were a different story.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

It is a good win, and I won’t trade it for anything because I did see a lot of positives. Some young players on the defense really stepped up and showed flashes of promise aside from Keyon Brown. Josh McKinley had five tackles and a sack on a nice blitz. Anthony Heygood had 10 tackles and will be better. Ryan Kerrigan got into the backfield and the defensive line had an alright game. They really only got burned because LeFevour is great at avoiding contact and earned all of his yards. They stopped Central cold early on and allowed us to build a lead that ended up being very necessary.

Offensively I am encouraged and feel like Painter took a big step forward last night. He will still need to prove it in a big game against a good opponent, and will get the chance early next year against Oregon in game two. If we can give him more of a running game, which I honestly feel will come from better play calling more than anything; he will be just fine next year.
All in all we showed enough promise to give a little hope for next year, but it obvious that we will not automatically get better. It is up to the players returning to decide what they want to do next year, and should we go 4-0 against our non-conference schedule it will look much, much better than this year’s 4-0.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Big Ten Bowl Preview Part 2: New Year’s Day and beyond

Before tonight’s big Motor City Bowl game I wanted to hit on the second half of the Big Ten bowl matchups. Tonight begins the quest for the big money begins as Off the Tracks sits eight points out of first place in the Big Ten Bloggers' pick 'em Standings. A bad final two weeks to the season cost me the lead, and I have to make up ground in a hurry with a good bowl showing.

I may be running a diary of tonight’s game if I feel like it, but if it anything like last year’s attempt I will quickly lose interest. At least expect some sort of a wrap tomorrow, followed by a basketball update before the FIU game. In the meantime, on to the New Year’s Day games.

Only Illinois is a real shock to be in the next group of four teams, as they had the biggest wins of anyone in the conference this year. Even at 9-3 and arguably the worst BCS bowl team you cannot discount a number of their wins. Wisconsin and Penn State were both good contests at home, while the Ohio State win was one of the most shocking results in recent Big Ten history. Even the non-conference schedule carried an unusual amount of heft for a Big Ten team as both Ball State and Missouri find themselves in bowl games, and Syracuse… well, Syracuse is at least a BCS conference school. Most Big Ten teams won’t play more than one outside of the conference.

But the New Year’s Day games are what the Big Ten conference plays for, and thanks to the loyalty of the Rose Bowl committee we have four of them to watch this year. As mentioned in part one, everyone in the conference would like to send the Rose Bowl committee a Christmas card for the additional $410,000 that each school will receive from a second BCS berth. Unfortunately in three of these four games the Big Ten team is expected to be the underdog, since we have absolutely no hope of competing with the mighty SEC.

Outback Bowl
January 1, 11am at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL #16 Tennessee (9-4) vs. #18 Wisconsin (9-3)


For the second year in a row the Badgers quietly worked their way through the Big Ten schedule on their way to a New Year’s Day bowl. Their 9-3 record is quite impressive considering how banged up they were in some games, and because of the time off to heal I expect big things from them in Tampa. The loss at Penn State was pretty bad from a competitive standpoint, but there was no shame in losing at Illinois or Ohio State. Also of note was the fact that Wisconsin was the only team in the conference to have a spotless home record.

Tennessee is here because they play in the SEC, which is obviously the best conference in the country. Nevermind that they lost to a 6-6 California team that crashed and burned worse than any of Michigan State’s worst seasons. They also lost to a 6-6 Alabama team that was among the most overhyped in the nation. Since Alabama losing to Louisiana-Monroe was a tragedy on the level with Pearl Harbor and 9/11, what is Tennessee losing to Alabama on the level of? Is it the same as the Holocaust?

Wisconsin is no stranger to New Year’s Day lately, having played on the first day of the year for four seasons straight. The last two were wins over SEC schools in the Capitol One Bowl, and Wisconsin has traditionally been one of the Big Ten’s strongest teams in bowl play. This is actually the fifth year in a row they have played an SEC school in a bowl, and they have gone 2-2 in that time. P.J. Hill is still questionable with a leg injury for the Badgers, but they have been fine without him for most of the year.

Wisconsin has never won the Outback Bowl, losing to Georgia both times but I think things will be different this year. Tennessee may be suffering a bit of a letdown in losing such a close game to LSU in the SEC title game, but they have a tendency to lose big when they do lose. Florida, California, and Alabama all won convincingly over the Volunteers, and they recently announced that six players are declared academically ineligible for the game. Three of those players are starters, and that is too costly in a game like this.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 24, Tennessee 14

Capitol One Bowl
January 1, 1pm at Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, FL
Michigan (8-4) at #12 Florida (9-3)


Michigan has trouble stopping spread quarterbacks not from Purdue, and we’re supposed to expect them to stop a player like Tim Tebow who had arguably the greatest running AND passing season a quarterback has ever had? That is a difficult task to accomplish, but injuries have been a problem for Michigan most of the year and they have had more than a month to get healthy. Of course they were totally healthy in the game that cannot be mentioned in Ann Arbor and look what happened.

Obviously Michigan is playing for the retirement of Lloyd Carr and to send seniors Jake long, Chad Henne, and Mike Hart out on a winning not since they never beat Ohio State and have yet to win a bowl game. Strictly on numbers the Wolverines aren’t even close offensively to what Florida has done, so a shootout will likely doom them. People don’t realize how close the Wolverines were to missing a bowl, but late wins at Michigan State and Illinois prevented what would have been a 6-6 record and place in Detroit for the Motor City Bowl.

Florida is all about Tebow and if he has a chance to run loose there is no way Michigan can compete. It’s amazing to look at his 20/20 accomplishment in a historical context and see that even the great option QB’s throughout history never came close, nor did versatile collegiate players like Michael Vick or Antwaan Randle El. Considering that Purdue is facing someone who very could join Tebow in that exclusive club in less than seven hours I am afraid, but this is about the Capitol One Bowl.

Honestly I think Michigan’s best shot is to have Mike Hart have another 40 carry, 200-yard performance in his final game for the Maize and Blue. Florida cannot score if it doesn’t have the ball, so Michigan should simply grind the clock out with the ball on the ground. To me Chad Henne has never been that impressive of a passer anyway. I know he is 6 TD’s short of Drew Brees’ record, but he’s never been one to put the fear of God in defenses like other great Big Ten quarterbacks. It won’t matter though if Michigan’s defense can’t get some stops.

PREDICTION: Florida 31, Michigan 14

Rose Bowl
January 1, 4:30pm at Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
#13 Illinois (9-3) vs. #7 USC


Illinois is one of those programs like many in the Big Ten that savors every trip to Pasadena because it may be the last one for awhile. This will be the Illini’s fifth ever trip to Pasadena, but first since 1984. Many Illinois fans might have felt robbed of a trip in 2001 when they won the Big Ten only to be shifted to the Sugar Bowl because of the National title game, but the Rose Bowl Committee went with tradition and grabbed the Illini to make up for it. As a result Purdue is in Detroit instead of Texas or at home, so I guess it’s a good thing.

Should Illinois pull off a win in a game many people think it doesn’t have a prayer of winning it will officially scare everyone else in the Big Ten for next year and arguably install the Illini as the favorite in the conference for 2008. It’s hard to think of that, but considering a win would mean virtual road wins over two of the best teams in the country not only this year, but of the past decade plus all the talent Ron Zook has amassed in Champaign it is not that farfetched.

