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Friday, June 27, 2008

Boilermakings for June 27

For this being the middle of summer, it has been quite a busy week in the land of Purdue. I’ve actually managed to find a ton of updates that are Purdue-related for this week’s Boilermakings.

Curtis Painter not striking a Heisman pose:

Lake the Posts completed its wonderful work this week in compiling the Big Ten bloggers’ pre-season picks with some fun categories. My fellow bloggers were asked to pick a number of categories from who is most likely to win the Heisman to which coach is most likely to have a post-game meltdown. You can see the final results here, but the following is how I voted:

Coach of the Year: Pat Fitzgerald – I am really sold on Northwestern this year. As stated previously, I think they have one of those years in them where they get about 2-3 wins that no one will give them a chance to win. Of course, I was really sold on Iowa two years ago and picked Michigan State to not win a conference game last year, so what do I know.

Most Likely To Strike Heisman Pose: Chris "Beanie" Wells – I’d love to say Painter, but even a Big Ten championship may not do it for him. For him to get it Purdue would have to finish 11-1 and Painter would need to go for about 4,000 yards and 35 TD’s. That still may not be enough. I’ll work on it on NCAA ’08 Playstation-wise and get back to you.

Last Year's Illini Will Be This Year's ???? (most improved): Michigan State – I don’t know about this one. Michigan State either has a big year in them, or they could do what I expected last year and struggle all year. I feel more secure about giving it to Northwestern.

Upset game of the year (include non-conference): Purdue over Oregon – Yeah, I predicted Oregon in my preview, but I feel this is our best shot at an upset.

Name You'll Know In December That No One Knows In June: Ryan Kerrigan, DE Purdue – He seems like the next DE that will break out for us. He reminds me of Rob Ninkovich a bit.

Most Likely To John McLaren (aka lose it in postgame rant): -- I accidentally didn’t choose a coach on my ballot, so I’ll belatedly choose Rich Rodriguez. He’s under way too much pressure at Michigan to not snap if they lose a few in a row.

Highest NFL Draft Pick in 2009: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State – Really, you could pick of Ohio State guys here and probably be right.

The Must See Game of the Year that is not Ohio State - Michigan: Purdue-Oregon on September 13th. – I’ve been looking toward this game for a long time. It should be a great one.

Past and Future Boilers make reservations for Beijing:

The last two weeks I have written about Purdue javelin thrower Kara Patterson’s chances of representing the U.S. and Purdue in the Olympics in a few weeks. In Indianapolis earlier this week, however, a future Boilermaker made sure someone will be representing Purdue in Beijing. Incoming freshman David Boudia won this week’s U.S. Olympic diving trials to clinch a spot on the 10 meter platform in Beijing. Boudia was homeschooled the past two years as he concentrated on making it to Beijing, but he will attend Purdue this fall, hopefully with some Chinese gold to hang somewhere in his dorm room.

In related Olympic news, Purdue will also be represented in the Paralympics by rower Emma Preuschl. Preuschl recently qualified for the Paralympics as part of the U.S. National adaptive rowing team. I have nothing but respect for the athletes that compete in the Paralympics. I tend to keep myself in fairly decent shape, but these athletes could probably run circles around me despite their physical disabilities. It is wonderful to see Purdue represented well in both events in Beijing, and more is sure to come.

Basketball lands a big recruit:

Much has been made about Purdue’s apparent lack of size on the hardwood. This past week, however, the Boilers got some big help as Danville’s Travis Carroll announced his commitment for the class of 2010. This isn’t exactly earth-shattering news in this forum, as anyone who follows Purdue basketball likely already knows about it. It is still good news though, as Matt Painter works to keep much of the state’s best talent right at home (and heading north instead of south). Unfortunately, we won’t be able to get much help from Carroll until the fall of 2010, but we can dream of pairing the freshman Carroll with seniors Hummel, Moore, and Johnson. Carroll appears to be a solid passer and rebounder as well as a scorer inside, so he will be a very nice fit. Last season for Danville as a sophomore he averaged 20.3 points and 13.8 rebounds per game.

Carroll’s commitment gives us a very balanced lineup for what could be a serious run at a national title in 2011. Here is how the roster could look that season:

Robbie Hummel (Sr.)
E’Twaun Moore (Sr.)
JuJuan Johnson (Sr.)
Lewis Jackson (Jr.)
John Hart (Jr.)
Ryne Smith (Jr.)
Jeff Robinson (So.)
D.J. Byrd (So.)
Kelsey Barlow (So.)
Patrick Bade (So.)
Travis Carroll (Fr.)


That list doesn’t include any other pickups like Donnie Hale, DeArmon Davis, or (in a dream world) DeShaun Thomas. All of it is homegrown talent except for Smith and Jackson. I especially like the balance of that roster. Jackson will be an experienced true point guard to distribute the ball. Smith and Hart can shoot well. Hummel, Moore, Byrd, and Barlow can shoot from outside as well as get to the basket. Carroll, Robinson, Johnson, and Bade would provide size and depth in the paint. The 2010 team won’t be too bad either with Kramer and Grant getting one last run with everyone above except Carroll. It’s a sahme we missed out on another pretty good player in Winchester’s Tyler Koch.

Josh Lindblom is Loony:

The highest Purdue player drafted in this year’s Major League Baseball draft has inked his first professional deal. Closer Josh Lindblom, a townie that went to Harrison before transferring back to Purdue from Tennessee, signed a deal with the Dodgers after being the 61st overall selection in the draft earlier this month. Lindblom led the Big Ten in saves and helped lead Purdue to its best season ever in Big Ten play. He’ll also get plenty of opportunities to play locally as he begins his professional career. He was assigned to the Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League. The Midwest league has teams in Ft. Wayne and South Bend, as well as several Midwest cities and Dayton, Ohio. This will give his family and friends plenty of chances to see him play locally.

The last Boilermaker to make the majors was Dave Gassner, who got a cup of Cuban coffee with the Twins a few years ago as a starting pitcher. The Dodgers plan to eventually convert Lindblom over to a starter, which is surprising considering how he thrived as a closer. I guess if it worked for Ryan Dempster it can work for anyone.

Brian Cardinal continues to get paid well for doing nothing:

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Brian Cardinal. I think he was a great player for Purdue and plays the game the way it should be played. Sadly, one of the highlights of my basketball career involves Cardinal. Very early in my freshman year I went to the co-rec to play some basketball and I got in a pickup game with him on my team. I got the ball on a 2 on 1 fast break after a steal and none other than Citizen Pain was flying down the court with me. Being barely 6 feet tall on my best day with a questionable left hand I felt I was going to easily get swatted by the defender running back. I was able to dish to Cardinal for a sweet finish (He probably gave an effortless dunk, I can’t remember), that earned the compliment of “nice pass” from Brian.

Considering I couldn’t even make my 7th grade team because of my size (I was cruelly cursed to grow three inches very late in my senior year of high school) it felt pretty good. Almost as good as the day I was playing at the co-rec and a guy said I couldn’t shoot in a game. Three made 3-pointers and a steal for the game-winning basket later (all while saying I was terrible after each made shot) I had won respect.

Enough about my pitiful basketball exploits, however, and back to Citizen Pain. Cardinal was thrown in as part of deal between Minnesota and Memphis late last night that gave the Timberwolves some Love for holding the Mayo for awhile. I like how the two best players in this trade are guys who have yet to set foot on the court in the NBA. The remaining players are guys that get shuffled around for contract reasons like deck chairs on the Titanic. Cardinal is one of those deck chairs, sadly. Last season he made $5.85 million for 37 games of work on a craptacular Grizzlies team. He only averaged 3.4 points per game. That is just 124 points for the entire season, or roughly $47,000 per point scored.

In related news, I am hiring his agent as my agent when the NBA announces its designated free throw shooter rule to combat Hack-a-Shaq. You have no idea how sickening it feels to struggle finding work at all when Brian Cardinal gets $47,000 per made free throw.