Illinois is also just a handful of plays from being undefeated. All three losses were by less than a touchdown with Illinois having a chance to win late in all three games. The Illini are playing with a ton of confidence as well and after going into Columbus and ending long Buckeye winning streaks both at home and in the conference they certainly aren’t going to be afraid of USC. I’ve gotten on Illinois for not having a passing game for much of the season, but Juice Williams had his three best games to close the year. If he can have another one this game will be much closer than many people think.

USC has a ton of talent as well, but they haven’t exactly set the world on fire with that talent. One could argue that the Stanford upset of USC was even bigger than the Appalachian State win over Michigan because USC is a better team than Michigan and Stanford is probably worse than the Mountaineers. The Trojans weren’t exactly convincing either against middling teams like California, Arizona, and Washington. I think USC will pull it off, but it won’t be the walk that many people are expecting.

PREDICTION: USC 24, Illinois 21

BCS Championship game
January 7, 8pm at the Superdome, New Orleans, LA
#1 Ohio State (11-1) vs. #2 LSU (11-2)


Ohio State comes in as one of just four schools to play in six BCS games, but they have ironically never played in the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten’s representative to the BCS. Lately they have set up shop in Phoenix over New Year’s playing in three Fiesta Bowls and last year’s title game. This will be the Buckeyes’ second trip to New Orleans for the BCS to go with a 1999 Sugar Bowl appearance. Their Fiesta win in the 2002 title game prevented Miami from completing a Grand Slam of sorts, as the Canes would have won all four BCS bowl in four consecutive years.

LSU will be playing in a virtual home game, much like Florida and USC mentioned above. This is also the final 2007 season skirmish in the battle for conference bragging rights between the Big Ten and SEC. A win by Ohio State would certainly chop down the perception of the SEC as the toughest conference in the country. Indeed some would argue that Georgia should be playing here a week later than they are, but they should have beaten Tennessee if they really wanted to be here.

If it is a close game then I would go with LSU, as they have had enough cardiac games this year to kill off their entire fanbase. Florida, Auburn, Alabama, and Tennessee all came down to the final possession and the Tigers escaped. They weren’t so lucky in a pair of triple overtime losses to Arkansas and Kentucky, but they are still here by virtue of winning the SEC and a ton of other upsets along the way. Should LSU win, Hawaii stomps Georgia, and Kansas loses to Virginia Tech it could open the door just a crack for the Warriors to claim the AP poll.

If you believe that defense wins championships then you have to favor Ohio State in this game. Outside of the SEC the Tigers have stopped teams, but those were the powerful offenses of Tulane, Middle Tennessee, and Louisiana Tech. The Virginia Tech win was nice, but LSU only gave up 26 points in four non-SEC games. Ohio State was a little bit better giving up 25 points in non-Big Ten games, but gave up more than 20 just once overall. LSU did that five times. Ultimately I think Ohio State’s defense is better and will be the edge.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 20, LSU 17

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Big Ten Bowl Preview Part 1: Pre-New Year's Day

With a week to go before the bowl games get going in earnest I thought I would take a look at all eight Big Ten bowl matchups. The Big Ten is once again in the big money as Illinois getting selected for the Rose Bowl means another $410,000 in the coffers for each conference school. This marks the seventh time since the BCS started, and the third year in a row the Big Ten has gotten an at-large bid to the BCS. Purdue was the main beneficiary of this, as they may not have been selected to a bowl otherwise. It is Ohio State’s 6th trip to the BCS, and Illinois’ second. Ironically both are picked to fall big-time in their games.

The rest of the bowl games, with the exception of Michigan, are good matchups for the Big Ten. Purdue is rightfully favored of Central Michigan. I like how Michigan State matches up with Boston College. Indiana is playing with a ton of emotion and a win over Oklahoma State would be a huge confidence boost for them. I don’t trust a Texas A&M team that got pounded by the worst Miami team in decades to give Penn State a challenge. Finally, with the time to get healthy I think Wisconsin is one of the better teams in the country, and they always play well on New Year’s Day.

So without further ado let’s kick things off with the first, and most important matchup as far as this blog is concerned.

Motor City Bowl
December 26, 7pm at Ford Field, Detroit, MI
Purdue (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (8-5)

First things first: Is this possibly the lowest selling bowl t-shirt in school history? If we lose this game will University Spirit be selling it in their $2 bin so I have something to wash my car with? Somewhere I still have an Alamo Bowl 1997 shirt, but I don’t think this one would have quite the longevity of that one.

I don’t want to use hyperbole and say this is the most important football game in a long time as far as Purdue is concerned because I’ve already used times a few times this year. Needless to say in the cases of Ohio State and Penn State it really didn’t mean much. This is still a big game though because not only is our own pride on the line, but conference pride as well. Everyone else gets good matchups against BCS conference teams while this is supposed to be the layup at the bottom of the bowl order. Even in the day of 85 scholarships it is embarrassing for a Big Ten team to lose to a MAC team, and this year the embarrassment is doubled because we’ve already beaten the Chippewas as our toughest non-conference opponent.

I’ve already gone over most of this in my Know thy Bowl Opponent preview. We’re very familiar with them and in the short history of the series we have dominated each game. People are making much out of the fact it will be a virtual home game for Central Michigan, but in reality how many fans can a MAC team bring to a game? Dan LeFevour has been Tim Tebow-lite this year and it will be a simple game plan for us: If we can stop him will win. We already proved that the first time around when we kept him contained in the backfield.

I’ll be blunt: a loss here is an embarrassment to the program and should result in some changes. We have already dominated this team once, and anything short of a repeat performance should be deemed as failure. We are the better team at every position except quarterback, and if we let one player run circles around us that we’ve already contained we should be embarrassed. Unfortunately, I can see it happen as there is almost no energy coming out of the program right now while Central has tons of it. Let’s go stomp this team like we should.

PREDICTION: Purdue 48, Central Michigan 30
Champs Sports Bowl
December 28, 5pm at Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, FL
#14 Boston College (10-3) vs. Michigan State (7-5)

This game doesn’t look like much on paper, but I kind of like the way that Michigan State matches up with the Eagles. The Spartans played everybody tough this year, losing no game by more than a touchdown. Michigan State did not have a loss to a team with a losing record, and the defense showed in the Ohio State game that it can play with anyone in the country. To me Michigan State showed a heart it has not had in some time with the late victories over Purdue and Penn State, and they will be as excited as anyone for their first bowl appearance since 2003.

Boston College really doesn’t impress me much, as the ACC has been pretty underwhelming of late when it faces outside competition. Sure, they are 10-3, but two losses came to Florida State and Maryland. Only the Virginia Tech win at Va Tech has a bit of weight to it, and that was reversed in the ACC championship game. Offensively the teams are almost equal, with Michigan State running the ball more while Boston College prefers to go through the air. Of course, we did a decent job of stopping Michigan State on the ground and they were able to move through the air just fine.

The Eagles have won seven straight bowl games, but some of those have been over Navy, Colorado State, and Toledo. At 10-3 I am sure Boston College was hoping for a much better bowl game to be in, possibly even the BCS but they were left out. This means that what is viewed with excitement for Michigan State is a disappointment for Boston College, who finished 2-3 after an 8-0 start had them in control of their own destiny for the national championship game.
Every year there is always one Big Ten bowl game that makes people notice, even should that team lose. Last year Texas was expected to destroy Iowa, but the Hawkeyes ended up playing quite a game. I feel like the Champs bowl will be that game there year, as I have a newfound respect for Michigan State. They can control the clock, throw when necessary, and play good defense. Those are generally the key elements in bowl games, so I’ll pick them in an upset.

PREDICTION: Michigan State 27, Boston College 24

Alamo Bowl
December 29, 8pm at Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
Texas A&M (7-5) at Penn State (8-4)

The Aggies are a classic case of a team that cannot come back because of its style of play. All Penn State needs to do is build a lead early and it is over. I only saw them once this year during a Thursday night game against Miami in the Orange Bowl, but it was enough. Texas A&M was the only team this season that couldn’t stop Miami’s putrid offense, so even a mediocre quarterback like Anthony Morelli should have a fine day. If not for the final game upset over Texas the Aggies would be coming into the bowls on a 1-5 streak.

Texas A&M will also be operating under and interim coach after Dennis Franchione resigned. Penn State meanwhile has JoePa, who will be coaching his 500th game for the Nittany Lions. It’s hard to find a bigger difference in experience on the sidelines in this one. Much like the Champs Bowl, both teams are nearly equal offensively, with Texas A&M holding a two yard edge over Penn State. Penn State has scored more per game, but Texas A&M has probably played the tougher schedule. This is actually a rematch of the first Alamo Bowl after Purdue won back-to-back games, and Penn State easily handled the Aggies in that one 24-0.

With a win Paterno can gain ground on Bobby Bowden as the all-time winningest coach. Bowden holds a two game lead but will almost assuredly lose the Music City Bowl after a number of suspensions decimated his roster. Penn State has also played better recently in bowls, winning the Outback bowl last year while Texas A&M has lost six of seven.

Both teams prefer to run the ball, while Penn State is a little better at the pass than the Aggies. The key will be organization, and because of the coaching situation Penn State holds a huge edge over the Aggies. Texas A&M showed me nothing in the Miami game, as they got dominated by a team that later struggled to merely complete a pass against North Carolina State. Anthony Morelli can complete passes with a margin of regularity, and as long as he does that Penn State will win easily.

PREDICTION: Penn State 23, Texas A&M 10

Insight Bowl
December 31, pm at Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
Indiana (7-5) at Oklahoma State (6-6)

A co-worker of mine is married to a former Indiana player and they are heading to Phoenix for this game. Naturally, they are incredibly excited to be going to any bowl game after a 14 year drought. 10 years ago many Purdue fans were in the same situation heading to San Antonio as we had finally broken a 13 year bowl-less streak. What is the common factor in this? It is none other than the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

There are a few differences though, as Indiana was expected to make a bowl this year with its schedule while we came out of nowhere in 1997 to win the Alamo Bowl. Can first year coach Bill Lynch build on that success and run off a streak of bowl like Purdue has? That remains to be seen, but the first step would be beating an up and down Oklahoma State team. The Cowboys rank ninth in total offense, but they only finished 6-6. The most impressive wins are Texas Tech and Kansas State, while there was an inexcusable loss at home (by 18 points!) to Troy.

The Cowboys have struggled on defense all year, while Indiana has been pretty good offensively. The Hoosiers don’t exactly have a great defense, but for the first time in a long time they at least have a serviceable one. There is no history between the two as they only met once in 1930 in Bloomington. Perhaps the most famous thing Oklahoma State is known for is their coach, who is indeed 40 years old and a man.

I can’t look past the Troy loss, as that would be a bad loss even for a program like Indiana that hasn’t had much success before this year. The Hoosiers have historically not played well in bowl games, but they have the added incentive of playing for Hep this year. It has gotten them through the season, and will surely carry over to the bowl game. Honestly I expect quite a shootout from a pair of good offenses, with Indiana using its emotion to carry over in the end. A bowl win would be a huge boost for them, and add a dose of legitimacy to what many consider to be a weak schedule. They did manage to wins (Ball State and Purdue) over bowl teams.

PREDICTION: Indiana 37, Oklahoma State 34

Next up: The New Year’s Day and BCS bowls.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Baby Boilers promoted to Toddler Boilers

I think there is a reason that people from Indiana love the game of basketball so much. Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis was dreary, as the sky couldn’t decide exactly what type of precipitation it wanted to yield. Since this is often the case from December through early March in Indiana (trust, I’ve lived here for 28 years) people just naturally flock to the warmest venue they can find for entertainment. Often that is the local basketball gym, where you can warm yourself up by screaming yourself hoarse.

As a result of my assigned high school game being postponed my wife and I decided to venture a few blocks south of our place to see the Baby Boilers take on Louisville in the Wooden tradition. Though the Cardinals were heavily depleted by injuries and suspensions, they are still a good team that has a 500-win (eventually), national champion coach. They were still ranked 22nd in the nation, and they had enough of a crowd with them to make it feel like a road game.

I am proud to say that our Baby Boilers grew up a bit Saturday, and now I jokingly call them the Toddler Boilers. Robbie Hummel mentioned that it was a positive that they learned from the Clemson and Missouri losses by preventing the Louisville game from turning second half collapse. They now have a name win that, come March, the selection committee will forget came against a depleted roster.

Positives:

Keaton Grant – I think I should refer to him as Big Shot Keaton Grant. Much like I mentioned in the previous posting, both he and Marcus Green are slightly forgotten because of all the attention paid to the freshmen, Calasan, and Kramer. As a result they are often free for a couple of big baskets, and none were bigger than the four three he hit yesterday. E’Twaun Moore had an off day scoring, but Grant stepped up. Three of these came in the first half as we built a lead, and his fourth bumped a six point lead to a nine point lead during a key stretch. If he can keep up his outside shooting I’ll certainly take it as we don’t really have a dedicated 3-point artist.

Chris Kramer (second half edition) – Welcome back from the concussion, son. Kramer came off the bench since we started the four freshmen, but he still filled the stat sheet with significant numbers in four categories. He seemed to be everywhere in the second half, by either hitting a shot, getting a steal, getting a rebound, or simply controlling the tempo in the half court.
Robbie Hummel – Hummel seemed to be quite a fighter yesterday, as he was doing the dirty work to get to the foul line. He also seemed to be a calming influence with the ball when Louisville was pressing during its big run. It’s very nice to see that he was never shaken in what was only his eighth collegiate game.

Breaking the press – I only noticed a couple of possessions where the Louisville press was really disrupted. We had one 10-second violation and one shot clock violation. Considering the heat Louisville was bringing in the second half and our youth that’s pretty impressive. This is another lesson learned from the Missouri game, and it will pay dividends in the Big Ten.

Our post presence – We were facing a bigger team with only Calasan and Johnson in the post. They combined for just 4 points and seven rebounds. That means everyone else stepped up and battled inside. Johnson played very smart when he was in there, only getting one foul and five big defensive boards. I would like to have had more from Calasan, but a win is a win.

Negatives:

Free throw shooting – We did a decent job of hitting these down the stretch, but if things had been closer it could have gotten a little dicey. It’s nitpicking, but I am of the school that you should shoot at least 75% from the line in each game. Each missed free throw makes me cringe because it is giving up free points.

3-point defense – Thankfully Louisville was shooting as cold as the weather outside late. We gave them way too many open looks, especially off of offensive rebounds as well. Their quickness created the need for the defense to collapse down on the drive, and from there it was easy to kick it out to the open man for three. Louisville was able to answer our runs with this early, but didn’t have enough left to do so at the end.