At least it has worked out better than when we gave that plane to Amelia Earhart:

The following isn’t sports news, but I came across the article and thought it was cool. Apparently Purdue has entered a team in something called the Air Race Classic, a cross-country air race made up of teams of women pilots that go from Bozeman, Montana to Mansfield, Massachusetts. This year’s group from Purdue is on pace to finish a day early and set the tone for other teams that will compete later this summer.

I cannot do this story proper justice in such a short space, but the Lafayette Journal and Courier has a very complete article, complete with team diary, found here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Game Day guide to West Lafayette

I am not often one to gamble, but you are are one that doesn't have a problem dropping a little coin on some Saturday afternoon football action the fall head on over to BetUs.com. They have plenty of free football picks that are sure to please any fan.

This one is for my fellow Big Ten bloggers. After some recent discussion on our secret board (hint: a Lemon Party is part of the hazing rights) we have decided to work on some travel guides to different Big Ten venues. Since I was the instigator of this idea I decided to get going on the first one. For my fellow Boilers out there, I invite you to add on as necessary in the comments section. I’ll keep this one linked permanently over on the right, and as other guides come available from other bloggers I’ll post them on the right as well. For Ohio State fans, with your game at Miami in a few years (and should any other Big Ten team end up in the Orange Bowl) I’ll likely do a Miami one as well.

Ross-Ade Stadium and ticket availability:

Like nearly every other stadium in the Big Ten, Ross-Ade Stadium was originally built in the 1920’s and has undergone significant renovations since. The most recent renovations came about as a result of Joe Tiller making the program relevant against for the first time in decades. The new press box, with luxury suites and the Shively Stadium club, opened for the 2002 season and the concourse expansion was completed before the 2003 season. There are plans for two more phases, adding an upper deck with additional suites to the east side of the stadium (phase II) and an upper deck on the north end (phase III) that would increase capacity to 80,000 seats, but those will only be built should season ticket demand increase. Right now the capacity is 62,500, but talk has increased in the past year from athletic director Morgan Burke about Phase II actually happening. Personally, I don’t look for anything to get going until the massive Mackey Arena renovation is complete.

All in all it is now a very nice, cozy stadium. I know I am biased, but it is one of my favorite places to watch a game, and the concourse expansion has done wonders. Of the seven Big Ten venues I have been to, Purdue may have the widest concourses and nicest restrooms (among Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Northwestern).

Tickets can easily be had to most games. Sellouts at Purdue are more common than they used to be, but don’t occur for every game. Notre Dame is a guaranteed sellout every two years, as is Ohio State. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana generally draw near capacity crowds as well. For everyone else you can pretty much count on tickets being available from the athletic ticket office across the street in the IAF next to Mackey Arena. Scalpers are out on game day, but not in overwhelming force. I have also seen affordable listings on ebay and Stubhub.

For my fellow bloggers, if you’re interested in coming to a game there are a few each season in which I have my personal John Purdue Club seats available. My parents have seats in the Shively Stadium Club, but they miss a game or two every September when they visit their timeshare in Breckenridge, CO. We often get their seats for these games and make our own available. We sometimes get one of the Big Ten games as well, as my father’s business has four more seats in the stadium club and he generally gets all four of those for one game per year in addition to his seats.

My only advice on tickets for visiting fans is avoid the south end zone. Those seats are not as expensive as others in the stadium, but the drawback is that you cannot see much else. If you have a south end zone ticket you are confined to the south end zone and cannot walk around the rest of the stadium. If any of you saw the Ohio State game last year you’ll know that some fans aren’t exactly immune to the lure of the almighty dollar when it comes to selling their tickets to opposing fans.

Parking and tailgating:

Parking is plentiful on game day, and you can park for free within easy walking distance of the stadium. All university parking garages are free on game days, and the closest to the stadium is the Northwestern Avenue garage. On this map it can be found just north of the intersection between Northwestern Avenue and Grant Street. From here is it is a short walk to the stadium, and if you cross Northwestern Avenue and go behind the buildings across the street you’ll walk right through the heart of the engineering mall. This is generally regarded as the most beautiful part of campus.

My wife and I usually park in the Northwestern garage and walk to the stadium. Your main lots for tailgating are the R lot directly north of the stadium, Slayter Hill, and the intramural playing fields on the west side of campus. The IM lots are located behind the Recreational Sports Center off of 3rd street. On the map above they are basically the huge open area bordered by 3rd street, McCormick Road, Intramural Drive, and Stadium Avenue. Parking on Slayter Hill and in the R Lot behind the stadium are usually reserved for John Purdue Club members, but parking in the IM lots is just $10. More information from last year’s guide can be found here.

I have found the best tailgating is in the R Lot directly north of the stadium. One of my dad’s business partners has been here for years and we always end up there before and after games. Purdue has a lively tailgate atmosphere like most of the Big Ten. If kickoff is later than our normal noon time expect plenty of beverages of a spirituous nature to be available. Most Purdue fans are very friendly to visiting fans (except Notre Dame), especially if said fans are friendly as well.

Getting to the stadium:

The greater Lafayette area has easy access to I-65, so it is very easy to come to the stadium. If you’re coming from the south (Indianapolis) I advise getting off at exit 168. Signs will direct you to exits 172 and 175, but those can quickly get backed up (especially with construction at exit 172 right now). From exit 168 (State road 38) simply turn right towards Lafayette. If you stay on that road the entire time it will take you all the way through downtown Lafayette, across the Wabash, and into the heart of campus.

If coming from the north I advise exiting at exit 193 (U.S. 231) or exit 178 (state road 43). U.S. 231 south will take you directly to campus (follow the signs through West Lafayette) as it is Northwestern Avenue through campus. State road 43 will avoid most traffic and will intersect with U.S. 231 under the Harrison Street bridge.

Where to stay:

Most of the hotels in the area are found at exit 172 in Lafayette. These are several miles from campus, however, and not conducive to the local scene. The Hilton Garden Inn is the closest hotel to everything, and is very close to restaurants and bars. The Holiday Inn City Centre is on the Lafayette side of the river in downtown Lafayette. It’s a nice hotel, but is a bit further from campus and you must walk across the Main Street pedestrian bridge into West Lafayette. Prices on game weekend for all Lafayette hotels can be expected to run at least $140, more if you are closer to campus. The two hotels listed above are really the best options close to campus, but the Campus Inn could be a more affordable option.

The bar scene:

West Lafayette is home to several great bars, many of which are personal favorites. Some, like the Neon Cactus, are places where I spent so much time my senior year I am surprised I managed semester honors for both semesters. The Cactus is the best (and really only) dance club in West Lafayette. It has some really good Thursday and Friday night drink specials. It is located just north of the Wabash Landing complex, which has several restaurants, a theater, bookstore, and the Hilton Garden Inn. The new location of Pete’s is also here, but I have not been there since they moved from Chauncey Hill.

Most of your bars are located along State Street in Chauncey Hill. This area is east of Grant street and west of Salisbury. The most iconic Purdue bar is Harry’s Chocolate Shop. Established in 1919, Harry’s is the home of “Go Ugly Early” and the best Long Islands I have ever had. My wife and I recently took her best friend here when she visited us from Miami and she absolutely loved it, even on a Sunday afternoon. The place is tiny, so be prepared for a line and a wait. The crowd will be asses and elbows on game days, but the Long Islands are more than worth it.

Other bars along State Street include Brothers, Where Else?, and Jake’s. I am not a fan of Brothers, as it seems too generic, but it often has loads of opposing fans. Where Else? and Jake’s are alright, but I swear by Harry’s and the Cactus. An important part of game day to remember about the bars is breakfast club. As far as I know, this is only a Purdue tradition, but it easily could be elsewhere. Basically, several bars like Harry’s and Where Else? will open as early as 7am on game days. Students will dress up in just about anything imaginable (and for women often quite revealing) to go drink. You will see these people, often very inebriated, all over the place both before and even after kickoff. Do not be alarmed.

Chumley’s on the Lafayette side of the Wabash River is also a very nice place with dozens of beers on tap. If you’re into the generic scene there is a Buffalo Wild Wings right next to the Neon Cactus.

Along State Street there are also several restaurants. I highly recommend Lovshack, with over 35 different calzones. Any time I am in Lafayette to cover an event I stop there to get calzones and take them home. It is required for the continued health of my marriage. University Spirit and the Follet’s are also good places to pick up Purdue gear.

Other stuff to do:

Purdue’s campus is surprisingly compact for having almost 37,000 students. Walking from the Chauncey Hill area toward the stadium will allow you to see most of the campus sites, and will take less than half an hour. Be sure to see the Purdue Belltower and the Engineering Fountain along the way.

Tippecanoe Mall is also located in Lafayette along U.S. 52 just before leaving town heading toward Indianapolis. There is also plenty of shopping along state road 26 at Creasy Lane. If you stay at any of the hotels at exit 172 you’ll pass this area along state road 26 on the way to campus. Lafayette itself has most of your typical small American city type of fare, and most of it is concentrated around the mall and exit 172 off of I-65. Indianapolis is only about 50 minutes to the south, while Chicago is about 2 hours to the north. With the Colts opening Lucas Oil Stadium this season it is a great chance to see a gorgeous new venue.

Unfortunately, when it comes to hotels Lafayette is just about the only thing around for miles. There are a series of smaller hotels in Lebanon between Indianapolis and Lafayette, but that’s about it. North of Lafayette there isn’t much until you get to exit 253 in Merrillville, other than a handful of places around Rensselaer (exit 215).

Purdue Boilermakers Football Tickets

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Know thy Opponent 2008: Ohio State Buckeyes

After letting a pair of excellent fellow bloggers take over for the past few days it is high time I got off my lazy butt and produced some content of my own. When looking at Purdue’s next opponent, however, how can you blame me for wanting to delay looking at this game?

Until the 2004 season Purdue went 59 years since starting a season with a 5-0 record. The Boilers have since accomplished the feat twice, in 2004 and 2007. Each time, however, the record was questioned because of the level of competition. In many years those 5-0 starts would have looked good simply because it would have meant a win over Notre Dame. In both cases, however, Notre Dame was terrible, lowering the value of the wins. Aside from the Irish we have beaten the following teams in those 5-0 starts: Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Ball State, Syracuse, Penn State, and Toledo. Even the conference wins in that span have been against teams in down years.

I write this because another 5-0 start is possible this season, but if it happens it will carry a lot more weight. The only easy game we have in this stretch is the opener against Northern Colorado. The remaining four are very tough, but manageable games. Much like in 2004 and 2007, however, we will have a likely top 10 team waiting for us in that sixth game to ruin things once again. It was Wisconsin in 2004, Ohio State in 2007, and the Buckeyes will get as second chance in 2008 if we start 5-0.

Last season for the Buckeyes:

If last year’s 11-2 season that included a second straight visit to the national championship game is considered a rebuilding year it is merely a testament to the lofty heights Ohio State fans have grown accustomed to. The Buckeye defense was a virtual wall last season, allowing more than 17 points just twice. That was the magic number, as both times teams managed to better that number against Ohio State the Buckeyes lost. Illinois did it in a stunning 28-21 win in Columbus, while LSU hit 38 in a 38-24 win in the championship game. If you take away the LSU game, Ohio State allowed a meager 25 points in its four non-conference games against Youngstown State, Kent State, Washington, and Akron. Ohio State was even better in four games against a couple of pretty good offensive teams in the Big Ten. Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota, and Michigan, who all posted good offensive numbers last year, combined for just 24 points.

While the defense was spectacular, Ohio State was far from the “score 13 and put it in the hands of the defense” team of 2002. Ohio State was held under 20 points just once, by Michigan in the regular season finale. Often times, like in the Purdue game, Ohio State needed to merely crack 20 points and put things on cruise control. Still, the Buckeyes were over 30 points seven times.

Since losing to Purdue near the end of the 2004 season Ohio State has gone 35-5. Three of those losses (Texas, Florida, and LSU) came against a team that was ranked #2 in the country at the time. I must also give Ohio State credit for being the one Big Ten team not afraid to go out and play a marquee team in non-conference play. The standard of the Big Ten’s non-conference season used to be Notre Dame, who is regularly scheduled by Purdue, Michigan, and Michigan State, while Penn State, Northwestern, and Ohio State have played them in the last 15 years. The standard is now Ohio State. The Buckeyes recently split with Texas, while this season USC begins a home and home with them. In future seasons Miami (FL), California, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, and Tennessee all have home and homes scheduled. It’s a great strategy, as a win automatically gives Ohio State (or their opponents) a leg up in the BCS race.

Ohio State offense:

The Buckeye offense returns nearly every top contributor from last season’s team. That fact alone would have Ohio State as the early Big Ten favorite, but all told 18 starters return. The best cog in that offense is Chris Wells. Wells is only one of the favorites to take home this season’s Heisman trophy after rushing for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Surprisingly, Purdue was able to keep him mostly in check. Wells rushed for at least 100 yards nine times last season, and cracked 200 twice. Against Purdue he only had 85 yards and no touchdowns, but the way the defense played it didn’t matter. Should Wells go down top backups Maurice Wells (367 yards, 3 TD’s) and Brandon Saine (267 yards, 2 TD’s) both return. Redshirt freshman Daniel Herron could also get some carries.

Quarterback Todd Boeckman wasn’t spectacular last season (2,379 yards, 25 TD’s, 14 INT’s), but he rarely needed to be. One of the few positives from the Purdue game for Boilermaker fans was that the Boilers picked off Boeckman three times. Boeckmann was still able to throw for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns as our defense played well, but wasn’t backed up by the offense. For Ohio State to take the next step Boeckman only needs to show marginal improvement. Two of his worst outings last season were in the losses to Illinois and LSU, as he threw a combined five interceptions against two scores. If he keeps the interceptions down Ohio State will be fine. That Terrelle Pryor guy who is supposed to be pretty good.

Assisting Boeckman will be the return of nearly every single player that caught a pass last season. The only player I could find that caught a pass last season for Ohio State and will not be back this year was senior fullback Trever Robinson, who had three catches for 10 yards and a touchdown. Leading the way will be Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. The duo combined for over 100 catches, 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns. Boeckman also gets back his top tight end in Jake Ballard, who added another 149 yards and pair of scores. The top reserve receiver, Ray Small, is also back with 20 catches for 267 yards and two scores. Small’s best day last year came in a 6 catch, 70 yard effort where he had the opening score of the game at Purdue.

The offensive line was a large reason Ohio State was successful last year, and one should expect more of the same in 2008. Alex Boone is going to make some NFL team very happy after this season, as he is one of the best tackles in college football. Next to him is fellow senior Steve Rehring. A third senior, Ben Person, is at the other guard position, adding tons of experience to the line. Only 297 pound center Jim Cordle is under 300 pounds. Sophomore tackle Bryant Downing is the least experienced member of an excellent line.

Ohio State defense:

This unit certainly looks like another unit capable of protecting any lead. Almost everyone on Ohio State’s schedule should be afraid of the Buckeyes get three touchdowns, because this group is not going to give up more than 20 points very often. It seems like Ohio State, much like Penn State, simply grows NFL caliber linebackers out of the turf of the Horseshoe. This year is no different. James Laurinaitis leads a trio of seniors (Marcus Freeman and Curtis Terry are the other two) that will allow little if anything in the middle of the field. Laurinaitis and Freeman were both over 100 tackles last season, while Terry gets his first chance at extended playing time in his career.