Defensive rebounding – 16 offensive rebounds given up is not going to cut it once we get into Big Ten play. Calasan and Johnson need to get tougher on the glass to limit teams to just one shot per possession. From looking at the stats from Monday’s Texas Southern game they used and overmatched opponent to do just that.

Final Analysis:

It’s a win over a ranked team away from Mackey Arena. We’ve had three chances to get wins most people were not giving to us before the season started and we finally broke through to get one of them. It’s nice to see it is in the bank, and it is time to cheer hard for Louisville to get healthy and win the Big East so we can get the best mileage out of it.

Already we’ve shown that the win hasn’t gone to our heads as the team went out and dominated a weak Texas Southern team Monday night in the first game of the Las Vegas Classic. The Tigers were never in the game Monday night, which is what should happen when a Big Ten team takes on a SWAC team.

Up next:

Wednesday night is another mismatch against a team we shouldn’t have too much trouble with in Wofford. We must beware though, as the Terriers gave Alabama a bit of a game tonight before falling by seven. They even led by one at the half. We’re probably the favorite to win this pseudo-tournament, as we get the battle for Martin Jischke’s loyalty Saturday night against Iowa State before facing Alabama or Missouri State in the final. We have the best record with the biggest win of anyone out there, so we need to have a goal of winning the thing. Should we follow that with an expected win over Florida International we’ll be a very comfortable 11-2 going into the conference season.

Updated Big Ten Power Rankings:

There was quite a bit of consternation from the Michigan State contingent out there over putting Indiana ahead of the Spartans. Well, Saturday’s impressive win at BYU convinced me. The Spartans have a win over a ranked team and the only loss is to a former number one team. Indiana also beat a ranked team in Southern Illinois, but the Xavier loss is worse than the UCLA loss for Michigan State.

In reality I view the Big Ten at a 2-7-2 perspective right now. Indiana and Michigan State are at the top and national contenders. The middle seven all could get hot and make the tournament. The bottom two of Northwestern and Michigan are simply dreadful.

1. (2) Michigan State (Missouri win is equally impressive)
2. (1) Indiana (Masters of the weak-team blowout)
3. (3) Wisconsin (Third chance at a marquee non-conference win coming up)
4. (5) Purdue (Iowa State and Alabama would be good wins)
5. (4) Illinois (They get the next shot as everyone in the Big 10 goes to Missouri)
6. (7) Ohio State (1-3 vs. ranked teams. Because of losses no one should call the Florida game a rematch of the title game)
7. (6) Minnesota (won’t play anyone until Michigan State
8. (8) Penn State (Princeton and Denver are hardly inspiring)
9. (9) Iowa (Seriously, Drake?)
10. (11) Northwestern (They know they’re allowed to schedule games, right?)
11. (10) Michigan (At least they beat Oakland)

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Advent Conspiracy 2

Special note: This entry was published this morning on my other blog Veritas in the Word. It is re-published here simply because this is a cause I strongly beleive in.

It is 20 degrees in Indianapolis today. That is the temperature at 8:40am and it is not going to get much warmer. This past weekend a major winter storm dumped snow and ice on the city for about 36 consecutive hours. It was expected to bring up to a foot of snow, but fortunately it was only about half of that. Still, the city is in a deep freeze at the moment. Why am I giving this minute by minute update on the balmy December weather in the Midwest? It is because of these two guys:
Their names are Ryan Brinson and Daron Earlewine. They are the two pastors at the church we attend here in Indianapolis called the Crux. Starting at 5pm last night they began a 48 hour period of living on the streets of downtown Indianapolis to raise awareness for The Advent Conspiracy. They have set up shop during the day on Monument Circle in the heart of the city and will be there until 5pm tomorrow night. Last night they slept on the streets and they plan to do the same tonight. Since we live only a few blocks away I took these guys some warm beverages both last night and this morning. They were hanging in there, but this morning less than 16 hours in they were already struggling.

7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. – 2 Corinthians 2:9

This is not a stunt that they are doing merely to gain attention for themselves and our church. It is an act of sacrifice to live a reality that some face every day to draw attention to an effort to end that reality. That is what the Advent Conspiracy is all about. It is about making a difference this season and to concentrate more on giving rather than consuming. That is why I am taking a break today from the recent discussions we have had on the book of Acts because I believe this is a cause that will make a difference. I have talked about this cause before here, but I feel led this morning to bring it up again because of the way it is influencing people around the country. In a brief discussion with Daron last night he told me of how they had received e-mails and donations from all over the country.

The beauty of it also comes from the fact that the people that are giving the most are those that have the least to give. We are merely a church full of 20-somethings from a church on the northwest-side of Indy. Shoot, at 28 I am practically ancient in that church, but we are making a difference.

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. – Proverbs 14:31

While speaking with Daron and Ryan last night I stood outside with them for about 20 minutes. I was bundled in a heavy Columbia coat, gloves, and a hat. By the time our conversation was drawing to a close I was shivering and ready to head back to the warmth of my car. This is coming from a former Eagle Scout who has been camping several times as a boy in weather colder than this. I grew up in Indiana and have lived here all my life. Daron, however, lived in Arizona for most of his life, while Ryan is a recent transplant back here from San Diego. They also don't have the overnight experience that I have had outside, so you can just imagine they are feeling this morning before even reaching the halfway point of their ordeal.

I am not here calling for donations. If you follow the link to the Advent Conspiracy you can see what it is all about and who it will be helping. My job, as well as Daron and Ryan's is not to change minds, but to draw attention to this. From there I trust that God will work on hearts and change minds. Should you decide to give, from $1 to $1,000 it will be used entirely for the true purpose of Christmas. This year it is compassion, not consumption that drives us.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Off the Tracks Basketball debut

As a fan at the bucket game in 2003 told me, "after today, the ball changes shape." At the time Purdue was riding high at 9-3 football-wise and on their way to the Capitol One Bowl, while Indiana was putting the finishing touches on an especially bad 2-10 campaign that only saw wins over Illinois and the football power that is Indiana State. The two schools could not have been any further apart football-wise, yet Indiana played a deflated Purdue team to a 24-16 game in Bloomington that day. The phrase uttered by the optimistic fan was clear, "you may still own us in football, but in basketball it is a different story."

Basketball has always carried more weight in this state than football. Who can forget the epic duels that Gene Keady and Bob Knight granted us with twice a season for two decades? At the time Purdue was mired, much like Indiana in football, in one of the worst stretches in program history. It is a period from which the Boilers are only just now beginning to recover, and since the football team is fading many Boilermaker fans are flocking back to Mackey Arena to support a young, but improving team.

As a result the rivalry between Indiana and Purdue is becoming a rivalry again after a few lean years. Sure, they have Eric Gordon, but we have our four fabulous freshmen who will likely be around longer than a year. They have a chance for one or two really good years with Gordon, but we're building for the long haul with the baby Boilers. The fact both teams are even talking about future Big Ten titles and deep tournament runs at the same time is a positive sign, and those signs are much needed on the men's side of the basketball ledger at Purdue after the last few years.