In my interview with Eleven Warriors this week Jason stated that the one weakness (maybe) on defense was the middle of the defensive line. Even then, it is far from a normal team’s weakness. Todd Denlinger and Doug Worthington make up the interior of the defensive line. Both were respectable last season, but didn’t put up eye-popping numbers. On the outside Lawrence Wilson and Cameron Heyward look to replace the pass rushing beast that was Vernon Gholston. Gholston, who was almost comically ripped in the muscle department, led the team with 14 sacks and may be the biggest hole to fill from last season. Laurinaitis tied with the departed Larry Grant for second on the team in sacks last season with five, so Ohio State must find more of a pass rushing threat.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the secondary is more than capable of handling things while such a threat develops. Malcolm Jenkins and Donald Washington are two of the best cornerbacks in the country. Ohio State only had 11 interceptions last season, but Jenkins had four of them while Washington had one. For good measure Chimdi Chekwa, who had a field day last season against Purdue, is back as a backup to this pair. He is a very effective nickel back, as seen from his team high 10 tackles against us last year. Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell return as the safeties, and they were third and fourth on the team in tackles last season. They also contributed a combined four sacks from the safety position, showing that Ohio State is so confident with Washington, Jenkins, and Chekwa in pass coverage they can afford to have their safeties play up against the run or blitz.

Ohio State special teams:

Ryan Pretorius returns as one of the best placekickers in the Big Ten, if not the country. He was 18 of 23 on the season last year with a long of 50 yards. Should Ohio State fail to find the end zone they can rest assured Pretorius will make sure most drives into opponent territory end in points. If the Buckeyes fail to advance the ball, punter A.J. Trapasso is more than capable of pinning opponents deep. Trapasso had a 41.5 yard average on punts last season, dropping 21 of his 63 kicks inside the opponents’ 20 yard line. This contributed to the fact Ohio State’s opponents only returned punts for a 4.7 yard average and didn’t take a kick back for a touchdown.

One very slight weakness the Buckeyes had last season was kickoff coverage. The Buckeyes gave up an average of 21 yards per return and allowed a pair of kicks to be taken to the house. Considering Ohio State allowed just 20 touchdowns last year, it is an almost staggering weakness defensively. Ohio State struggled in the kickoff return game, but Hartline is also an excellent punt returner. He averaged over 11 yards per return last year and had a 90 yard return for a score.

Intangibles:

Ohio State is very well coached and they are extremely confident in Big Ten play. They have struggled in the championship games each of the past two seasons, but we don’t get the luxury of several weeks to prepare for them. Their experience from playing for it all each of the last two seasons cannot be discounted. Most of these players don’t know what it is like to not win the Big Ten, as the Buckeyes have won at least a share of the conference crown in each of the past three seasons.

They can also rely on the fact that their fans will take over nearly any stadium the team plays in. Last year, in one of the biggest home games in years, Purdue was embarrassed to have Ohio State take over Ross-Ade Stadium so much that they were able to do their O-H-I-O chant in the round. Purdue fans should be embarrassed by this as much as Ohio State should be proud of its ability to do so at a nationally televised night game.

Game Outlook:

When I did last year’s previews I stated that if we were undefeated coming into our game at Michigan and we somehow defeated the Wolverines we could dream of an undefeated season. Because our 2008 schedule gets much easier after our visit to the Horseshoe than 2007 was after going to Ann Arbor I can say the same thing. If we somehow come out of this game 6-0 we can dream of playing for the national championship.

That is not going to happen. Even if we come into this game 5-0 again (and that is a very big if) it will take a Herculean (and un-Tiller-like) effort to beat the Buckeyes in Columbus. We will need to play the best game we have ever played under coach Tiller. Even then it may not be enough.

Prediction:

In looking at our schedule I have seen just one game where you can guarantee a win, and that is Northern Colorado. On the other side, I see just one game where we have very little chance of winning, and that is Ohio State. That leaves 10 toss-ups. The defense played well last year and we still lost by 16 at home. Expect more of the same this year. Ohio State 28, Purdue 7

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Know thy Opponent takeover 2008: Blue Gray Sky

I hope everyone enjoys the new picture off to the right. It illustrates the pinnacle of Purdue football for the last 40 years, and hopefully it won't be another 40 years before I can get another picture. I found it last night and simply had to post it.

Today I am going to step back a bit and look at Notre Dame again as Blue Gray Sky stops by to answer a few questions about this season's Notre Dame game. Pat seems to have a very guarded view of the Irish this year, as it is a critical season for Charlie Weis in South Bend. With both teams being so close in the Rivals countdown (Purdue is a little high at 38 in my opinion, Notre Dame is 40th) we should be in for a good game in South Bend. Here is what Pat has to say:

Off the Tracks: There is certainly nowhere to go but up, and with a much easier schedule it can be easy to get carried away. What are your thoughts on 2008? Being 11-0 heading to USC is possible, but how probable is it?

Blue Gray Sky: Honestly, I haven't really though too much about 2008 from a win-loss perspective. I was so far off in my prediction last year, that I'm not all that eager to make another guess. There are going to be a number of games that are toss-ups this year, including the Purdue game, that will make or break the season for ND. I'd say that heading into the Southern Cal game at 11-0 would be more than extremely optimistic. The team is still young at many positions and even though many of them are talented, it's asking a lot for a team this young to reel off 11 straight wins. I also don't think ND will have the defense, particularly against the run, to stay unbeaten into late November (Ed. Note: Notre Dame was one of the rare games we stayed committed to the run last year, so hopefully we will do it again).

OTT: Much was made about Jimmy Clausen cementing the starting job in the spring, but he really had no competition. What roles will Crist and Sharpley play in the fall?

BGS: With a healthy Clausen clearly the starter heading into the fall, Evan Sharpley is the definite backup. Sharpley has the talent to manage a game but he's not going to have ND winning games they shouldn't. As for Crist, ideally he can use the year to get familiar with the playbook and take some reps in practice. If he can preserve a year of eligibility, that would be great as it would give him another year of separation from Clausen.

OTT: How about the offensive line. Can a group that was terrible most of last season solidfy with the loss of Sullivan?

BGS: It's going to be hard for them to be any worse than last year. The team will definitely miss Sully from an experience standpoint, but his replacement Dan Wenger has plenty of potential. His biggest issue is just staying healthy. There will be plenty of size for ND to run behind on the right side of the line with Chris Stewart (6'5" 340) at RG and Sam Young (6'7" 330) at RT. We'll just have to wait until fall to see if the line has fixed the awful pass blocking (Ed. Note: Sounds familiar, could we see a record number of sacks on both sides as Painter struggles to find time?). If they can't give Clausen time to throw, then teams will be able to load the box to stop the run and even the added heft won't help.

OTT: Defensively there is a ton of talent, but the run defense was a major issue last year. Is there enough improvement to get the opposing offense off the field faster?

BGS: This is where ND fans cross their fingers and hope new coach Jon Tenuta can work his blitz-crazy magic. Trevor Laws will be nearly impossible to replace along the line and rush defense is probably the #1 concern heading into the season. ND had a hard time stopping the run last year and have to improve after losing the best player on the line by far. I suspect teams will have success on the ground against ND, especially early on in the season. There are a few promising freshmen, but they are still freshmen and you can't expect too much out of them. If the run defense does improve, it will likely come from new defensive schemes or the play of the linebackers. The D-line will be a work in progress this year.

OTT: What is your honest assessment of coach Weis and how much improvement must he show this year after bringing in one of the best assortments of talent in the nation? How much of last year was honestly Ty Willingham's fault?

BGS: Is this the part where I as an ND fan get to blame Ty for everything? It would be nice to lay it all at his feet, but last year was pretty much all on Charlie. Sure, Ty's awful recruiting left ND undermanned in the upper classes, but it's not like Navy or Air Force were bringing back Top 10 upperclassmen recruiting classes either. Charlie made a lot of coaching mistakes last year and while I'm going to stay away from any sort of win-loss improvement metric for now, I think he needs to demonstrate that he learned from last year. Fixing the offense will be the most obvious sign, but his ability to manage the players and other coaches will be just as important. I realize "I know it when I see it" is a bit of a dodge of your question, but that's how I'm approaching the season.

OTT: Along those same lines, why has Notre Dame struggled against coach Tiller historically? I say struggle simply because Tiller has a respectable 5-6 record against the Irish after a 12 game losing streak. Is it coaching turnover, talent development on his end, or sheer luck?

BGS: Initially, I think ND struggled due to the uniqueness of the Boilermaker offense. The Irish teams were geared to stop the rush heavy attacks of teams like Michigan, MSU, Southern Cal, and even Navy to some extent. Then Purdue would come in with an entirely different style of offense. And when you mix in ND's passive, read and react defensive coordinators the past few years (Kent Baer and Rick Minter), it's not to hard to see why such a quick hitting offense had success against the Irish. Tiller also had the good fortune of facing off against Davie and Ty, but that isn't completely fair as Tiller did drastically improve the Purdue program, especially on offense.

OTT: Finally, what is the general mood of the Irish fanbase coming into 2008 after what happened last year?

BGS: Apprehensive is probably the best word to describe it. Everyone is excited to put last year behind us and see what young players like Jimmy Clausen and running back Robert Hughes can do. But at the same time there is a sinking feeling of "what if we don't improve"? The fear isn't so much about piling up more losses as much as it is not wanting Charlie to fail. If he fails this season, that will make three failed coaching hires in a row for ND. I'm (nervously) more optimistic for Charlie than I was for Davie or Ty, but that is owing mostly to recruiting results and the presence of coaches like Jon Tenuta and Corwin Brown. We all want to write off last year as a fluke, but we can't do that until we start winning a whole lot more.

Thanks Pat! If anything, this makes me feel a little bit better about heading to South Bend knowing both teams have tons of questions and weaknesses. Still, I know historically we have not done well there, so nothing is certain.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Know thy Opponent takeover 2008: 11 Warriors

It's a sad day as we deal with the loss of a legend in comedian George Carlin. Mr. Carlin was simply one of the best. Whether you like his "7 dirty words routine" or his appearances in the Kevin smith films, he was funny. he also didn't care if you didn't think he was funny. Thanks for the laughs.

Today is also another takeover days, as I recently spoke with Jason from the noted Ohio State blog 11 Warriors about Purdue's first road contest in Big Ten play. Here is what transpired:

Off the Tracks: Ohio State is the hands down favorite heading into the Big Ten. Assuming they get past USC, what does Ohio State have to fear fromt he rest of the conference?

11 Warriors: A lot. We just spent a good amount of time talking about the 1998 team -- which was probably even more talented than this year's Buckeye squad. That '98 team punked all of the quality teams it faced, but went down to lowly Michigan State at home. They held a 24-7 lead in the third quarter and saw it evaporate and with it their #1 ranking.

The unexpected often does happen. Look at Stanford getting over on USC last season. There's a night game in Madison that has me nervous as well as the trip out to Illinois, and the Buckeyes have had enough problems with each of those teams in recent memory. Then there's Michigan. Yes, they're rebuilding, but crazy things happen in that game. You have to really throw out the records in that one.

Oh yeah -- on more than one occassion, I've woken up in the middle of the night with a nightmare that injuries decimated the team.

OTT: I am looking at Ohio State's roster and trying to find a weakness. I'm not seeing any. What would you say is this team's weakness is?

11W: I really think the play of the line will be the deciding factor in whether the Buckeyes get past USC and get back into the MNC. LSU had great tackles, but they dominated the interior of the offensive line in New Orleans. If Rehring, Cordle and Person play well this season, the offense will be pretty difficult to stop.

If you're an opposing offensive coordinator, you'll probably want to attack the tackles. They're a bit undersized and Hester picking up all of those 3rd-and-shorts is pretty fresh in my head. Penn State did a great job of rolling through the Buckeye defensive tackles to get hats on Laurinaitis and neutralize him a little before the score got out of hand. (Ed. Note: As I have been saying for years, we have to good backs RUN THE BALL!!)

I wouldn't necessarily call those two position groups a "weakness", but rather components that could mean the difference between crystal football and having to listen to another year of smack.

OTT: Do you buy into the BS of too long of a layoff, or did the Buckeyes just flat out get beat the last two years in the National title game?

11W: I think the Big Ten would be better served with 12 teams and a conference title game, but I don't buy into that being the major reason the team lost those two games. The Florida game was a classic tale of a disrespected, yet quality underdog facing a fat and complacent favorite (Tyson/Douglas anyone?). Losing your best player on the opening play of the game was kind of huge as well. Big Ten fans have seen Ginn's speed. He single-handedly changed the way defenses approach the Buckeye offense -- say goodbye to half of your favorite blitzes. But bottom line is that Florida just wanted it more.

LSU was just a better team. They had everyone back healthy and got a solid win over a good, but young Buckeye team. 2007 was the rebuilding year and due to a down Big Ten, they found there way back in it again. The Buckeyes were probably a true #3-6 last year. Still, they had their chances to make it more of a game, but the better team got it done.

OTT: Under Tiller Purdue has often played Ohio State very well with some memorable games (Holy Toledo and Holy Buckeye at the top). What will it take for the Boilers to pull an upset in Columbus?

11W: There have been some great games in this series as of late. Pulling an upset will be a difficult task. There's the aforementioned home field advantage, and with so many new starters for Purdue, there will be a talent gap on the field. But, you're catching the Buckeyes right after the trip to Madison and my childhood is littered with visions of Badgers hurting Buckeyes, so who knows. Having a talented, veteran quarterback like Painter never hurts your cause, either.

OTT: How much will losing the past two national title games effect this year's team? Will it take Ohio State breaking through or the conference as a whole having a better year for the Big Ten save some face?

11W: I'm hoping that the players see last year's game for what it was -- a great team beating a pretty good team. Although these guys were all on the team for the Florida loss, most of them were background players on that 2006 team. The few that did play key roles (Laurinaitis, Freeman, Jenkins and Boone) are all leaders by now and most will likely be serving as captains this season.

I think there are a lot of things that can happen for the Big Ten to save a little face. Yes, Ohio State or another team winning it all would be do wonders. A good showing out of conference is important and finally a good bowl season, which now seems to be the unofficial conference strength scorecard, would help the image problem.The conference needs to bring in better coaches (the SEC is absolutely killing the Big Ten in this department) and the teams need to schedule better nonconference games (I'm looking at you Wisconsin). Finally, all contracts with Notre Dame should be suspended until the Irish get their swag back. That win is worth dick these days. (Ed Note: no 1-AA games would help too. The Big Ten has had four embarassing losses to 1-AA teams in the last two years.)

OTT: Will the 2008 team be closer to the Tressell-ball type of team that won the 2002 title, or can Ohio State light it up offensively if necessary? Is it officially national title or bust this year?

11W: What Tressel really never gets enough credit for is the fact that he changes his offensive philosophy to match the type of talent he has for the season. The 2002 "Tressel Ball" label kind of stuck with him because that's how he won that year, but we've seen that he's more than willing to open it up if the skill at hand fits that approach. I expect the offense will look a lot like 2007, but more polished and probably a little more unpredictable. And Pryor.

I hate to say it, but it probably is title or bust. It's sad that it's gotten to this point, but 1998 was also title or bust and that's just part of having prolonged success and carrying high expectations. (Ed. Note: As opposed to, say, managed expectations...)

OTT: Finally, Oho State fans are notorious for taking over opponents' stadiums by traveling well. What kind of edge does this give the Buckeyes when playing on the road?

11W: Buckeye fans do love to travel and on more than one occasion, it's bailed out the team (Indiana 1996, for one). There are a few factors at play here. First, the school is ginormous and the alumni base is eually huge. Second, Columbus is a pretty large town -- the metro area is actually a little larger than that of Indianapolis. Until very recently with the arrival of the NHL and MLS, Ohio State was the only show in town. Toss in the fact that there aren't exactly a whole lot of things to do in Ohio during the fall and winter and you can see why Buckeye fans travel so well.