I am a realist in that we have a lot of work to do before we are on the same levels as Indiana in basketball. While they have progressed and we have regressed to the point we're nearly equal in football in terms of a national perception, in basketball they are far ahead of us. Until we win five national championships we won't even be close to them. Yes we own a comfortable lead in the overall series, but programs are measured nationally by championships and we don't even come close to them. Fortunately my delusion for Purdue sports is carrying over to basketball in this regard, because I firmly believe that this team is laying the foundation for a potential National Championship before the group leaves in 2011.

The key word here is potential. Obviously with the way they closed the Missouri and Clemson games they won't get it done this year. The key though to nearly every national champion in recent seasons is teamwork and experience. By 2010 the four freshmen will be juniors with tons of experience, a solid underclass most likely supporting them, and a senior leader in Chris Kramer leading them. 2010 might just be the year we finally make the score 5-1 against Indiana and have a little respect of our own in the rivalry.

2007-08 so far:

I can't draw an honest conclusion here because I have only been able to watch the Clemson game and listen to the Missouri game on the radio, but I am encouraged by what I have seen so far. Against Clemson we probably would have been able to close things out if Kramer had not gotten hurt. Indeed on the very play he got injured we would have had two more points plus his services for the rest of the half if he had simply decided to lay the ball in instead of dunk it.

Scott Martin was very aggressive in this game and was key to keeping us in it early. I was also very impressed by the effort of Nemanja Calasan. Once he gets used to the Big Ten style of basketball he will prove to be a very useful asset as he is honestly our biggest presence inside so far. His finesse game near the rim against the Tigers was huge, but unfortunately he was almost invisible against Missouri. Until JuJuan Johnson gains some serious muscle we are going to need Calasan to play big. He's like a much better version of Ivan Kartelo.

Other than the two games mentioned above we have not played anyone of note, and we have been able to pull off five wins as expected. Sure we may have struggled a bit against Ball State, Indiana State, and Lipscomb, but a win is a win. When you're giving four freshmen a ton of playing time in the first four games of their collegiate careers and they still manage to pull off the win it is a positive in my book.

The measure of success for this season will be how we handle the next five games. Because of the issues Louisville has at the moment we have a great shot at beating them Saturday. That's a quality win that will pay dividends on selection Sunday. Next we have the Vegas tournament with a pair of home games before facing Iowa State and probably Alabama in Vegas. That's two more chances for wins over major conference opponents. Thus far it's not like we've lost to anyone that will damage our tournament placement. Should we win four of our next five, a very reasonable goal, we will most likely head into tournament play at 10-3. That sets the stage for a 10-8 conference finish (again, very reasonable) and NCAA bid at 20-11 (plus or minus Big Ten Tournament results)

Big Ten Outlook:

Where will those Big Ten wins come from? Northwestern and Michigan look terrible thus far, so that is four of them. Iowa doesn't look much better so that can be two more, and suddenly we need to just get four wins out of 12 other games. If we can't do that we don't deserve to go dancing anyway. Since we would have six of those twelve at home I am fully confident we can get at least three more wins at home and scrounge out an extra victory or two on the road. In Big Ten play any team should set a goal of winning at least seven of nine games and four of nine on the road. That's the recipe for getting into the tournament because it would be hard to keep out an 11-7 Big Ten team. Once you reach that point you're playing for a seed instead of a spot.

Initial Big Ten basketball Power Rankings:
  1. Indiana (They're the class of the conference right now)
  2. Michigan State (Hard to get over the D-II loss)
  3. Wisconsin (lost their only games against teams with a pulse)
  4. Illinois (Three losses to tougher competition)
  5. Purdue (could easily be unbeaten)
  6. Minnesota (Play someone and we'll talk)
  7. Ohio State (At least they've beaten a ranked team)
  8. Penn State (lost to Rider?)
  9. Iowa (lost to Louisisana-Monroe?)
  10. Michigan (lost to Harvard!?!?!?!)
  11. Northwestern (lost to Brown!?!?!)

What needs to improve:

Team:

Let's close some games out for once! Twice we've gone on the road and had a lead late, and twice we've been outplayed in the final minutes. Against Clemson we won 7/8ths of the game, but not the critical final eighth. Against Missouri we simply collapsed when it mattered most and didn't continue attack the basket like we did in building our lead. This must stop as we have to learn the killer instinct to step on a team's throat and finish the job, home or away.

Chris Kramer:

Calm down there, ace. We need him to play more in control. His ill-advised dunk against Clemson showed me that he tends to play a lot like I do: way out of control at times. I love his hustle, but if he can find a way to tone it down just a hair and play in control he will be fine.

Tarrance Crump:

I like seeing him come off the bench because of the change of pace he offers. He can provide offense when necessary and may be the best at creating his own shot. He's playing his exact role right now and thriving in it, which means his drunk driving suspension/redshirt is a blessing in disguise (basketball-wise) because otherwise he wouldn't be here.

E'twaun Moore:

Consistent scoring. You can just feel he has a 35 point game coming from him soon where he just can't miss. One of these days he is going to go off and the entire team will get better in an instant.

JuJuan Johnson:

I am hoping that when he is not in class or at practice he is either in the weight room or eating, because he seriously needs some bulk on him. I remember seeing Greg Oden play as a freshman in high school and he was about as thin if not thinner than JuJuan. If he can bulk up he could be the best force inside we've ever had. Please JuJuan, don't go the way of Matt ten Dam and John Allison as tall "projects".

Nemanja Calasan:

Play like you did against Clemson for God's sake! If he can stay out of foul trouble he is our best inside presence and is a powerful rebounder. I love his intensity.

Robbie Hummel and Scott Martin:

I know these guys went to high school together, but cripes are they twins or something? Martin has been a big surprise as a consistent scorer, and if he keeps it up once Moore, Calasan/Johnson, and Kramer start pouring it in our numbers will jump. Hummel does a little bit of everything, and I often confuse him with Martin on the court.

Keaton Grant and Marcus Green:

Keep giving us quality minutes, do the little things, and score when you can. These two guys are kind of forgotten as they don't really have the leadership expectations of Kramer and Crump, but they aren't as highly touted as the freshmen. I like that. If I forget them then other teams may forget them to the tune of 10-15 points per game which is fine with me.

Bobby Riddell:

Much like Moore, sometime this year Bobby Buckets is going to come in and just light a team up. I pray it is February 19th in Bloomington.

Chad Sutor and Chris Reid:

Last we come to the two forgotten newcomers. Obviously anything we get from these guys in an actual game will likely come once the outcome is already decided. They are big guys though that should provide some interesting challenges in practice for the other guys. Hopefully they can do just that, while improving to get some more serious minutes next year when we will have one of the deepest, most experienced teams in school history.

Next Game vs. Louisville

I don't care if they are missing their two best players. Louisville is still a ranked team and is well coached. They will be ready and if we don't win there will be rumblings about how we can't beat a ranked team even when it is missing key guys. We need to take the next step and beat this team in a pseudo-home game.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What's coming from Off the Tracks...

First things first, there is some good news for Purdue football after nearly a month of bad news. The Chicago Bears website is reporting that Kyle Orton will be getting the start against Minnesota next Monday night. I don't really see what people were so upset about two years ago when he was the regular starter. He was a 3rd round rookie quarterback that was not expecting to play, yet came in and won 10 games on the way to the Bears making the playoffs. He didn't exactly light up the scoreboard, but the point is that he won games, and that is all that matters in the NFL. It normally takes at least three seasons for a quarterback to be worth anything statistically, as even Ben Roethlisberger wasn't a statistical monster his rookie year. The Bears, like many other teams *cough* San Diego *cough* simply lost patience with a guy because he wasn't phenomenal right out of the box. Here is hoping that Kyle makes the most of this second chance, and if he doesn't become the next Bears QB he at least has a good audition for a team that will play him.