Thanks for stopping by Jason! Later on this summer I'll probably be answer some questions of his over at 11 Warriors. It looks like the Boilers will certainly have their hands full in Columbus.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Boilermakings for 6/20

Boilers get first football recruit for 2009

We begin this week’s edition of Boilermakings with the end of a long national nightmare. There has been much consternation among fans of the football program that the Boilers had yet to get a commitment for the 2009 class. As of late Wednesday, that angst is no more. Purdue now joins everyone except Indiana in the Big Ten by having at least one verbal commitment for the 2009 class. Purdue welcomes the commitment of Florida high schooler Ishmael Aristide.

Mr. Aristade doesn’t have any stars assigned to him yet, but his knee injury in spring practices probably has something to do with that. Though he is listed as an athlete, he will like play somewhere in the secondary once he gets to Purdue. He has some good speed and comes from a talent-rich state. I am also encouraged by the fact that he was being recruited by some other pretty good programs. Naturally, there is the concern for his knee getting back to full strength, but I seem to remember another highly-recruited player that was virtually ignored by the big programs in his home state after a torn ACL. He ended up Purdue, and it worked out rather nicely. I’m not saying that Mr. Aristide will turn into another Brees-type, but he can recover and contribute nicely. If anything he will provide much needed depth at cornerback or safety. Hopefully he is just the first of many new quality recruits that Danny Hope will bring in. I do like that he seems determined to prove people wrong about his injury. This is the type of player we need.

Big Ten Network makes a deal

Speaking of long national nightmares being over, the Big Ten Network has finally come to an agreement with Comcast. This is great news… for those who have Comcast as an option. Living in downtown Indianapolis means that I am still forced to purchase tickets to the games I actually want to see. Satellite isn’t an option, otherwise I would have switched long ago. I am prisoner to Brighthouse Networks, and they have perhaps the worst customer service record as far as listening to their customers. They still have not reached an agreement with the Big Ten Network, and seem fully entrenched on not doing so. It is my hope that the Comcast domino will nudge Brighthouse into a deal, but who knows. I never thought I would miss living in Kokomo and working for Insight (now owned by Comcast) because I was able to get every channel for free. Since I now have just two options when it comes to cable, either Brighthouse or Amish cable (that is, rabbit ears), I’ll keep waiting and hoping. At least more than four people will be able to watch the Big Ten Network now.

All-American girl

As mentioned last week, Purdue’s Kara Patterson was one of the favorites to bring home an NCAA championship in this week’s NCAA Championship track and field meet. Patterson carried the #1 seed into the javelin competition, and will compete later this summer for a spot in the Olympics. Patterson did not come home with a national title, but her throw of 53.93 meters was good enough for a fifth place finish and All-American honors. I did not realize that Purdue’s Lindsey Blaine was the NCAA champion in last year’s javelin throw, so this is the second consecutive year that Purdue has faired well in this event.

Patterson will compete on June 28th in Eugene, Oregon for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

Boilers named to pre-season all-Big Ten teams

Our friends in the Big Ten Blogging network have come through once again. Lake the Posts has continued its diligent work in compiling some pre-season Big Ten honors. While last week’s picks weren’t very kind to the Boilers, this week’s all-Big Ten first team selections were much better. Curtis Painter, Greg Orton, and Anthony Heygood were named to the first team.

Ohio State led everyone with eight selections, four on each side of the ball. The final selections were actually very close to my ballot listed here:

Offense
QB – Curtis Painter, Purdue
RB – Beanie Wells, Ohio State
RB – P.J. Hill, Wisconsin
WR – Arrelious Benn, Illinois
WR – Brian Robiskie, Ohio State
WR – Greg Orton, Purdue
TE/SuperBack – Travis Beckum, Wisconsin
C – Alex Perry, Indiana
OG – Steve Rehrig, Ohio State
OG – Andy Kemp, Wisconsin
OT – Alex Boone, Ohio State
OT – Bryant Browning, Ohio State
DL – Greg Middleton, Indiana

Defense
DL - Greg MIddleton, Indiana
DL – Jason Chapman, Wisconsin
DL – Justin Kershaw, Michigan State
DL – Terrance Taylor, Michigan
LB – JamesLaurinaitis, Ohio State
LB – Tyrell Sales, Penn State
LB – Anthony Heygood, Purdue
S – Brad Phillips, Northwestern
S – Nate Bussey, Illinois
CB – Donald Washington, Ohio State
CB – Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State

K – Chris Summers, Purdue
P – Ryan Pretorius, Ohio State
KR – Marcus Thigpen, Indiana
PR – (I have no idea who is returning punts for anyone, so…) Royce Adams, Purdue

On a couple of the picks I had to just make some educated guesses, so I was probably pretty far off on the defensive side of the ball. The one I recognize I missed on was Maurice Evans for Penn State on the defensive line. I have the feeling that I will be selecting him for some post-season honors, should we do them.

More knees in the news

While much of Boilermaker nation is concerned with the knee of Ishmael Aristide, he won’t be playing at least until Purdue opens the 2009 football season against Toledo. A much more pressing concern is Keaton Grant’s knee. According to the Lafayette Journal and Courier, Grant’s knee is on schedule to have him at 100% by the time practice officially starts in October.

The article has some pretty good updates concerning the state of men’s basketball for the fall. I am slightly concerned about the status of Lewis Jackson in terms of his eligibility, however. Since I was working for the NCAA for about 8 months I was able to check on the status of each and every athlete. Of course, publishing that information here would get me in severe trouble, so I never did it. I can say that we likely won’t know anything for a few months because they will concentrate on fall sports athletes first. They will be working throughout the summer, however, to get through everyone.

Calasan’s case was a little bit different because his issue was based on amateurism. This is a new area the NCAA has had to look at, and it is completely separate from academics. A student can be academically eligible but still have something hanging them up when it comes to amateurism. That can sometimes take a little longer as they wait to get the information they need before making a ruling. The people that work on all this stuff are good people, and I do miss working with them. Whatever they rule in Jackson’s case will be the right call.

Future football schedules released

Purdue’s football schedules are now complete through the 2012 season. This is important because starting in 2009 the Big Ten will allow for games after Thanksgiving. There were no changes for the 2009 schedule, but beginning in 2010 Purdue will be ending the season with Indiana a week later than normal. I actually like this, as it gives us our bye week back. Purdue has traditionally had its off week from Big Ten play very early in the season. To accommodate our rivalry with Notre Dame, however, we have often had to face the Irish in this week, giving that bye up.

Purdue has not had a scheduled off week since the 2001 season. That year we had the week of September 9th off after opening the season at Cincinnati. We were then scheduled to play Notre Dame on September 16th, but that game was postponed to December 1st because of September 11. In every year since 2004 Notre Dame has occupied our Big Ten bye week after we started conference play. We technically get an off week in 2008, but that is only because we’re starting the season a week later than most teams. I would rather play someone that opening weekend and lose Central Michigan from the schedule, but I am not making the schedule.

One thing that does displease me is that we have continued to schedule games against 1-AA opponents. We have absolutely nothing to gain from these games, but Western Illinois in 2010, Southeast Missouri State in 2011 and Eastern Kentucky in 2012 will be coming to Ross-Ade. I would much rather have a schedule like the 2009 campaign, where we face a pair of MAC schools, Notre Dame, and another BCS conference team. My ideal schedule would be MAC school, BCS opponent, Notre Dame, and another Big Ten game, but the conference won’t go for that. I wouldn’t mind doing a series with a WAC/Mountain West/Conference USA team in the fourth spot.

Final awards

Today’s final note is a salute to Dustin Keller and golfer Maria Hernandez. This duo was named as Purdue’s men’s and women’s athletes of the year earlier this week. Hernandez was the first female golfer from Purdue to win the individual Big Ten championship, while Keller recently signed with the Jets. I am looking forward to drafting Dustin as a tight end fo Fantasy football this year, as the New Orleans Looters look to defend their title in the National Freeball League. Now if I can just pair him with Drew Brees, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Adrian Peterson from my team last year.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Know thy Opponent 2008: Penn State Nittany Lions

We are coming to you live from Wagener, South Carolina, the home of a mere 863 people including my grandparents. This recent foray in SEC/ACC country is not a fruitless search for the speed that every Big Ten team supposedly lacks, but a much needed visit to family. Due to the absolute wealth of opportunities for entertainment in a town like this, however, I simply cannot decide on what to do. Therefore, I can continue the Know thy Opponent series with our first conference game against Penn State.

Call me crazy, but I think making it to our conference season will actually make things easier for us. I think the Oregon-Central Michigan-Notre Dame stretch is a pretty brutal non-conference schedule, but at the same time it will toughen us to face a Big Ten that, in my opinion, is not that strong outside of Ohio State. I have long looked at the 2008 schedule thinking that only the Ohio State game would be an unwinnable game, but the Northern Colorado game is the only guaranteed win. When Penn State comes to town it could be the closest we come to a must-win game all season.

Last season for the Nittany Lions:

It wasn’t a championship year, but Penn State still had a pretty good season. They finished at .500 in the conference, but won all four non-conference games plus their bowl game for a 9-4 finish. Penn State played very well in Happy Valley, going 6-1 with a very good 38-7 win over Wisconsin, but the Lions struggled on the road. In five road games Penn State was just 2-3, losing to Michigan, Illinois, and Michigan State while struggling at Indiana. One could argue that all three games were ones that Penn State should have won. Each loss was by a touchdown or less. If one can look at a 9-4 finish with a bowl win and call it a frustrating season, the 2007 Penn State campaign would qualify.

Penn State struggled in big games last season, just not as much as Purdue. The one home loss was a 37-17 game against Ohio State that wasn’t really as close as the final score. Against Purdue, with a better bowl game on the line, the defense came through. They held the Boilers to four field goals instead of touchdowns, making the difference in a seven point win. Their best game was easily the Wisconsin game when P.J. Hill was held to 75 yards and a touchdown.

Though the Lions did go 5-0 outside the conference, only Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl was an especially taxing opponent. This year’s non-conference schedule is tougher only because of the addition of a tricky Oregon State team. Syracuse is still awful, while Temple and Coastal Carolina shouldn’t pose any kind of a threat.

Penn State offense:

The Nittany Lions must find a new quarterback, but if you listen to the litany of Penn State bloggers in this network they were more than happy to let Anthony Morrelli go. Morrelli is just the latest example of a big name recruit not panning out. He had modestly good numbers of 2,651 yards to go with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last year, but so much more was expected of him. In last week’s Q and A with Black Shoe Diaries Mike stated senior Daryll Clark and junior Pat Devlin were battling for the starting job. The two combined to complete 6 of 10 passes for 31 yards last season. Clark has been in the system a bit longer and is listed on the Penn State Rivals site as the starter, but both are expected to play. Clark is a bigger threat to run while Devlin is a better passer. Still, this will be the first Big Ten start for either. They must improve for the Nittany Lions to have a successful season.

Fortunately, there are plenty of returning players to help either Clark or Devlin develop. One of those key pieces is Evan Royster, who will be the key running back in more of a spread option offense that will harken back to the Michael Robinson days. Royster rushed for 513 yards last season with an impressive 6.3 yards per carry. Royster found the end zone five times as a redshirt freshman, with his best day coming against Purdue. In that game Royster had 126 yards and a touchdown for the only time he cracked the century mark all season. Mike also expects freshman Stephfon Green to play quite a bit. Green has speed to burn as a home run threat, but if Purdue’s run defense can come to play the Boilers might have a chance against an inexperienced quarterback.

The passing game will still be a threat because of a trio of senior receivers. Jordan Norwood, Derrick Williams, and Deon Butler all return as the top three receivers from last year. They combined for more than 1,500 yards, 150 catches, and 12 scores. This is what I wrote about the trio last season:

Last season Morelli threw for 2,424 yards and just 11 touchdowns. He struggled in big games, but had a pretty good bowl game against Tennessee. This year he is expected to have a much better year thanks to three fantastic receivers in Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, and Jordan Norwood. All three are juniors with speed to be deep threats, and the hands to be possession receivers as well. Oh yeah, they all have a ton of experience as juniors as well. This may be the sternest test our secondary will face all year, and the only reason I see for diminished production from all three of them is if Morelli has a bad year.

These three receivers have the ability to be great, but they will only be as good as the quarterback throwing them the ball. That quarterback should be very well protected behind an offensive line that has four seniors on it. Center A.Q. Shipley leads the group, but fellow upperclassmen Dennis Landolt, Gerald Cadogan, and Rich Ohrnberger all return. Cadogan and Landolt were the starting tackles last season on a pretty good unit. In reality, you couldn’t ask for a better situation in which to break in a new quarterback.

Penn State defense:

The biggest news on the other side of the football is, of course, the spring game loss of All-American linebacker Sean Lee. Penn State is Linebacker U. for a reason. They will be able to replace Lee’s production, but his leadership is what will be missed the most. Lee was part of the Penn State defense two years ago that no one else has done to a Joe Tiller coached team: shut out the Boilers. Purdue had a streak of 127 games without a shutout before that game, and the defense is good enough that they could do it again.

At linebacker Penn State has plenty of experience with two seniors and a junior. Josh Hull, Bani Gbadyu, and Tyrell Sales form the heart of the defense at linebacker. Sales saw action last season with Dan Connor and Lee, and looks to step forward from being caddy into a leadership role. Hull played in all 13 games last year as a reserve, as did Gbadyu. Everyone in the secondary except Justin King returns, but Mike noted that it may not necessarily be a good thing as they struggled last season. Still, Penn State gave up less than 18 points per game. Anthonoy Scirrotto led Penn State with three interceptions last year and is the second leading returning tackler behind cornerback Lydell Sargeant. Mark Rubin appears to be the other safety, which Mike described as a step slow.

On the defensive line junior Maurice Evans returns. Evans was only one of the top rush ends in the conference last season with 12.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles. He is a beast that our inexperienced tackles must contain against both the run and the pass. Josh Gaines will start on the other side while Abe Koroma and Ollie Ogbu will be the tackles. Neither started last season, but both ended up playing quite a bit. Both are also close to 300 pounds, meaning they will occupy some space in the middle of the line while the linebackers have the speed to cover the outside. In other words, it is your typical stout Penn State defense.

Penn State Special Teams:

Placekicker Kevin Kelly returns as one of the most experienced kickers in the Big Ten. Kelly hit on 19 of 24 field goals last season. He is a three year starter and has made 58 field goals in his career. He has range from about 55 yards, giving Penn State a scoring chance any time they get inside the 40. Jeremy Boone also returns as the punter, and he boasted a 43 yard average per punt last season. The Nittany Lions may have the most experienced specialists in the league, and special teams is far from a weak link for them.
In the return game Penn State did not allow a punt return for a touchdown last season, giving up barely more than five yards per punt return. The kickoff team gave up a pair of touchdowns, including one to Dorien Bryant to start last year’s game.

Intangibles:

This is where we talk about the elephant in the room. Off the field Penn State couldn’t have more distractions right now. The largest distraction, of course, is the ongoing situation of JoePa’s longevity. Paterno is easily the longest tenured coach in the league, with Joe Tiller a distant second. Still, there have been rumors and rumors of rumors all offseason concerning his health. He has worked out a deal to continue coaching on a year-by-year basis for as long as he wishes, but there is a strong belief that this will be his final season.

Penn State has had a number of off the field incidents in recent years. So many that another Penn State blog, Run Up the Score, has had to comment on the number of incidents that ESPN is talking about. At Purdue we don’t really have room to throw stones in this area, especially as long as Torri Williams is affiliated with the program. As Run up the Score states, many of these are incidents that could have been avoided with only a modicum of common sense. They are still distractions, however, and must be dealt with. It is far from known what role these will play on the season.

Game Outlook:

Penn State will be one of the most difficult defenses we will face this season. Their unit is on par with Oregon and Ohio State, and that is something we have not handled well in the past few years. To have a good season I think it is imperative that we get at least a split of the home games with Penn State and Michigan. Penn State’s offense could stall in a hurry as they work out their quarterback issues, giving us the opportunity to grab a win here if we can move against what will be a very good defense. Since we want that split we might as well go after this one. If we get it, we can then think about getting a sweep.