Second, I wanted to announce that I have decided to expand this blog to do some basketball coverage of the 2007-08 season. I'll try and supplement with a little football news here and there, and maybe some recruiting analysis or our next player arrest when it happens, but I want to do one or two entries on the basketball team each week. This Saturday I may even head over to Conseco Fieldhouse since it is a few blocks from my apartment and watch the Louisville game in person. Because of how much high school basketball I cover each year I don’t get to nearly as many Purdue basketball games as I would like, but I liked what I saw from watching the Clemson game so I’ll keep things running on a reduced level through at least March. At that point I will probably take a bit of a break until June when I can start working on previews for next football season. There may be an entry or two regarding the spring game or, if by some miracle, the baseball team makes the NCAA tournament. Since I follow Miami for college baseball much closer than I do Purdue I could do some ‘Canes stuff at that time as well.

Third, there is still no word on my media credential application for the Motor City Bowl. I will wait patiently to see if the populace will be entertained live from Detroit for the greatest rematch in sports history since Tyson-Holyfield II, or if I will just have to watch from my couch again.

So that is the plan for Off the Tracks over the next few months. There may be a few more tweaks to the design of the site as well, so stay tuned.

I also wanted to take some time to thank everyone who has stopped by to read this season and those that have taken the time to comment. When I started this I had no idea that I would get even the modest audience I had in the first year, but since I joined the Big Ten bloggers’ network my readership has exploded. You guys make this worthwhile and drive much of what I do here. It’s a thrill to know that people are out there reading and actually like my opinions on something I’m probably a little too obsessive about. Thank you for stopping by!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Know thy Bowl Opponent 2007: Central Michigan Chippewas

It is Joe Tiller's birthday, so it is appropriate that on this "date which will live in infamy" we view the bowl opponent that will live in infamy; the Central Michigan Chippewas. The 2007 season is somewhat like the Pearl Harbor attack in that we knew something bad was brewing, but we never expected the season to collapse so suddenly in the final three games. Now we have the entire program smoldering like the USS Arizona and the fans are wondering how things can be fixed. Therefore, we must think of the Central Michigan game in the Motor City Bowl as the Doolittle Raid that occurred a few months after Pearl Harbor. On the surface the attack did not accomplish a whole lot, but it was the first step in the ultimate victory for the U.S. over Japan. A loss to the Chips would simply be the biggest setback the program has faced since the Colletto era.

The Motor City Bowl will be the first time in the program's history that that Purdue has not faced a major conference team in a bowl game, and if Tiller has done anything in his tenure he has proven that he can beat teams from non-BCS conferences. He has a 19-3 record against non-BCS foes, with the only losses coming to Toledo in 1997, Bowling Green in 2003, and Hawaii in 2006. What is the common denominator of these three? They were all ranked teams in the season that we played them, furthering proof he can't beat ranked teams. When you take those away we have very few games that were even close, with Miami (OH) in 2006 and Rice in 1998 being the closest. Central Michigan didn't even receive a single vote in any football poll this season, so the odds are in our favor.


2007 for the Chippewas


We all know what happened on September 15th, and quite frankly anything short of a repeat performance will be disappointing. We had our most dominant half of football on the season against Central Michigan, building a 31-0 halftime lead and preventing a good offensive team from doing much of anything. We then pushed the lead to 38-0 before turning on the cruise control and coasting to a 45-22 win. This is what we must do in Detroit. It's sad this that this game was one of the few times this season we totally dominated a team and put them away early.


Once the Chippewas got into MAC play they had a pretty good season, going 7-1 against conference opponents. The only loss to a MAC team came in a 48-45 shootout against Eastern Michigan. The Eagles aren't exactly the New England Patriots in terms of offense, so once again we should be able to what we want when we want to offensively.


When the Chippewas played outside the MAC the results weren't nearly so good. They went 1-4 with the only win coming against Army 47-23. The other four games were blowouts. 52-7 against Kansas, 45-22 against Purdue, 44-14 to 1-AA North Dakota State, and 70-14 against Clemson were results that don't exactly inspire confidence when playing someone else.


The only common opponent we have with the Chippewas, outside of our own game with them of course, is Toledo whom they pounded 52-31 just a week after we faced the Rockets.


Central Michigan offense:


Central Michigan knows how to score points. The Chippewas rank 26th nationally at 33.8 points per game, just ahead of our own 32.9 per game clip. They average more than 450 yards per game (ranked 21st) and that is fairly evenly balanced between the run and the pass. Most of this balance comes in the form of quarterback Dan LeFevour. He's a bit of a poor man's Tim Tebow, as he has thrown for 3,360 yards and 23 touchdowns and has run for 1008 yards and 17 scores. Since Tebow was college football's first ever 20/20 touchdown man this season it's not outside the realm of possiblilty that Lefevour could join him with a good Motor City bowl performance. He is also only a sophomore like Tebow, and will be better this time around. Against us the first time he threw for 364 yards and two scores while running for only 26, but most of that came with the Boilers already holding a big lead.


His top receiver is Bryan Anderson, who had 10 catches for 101 yards against us and has 83 grabs for 1003 yards and seven scores on the year. Antonio Brown also contributes to the passing game with 98 catches, 909 yards, and five scores. He had nine catches for 96 yards against us. Central Michigan has had 10 different players catch touchdown passes this year, so almost anyone can contribute.


Outside of LeFevour the running game is not particularly dangerous as Justin Hoskins is the next leading rusher with 649 yards and 10 scores. Central Michigan only ran for 101 yards against us the first time around, and 41 of those came from #3 rusher Ontario Sneed. Sneed had 484 yards and six scores on the year, but his production continued to drop after a 1,000 yard year in 2005 and 700 in 2006. It should be noted that Sneed did miss three games in the middle of the season.


The Chippewas' M.O. is to spread the ball around as much as possible, and they succeeded in doing that the first time around with nine different receivers and six different rushers getting involved. In order to repeat our earlier victory it will be imperative for us for us to not let their offense get rolling in the first half.


Central Michigan Defense:


The way that some teams blew through this unit the proper term might be, "What defense?" As seen above, the Chippewas were unable to hold a non-MAC opponent not named Army under 44 points this year. Against the MAC they weren't much better, giving up over 30 points in six of eight games. The only teams that struggled to score against Central were Army, Northern Illinois, and Miami (OH), and they each finished 3-9, 2-10, and 6-7 respectively. That's 10 of 13 games this year in which Central Michigan gave up 30 points or more.


Central Michigan can cause turnovers, forcing 27 this year led by Josh Gordy with four interceptions, but it's not like they have been able to stop anyone. Red Keith was a tackling machine with 139 stops on the year from his linebacker position, adding two picks and two fumble recoveries to his repertoire. Ike Brown also reached triple digits in tackles with exactly 100 stops.


That's really it for the defense, as you can't expect there to be a ton of standouts on a unit that would struggle to stop the French Army. We've already proven we can start hot against this team, so any kind of first half struggles would be a huge disappointment. I will say it now: If we make it out of the first quarter still having not scored in the opening quarter of a bowl game since Tampa we will lose this game.


Central Michigan Special Teams:


We have a solid advantage here with Chris Summers over placekicker Andrew Aguila. Aguila has missed four extra points this year while Summers is perfect on PAT's and Aguila has connected on just 7 of 12 field goals. He has made a 51-yarder, but is just 2 of 6 from beyond 30 yards. Central Michigan is usually a team that is end zone or bust on drives, so if we can keep them outside of the red zone we stand a good chance of stopping them from scoring.


Tony Mikulec only has a 37.5 yard punting average, so there isn't a big leg there. Antonio Brown is a decent kick returner averaging 11.4 yards on punt returns and 27.7 on kick returns. He also had a 90 yard kick return for a touchdown and a 58 yarder against us, but Bryant and Tardy are better weapons.


The kicking game will be a huge advantage if the defense can simply keep them out of the end zone. We can score from farther out than they can because of the improvement in Chris Summers. Jared Armstrong will need to get over his case of the shanks as well.


Intangibles:


While we should have huge advantages in terms of talent Central Michigan has a gigantic advantage in this area. Quite simply they have a whole lot more to play for than we do. We have an entire fan base that is demoralized, as well as players openly saying we should have declined this bowl invitation. We've already proven we can beat this team, so it won't even count as a good win if we finally break our bowl losing streak. The only thing we can salvage is embarrassment from losing to a team we defeated by 23 points just three months ago.


Central Michigan, however, is fired up to get another shot at a BCS conference opponent. They've already played in big games (two MAC title games and last year's Motor City bowl) at Ford Field and won them all. This is like a second home for them at this point. A win would also give them a nice springboard into next year, something we can't boast about.


Let's face it: for a team from the MAC they use any victory over a Big Ten team, no matter how bad that Big Ten team is, as a measuring stick. That's part of the reason they agreed to this bowl matchup that always sends the best from the MAC against the worst bowl team from the Big Ten. A win for Central Michigan would give them a ton of confidence to beat us next year when they receive most everyone back.


Game Outlook:


This will be a game won in the first quarter. We cannot afford to have another slow start to a bowl game, but coming out hot would be a stunning reversal of our past performances. If not for a slow start we would have had wins against Arizona State (2004), Georgia (2003), Washington State (2001), and possibly Washington in the Rose Bowl. The more we let Central hang around the more confidence they will gain. They're already itching to kick around a team that kicked them around, so we cannot give them any fire.


I have been preaching this all year but no one will listen. The key for us will be the running game. Kory Sheets has his best game on the ground this season against Central with 144 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught four balls out of the backfield for 19 more yards. Jaycen Taylor went for 28 yards and a score before breaking his arm in the game. We more than doubled their yardage on the ground, and if we can contain LeFevour's running ability we should be fine.


A lot will depend on our attitude and leadership. If leaders like Keller, Avril, and Bick decide that the finish was embarrassing enough and want to go out with a bang we should be able to dominate like we did in September. If Dorien Bryant's piss-poor attitude prevails however we will lose. This is a highly important game because more than ever it sets the tone for next year. A win at least stops the bleeding and temporarily reverses the trend started at the end of the season. A loss means we could easily go 1-3 out of conference next year and the season would be over before it started.


PREDICTION:


Maybe I am delusional, but I still believe. I think that we can for once rise up to the challenge and pull this off. I have zero confidence in Central Michigan's ability to stop us, as they haven't stopped anyone all season who didn't shoot themselves in the foot. That will be the only way we should lose this game. Unfortunately we have shown of late that we are more than capable of doing so. Purdue 45, Central Michigan 30

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Big Ten Bloggers' unofficial roundtable

Borrowing from my friends over at Boiled Sports it's time for yet another Big Ten Bloggers' roundtable. This is far from an official one, but it was a good idea from the three of them over there. The Bible says that when two or more are gathered in His name Christ will be there. Well, you now have four disgruntled Purdue fans agreeing the 2007 season ended with a resounding thud, so maybe we can gather in Morgan Burke's name and get Brock Spack fired.

As a side note we're reaching for the stars here at Off the Tracks. On a lark I applied for a Motor City Bowl media credential yesterday. I know the chances are slim that I'll get it based on the journalistic integrity of this enterprise, but if I do then I may be making the trip from Indy to Detroit for the game, so stay tuned...

1. What was your biggest surprise of the season (positive)?
Chris Summers. I said this earlier in the week, but nothing was expected of him and we had even recruited a good high school kicker under the premise of "We'll grit our teeth through one more season of him and then make him punt." Chris had a great year and it is my hope that when he does double duty next season it won't adversely affect him.

2. What was your biggest disappointment of the season?
The Michigan State game. If we simply make defensive adjustments we win easily.

3. What are you excited about for the '08 season?
The Oregon game. I love to see different teams come into Ross-Ade that don't visit very often. I'm also strongly considering going on the return trip to Autzen in 2009 because I hear it is an awesome place to watch a game. I need to go just to get to the bottom of their train whistle they blow after scores.

4. What are you least looking forward to in the '08 season?
Much like the guys at Boiled Sports, I am dreading the inevitable collapse. It will probably happen at Notre Dame when we blow another late lead in South Bend, allowing the legend of Jimmy Montana to blossom.

5. What effect, if any, will a bowl have on Purdue's football program?
Well, a loss would be a huge setback, even compared to what has already happened. WE simply should not lose to a team we've already beaten by 23.

6. How and when will Joe Tiller's career end at Purdue?
I agree that next year is most likely Tiller's last year, and barring a winless season he will become Purdue's all-time leader in coaching wins.

7. Who frustrated you the most this season?

Brock Spack. I am tired of having a defense that simply refuses to make obvious adjustments. This cost us the last two games of the season. A close second is our "highly talented" receiving corps. For being as good as they were made out to be they sure dropped a TON of passes in big spots. Bryant, Orton, Lymon, and even Keller were guilty of this.

8. What team and/or player opponent of Purdue this season was least impressive to you?
Central Michigan. I honestly expected a close game the first time around because they won 10 games and had nearly everyone back from last season. They scare me even more facing them next year because let's face it, playing us three times in 13 games will make them very familiar with us.

9. Despite all the grousing we do, is Purdue football on the right track (If not, what would get the program back on track)?
No, it's not. I'm not sure what is needed, but it seems like everyone has gotten too complacent. For the Toledo game this year there actually seemed to be a fire and a bit of swagger in the program, but it quickly died. There needs to be some kind of energy injected into the program because the Senior Day atmosphere with a chance still alive for a New Year's Day bowl was as dull as any game of the Coletto era.

10. Looking at next year's schedule, what's your early thought on critical games?
Again, Oregon. They will be the best non-conference team we face next year. Since I don't count wins in South bend until they actually happen (simply blowing games in 1998, 2000, and 2002 will do that) it will be critical to beat the Ducks, otherwise we're probably 2-2 before the conference season even starts.

11. Does it ever get old making fun of Fat Charlie the Manatee?
I hate him as a football coach, but I do respect much of the charity work he does off the field like visiting sick kids and stuff. It sounds like a pretty good guy off the field and I can respect that.

12. Will Purdue win a football national championship in our lifetime?
I thought we could at some point, but now I doubt it. It seems like we can never get it together on both sides of the ball at the same time. Under Brees we had to win a ton of shootouts. When we finally got a good defense we had Kyle Orton's training wheels on. Basically we will need a leader like Brees to come in and get a good defense at the same time. At least since we play Notre Dame every year and teams like Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan almost every year there will always be the schedule strength there to do it.

13. What is more likely for the Boilers and why: a football championship or a basketball championship?
A basketball championship. I am really, really excited to see what will happen when our current freshmen become juniors and seniors because they will all probably stay for four years.

14. After Tiller retires (or is fired), would you rather get a coach that is a better recruiter or is a better game day coach?
I want a good recruiter who can coach defense. Our offense is always going to be fine, but the defense the last few years has been horrible. I am terrified of having Brock Spack as coach.

15. If you had to choose another coach from the Big Ten to coach Purdue, who would you pick?
Give me Tressell. The man simply knows how to win football games and that is all I care about.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

So it has come to this…

I think the official Purdue site says it all. This is the sixth year the Motor City bowl has had a tie-in with the Big Ten, but because of consistently getting two teams into the BCS and a dearth of bowl eligible teams this will be only the second time a team from the conference has played in Detroit. The last time was the 2003 season when a 6-6 Northwestern team lost 28-24 to the same Bowling Green team that upset us to begin that season.

The downside of the Motor City bowl each year is that it is the last of the Big Ten bowls, meaning the team playing in it has had a disappointing year, but was still good enough to win most of its games. That team will be facing the best the MAC has to offer. Considering the MAC usually only has 2-3 good teams getting their best is usually a fairly even game. The Purdue site can dress it up with propaganda all they want, but this is nothing short of a disappointment for us.

How excited can we be to face a team we have already beaten by 23 points? Not only that, we will see them again in nine months when the new season starts as game 2 of the 2008 season is against the Chippewas. This is an embarrassment for us. Just a month ago we were talking about a potential New Year’s Day game, and now we’re in Detroit the day after Christmas for the lowest possible bowl we could have played. Even the Armed Forces bowl would have been better as it would have meant a test against a team we didn’t play. Basically, the various bowl committees said we only deserve to prove our best win of the season wasn’t a fluke.

Let’s face it, the Central Michigan game was our best win of the year. They are decent team and we put them away with a dominant first half. The Chippewas are a better team than Iowa and Northwestern, and they are the only team in the postseason that we beat this year. Yes, our best win, and our bowl opponent, is a team that lost to Eastern Michigan, North Dakota State, and was pounded in games against Clemson and Kansas.

Is this rock bottom for us? Well, if you can still go bowling and hit rock bottom its pretty close. The only way it could be worse is if we lose this game. Since it is more of a home game for the Chippewas than it is for us it’s a distinct possibility. The Motor City Bowl is the type of bowl where the Big Ten team winning proves nothing, while a loss stings even more. That 2003 game was a little different because Bowling Green was very, very good and favored, but the opposite is true here.

I’ll try to take a more positive look at this over the next few weeks, and maybe even get somewhat excited for it, but for now I am feeling pretty low. At least we stand a good chance of winning a bowl game now, but a loss would be devastating because of the previous history. In the meantime, let me give out some good and bad post-season awards for the 2007 Boilers, since the bowl result will be irrelevant.

Most Improved: Chris Summers

Chris had a great year when absolutely nothing was expected from him. He’s probably the main reason we were able to beat Notre Dame, and gave us a real shot at beating Penn State on the road. The only miss that ended up hurting us was the one at IU (of the just four kicks he missed), but in the end it wouldn’t have mattered had we simply come to play. It’s safe to say Chris has earned himself the job for next year, and even more will be expected of him as he is the likely new punter as well. It’s very nice to see him get some positive press after so much negative press, and that a miss in the IU game was almost forgotten because of the other issues.

Least Improved: Curtis Painter

It seemed like he, along with most of the team, regressed as the season went on. Yeah he still put up good numbers, but his games against Michigan State and Indiana were among the least inspiring statistical games by a quarterback ever. He raised his completion percentage and cut down his interceptions, but threw just four TD passes in the last four games after 22 in the first 8.

Mental Attitude Award: Jake Standeford

What will it take to add this kid to the coaching staff next year? Here is a guy that was an invited walk-on mostly because of his record breaking brother and he was never expected to see the field. He did everything that was asked of him and as one of the least heralded recruits in team history he outplayed the most heralded recruit in program history. He only had 27 catches for 284 yards and two TD’s, but he was a fantastic downfield blocker and all-around hustle guy. If we could get his effort out of everyone else we’d be a much better team.

Trojan® Boner of the Year Award: Selwyn Lymon

I hate guys like Selwyn Lymon. God gave his all the talent in the world but he never had it going on upstairs to rein it in. He shredded a bad Notre Dame defense for what ended up being the highlight of his career, but didn’t have a tenth of the heart that Standeford did behind him. All of his talent gave him just 13 more catches, 266 more yards, and the same number of touchdowns. Now he is off the team for good and I hope he can simply get his life in order. He’s the latest in a long line of high-profile recruits that hasn’t worked out, showing why the program has taken a downturn. At least he’s a badass in NCAA ’08 on my playstation.

Offensive MVP: Dustin Keller

Bryant was underwhelming this year with all the drops and the way he disappeared in the last two games, but Keller delivered game in and game out. Why we didn’t go to him more I’ll never know, as he seemed to actually catch the ball when thrown to him unlike Orton, Lymon, and Bryant. Of our highly touted receiving corps only he and Standeford were not a disappointment.

Offensive dud: Joe Tiller

With all the weapons we had on offense we had the most predictable offense I’ve ever seen. Where was the imagination Cowboy Joe used to employ? Where were the in-game adjustments? This was the most obvious year of the Tiller regime where we were outcoached in every loss. Last year I could accept the losses owing to inexperience and lack of talent. This year we had experience and more talent, yet we got worse as the season went on. We had a chance to make noise on national TV against Ohio State to make a statement and only answered with a resounding thud that echoed through the rest of the season. This year Tiller was the king of the inexplicable game decision, such as not kicking a 43 yard field goal at home but sending the kicker out for a 50-yarder at Penn State.

Defensive MVP: Anthony Heygood

The defense regressed the most, but Heygood played hard all year. Next year he should be the leader we need at linebacker and another year of experience could see him playing for conference honors. I felt Avril had a disappointing year as we showed an appalling lack of pass rush for a Purdue team, but Heygood was an anchor in each game. Keep in mind also that it was his first year ever at the position.

Defensive dud: Brock Spack

Here is the sole reason the season went in the crapper. Four years ago Spack was the heir apparent as head coach and we had a string of good defenses. Now we have a defense that plays a base package the entire game never once makes a single adjustment. We are incapable of making the big play we need to get a team off the field with a key stop, and haven’t done so since 2003. The fact we have so many defensive guys in the NFL, yet our defense is now terrible is such an enigma considering Spack is the one constant during Tiller’s tenure.

Best play of the year:

This is either a tie between Keller’s 80 yard TD against Toledo and Cliff Avril’s pick six at Minnesota. I think I would give the edge to Avril because it was simply a great individual effort to go with a solid stiff arm to get to the end zone.

Worst play of the year:

Third and five at mid-field against Indiana. Everyone knew Hardy was getting the ball yet we didn’t have the foresight to double cover him, bump him at the line, or do anything to stop it. This closed the case against Brock Spack ever being head coach.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have a rematch to get excited for. Woo.