Whoever’s weakness is less will win this game. Penn State’s secondary and quarterback are its two largest weaknesses. Ours are our running defense (against a strength of Penn State’s running game), and our inexperience as receivers. If our defense has improved to the point where we come in here at least 3-1 I like our chances.

Prediction:

To this point I have predicted a 2-2 start with a pair of close losses. This game feels like it will go along the lines of the Oregon and Notre Dame games, and therefore really depends on how well we are playing at the time. If we get off to a slow start against the good teams on our schedule, we lose. Should we start the season well, we can win this game. Right now, I would give a very slight edge to Penn State. Penn State 20, Purdue 17

Friday, June 13, 2008

Boilermakings for 6-13

As mentioned at the end of yesterday’s question and answer session with Black Shoe Diaries, Lake the Posts recently compiled the pre-season Big Ten standings predictions. My fellow bloggers were not kind to the Boilers as Purdue was picked to finish 8th ahead of only Indiana, Northwestern, and Minnesota. I wasn’t quite as pessimistic because, well, I have to have some optimism coming into the season. Still, I am not exactly making reservations for Pasadena in late December. Here is how I voted:

1. Ohio State – They have the most complete team and the fewest questions. Since everyone else has major questions it will take them beating themselves at least twice for them to lose the Big Ten.

2. Wisconsin – They must settle on a quarterback, but if they can get the defense healthy I think they are the only team that can challenge Ohio State. There’s so much talent in the running game they may not need more than a caretaker at QB.

3. Illinois – Here is where I think you can throw the remaining nine teams in a bag, draw them at random, and you’d have a possible order of finish. Illinois surprised everyone last year, but that element is gone now. Will it be like 2002 after they wont he Big Ten in 2001?

4. Northwestern – Don’t laugh. The Wildcats look like they have one of those strange runs they get on every few years. Tyrell Sutton is supposedly healthy and everyone else is just disappointing enough for them to start hot. I certainly feel 2-3 games that Northwestern will win leaving their opponents with a “How did they do that” feeling.

5. Penn State – As Mike mentioned yesterday, they have a shaky secondary, no true answer at quarterback, and they tend to play conservative on the road. Playing at Wisconsin, Ohio State, Purdue, and Iowa won’t help them.

6. Purdue – This just feels about right. It’s not spectacular, but it’s not a total crapper of season some expect. I think Joe has one last run in him. The Big Ten is not that strong this year, so winning five 5 conference games and 3 out of conference is not asking too much. It is a bonus that we don’t play Illinois and Wisconsin who I have ranked #2 and #3. Just beat the bottom four and split with Penn State and Michigan.

7. Michigan – If there ever was a year for Michigan to fall it is this one. I am not confident in their offense at all, but the defense should be good enough to carry them for a few games. If Purdue is going to beat the Wolverines soon, this is the year. Bonus that it isn’t in Ann Arbor!

8. Michigan State – They were my surprise of the season last year, more so than Illinois. I had them not even winning a conference game and they tore us a new one. They did lose a bit, but they could be much higher.

9. Iowa – Two years ago I drank the Iowa kool-aid. Never again. I am tired of being burned by them, and last season they couldn’t score in a women’s prison with a fistful of pardons. No team without Michigan or Ohio State on schedule should have this low of expectations.

10. Indiana – It really all hinges on Kellen Lewis. If he returns I expect Indiana to threaten for another low to mid-tier bowl. They have one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the country, so with Lewis they should be 4-0 outside the conference. Without him Indiana will struggle to win 3 games.

11. Minnesota – They have nowhere to go but up. I think that with them we might have finally found a Big Ten defense worse than our own. They will be better, but not good enough to threaten for a bowl.

I would be curious to see how my brethren at Boiled Sports voted.

Austin Parkinson accepts assistant coaching job at IUPUI

Former Purdue point guard Austin Parkinson accepted an assistant coaching position at IUPUI Thursday. This is good news for a guy I remember seeing play as a freshman in high school. We grew up in the same area, as he graduated two years after me from Northwestern High School near Kokomo. He was a four year starter there, and I remember that as a freshman he gave my Kokomo Wildkats a pretty good game in the 1997 sectional final the last year before Indiana destroyed its high school basketball heritage. We went on to the state finals that year, while he nearly led Northwestern to the first class 2A state finals a year later. He finished as Northwestern’s all-time career leader in points and assists before following in his dad Bruce Parkinson’s footsteps at Purdue.

When Austin played at Purdue I felt he was a bit undersized for the Big Ten, but he was a solid role player for four years. He could have been more of a scorer, but coach Keady asked him to distribute. He was a Keady-type of player in that he worked hard and always did what was asked of him. He later served as a graduate assistant for us. This is good news for an all-around nice guy.

Future Boilers performing well in All-Star Series

The Indiana All-Star series got going this week as the Senior All-Stars prepared for their first game against the Kentucky All-Stars by playing the Junior All-Stars at Washington and Marion. Juniors Patrick Bade and D.J. Byrd, both Purdue recruits, played very well in the first game at Washington as the juniors nearly upset the seniors Monday night, falling 93-91 at Washington. In that game Bade played very well North Carolina-bound Mr. Basketball Tyler Zeller, scoring 24 points in the near upset. Bade is a former teammate of JuJuan Johnson at Franklin Central high, and looks to be a nice addition for 2009.

In that game, 2009 commit Kelsey Barlow also played with Bade and Byrd. The future Boilers did not fair as well Wednesday night at Marion, as the Seniors won going away 114-83. Bade had just 12 points while Byrd led the juniors with 18. Since Byrd and Bade are part of the “core group” of six players while Barlow and Robinson were only part of the “south group” the latter pair did not play. Potential recruit Stephen Van Treese has looked strong in this series as well.

On the ladies’ side of the ledger Miss Basketball Brittany Rayburn, who will be playing for the Lady Boilers this fall, has had a strong series. She is teaming up with Alex Guyton from Bloomington North, another future Boiler. The Seniors were upset by a very talented junior team at Washington, but rebounded to beat the juniors at Marion Wednesday. Coach Versyp needs to be looking at the junior squad, however, as uncommitted Skylar Diggins and Kelly Faris were recently named to the under-18 women’s national team. I have seen Diggins play in person once, and she is the real deal. In her first three years of high school she has led South Bend Washington, a program with almost no previous history, to three consecutive state finals appearances and one championship. Getting her in West Lafayette would be a steal.

Potential National Championship?

I am well aware that Purdue does not have a particularly dominant history on the national stage, but this weekend the Boilers could be well represented in the NCAA outdoor Track and Field champions. 12 Purdue athletes will be competing, but junior Kara Patterson is the #1 seed in the javelin throw. Patterson has already surprised the “A” standard and her throw at the Big Ten championships a few weeks ago is the best throw by an American this year. With a top three finish in the Olympic trials next month she could be bring more than national glory to West Lafayette. Such a finish would mean a free trip to Beijing and the Olympics.

What to watch this weekend:

The College World Series starts tomorrow, and if you want to see a game that has the potential for some good, old-fashioned hatred tune in Monday. Should both win (or if both lose) in Saturday’s opening games Miami and Florida State will face each other on Monday. These two do not like each other in baseball. In 1999 Miami denied long-time Florida State coach Mike Martin in his best chance at an elusive national championship. The Canes beat the Seminoles 6-5 in the championship game. Miami has since won a fourth national title in 2001, while Florida State has never won it all.

When the two met for a three game series in April the Canes won a pair of games. The third game was shortened due to Miami’s travel curfew, and the Canes won 11-10 on a strikeout to end the 7th inning with the tying run on. As Miami celebrated the hard fought win Florida State refused to come out for the post game handshake. As a result, Miamicelebrated a little more, Florida State thought it was too excessive, and a brawl nearly ensued when the Seminoles came rushing out of the dugout. Florida State wants a rematch, so I say bring it. They can’t win in Omaha anyway.

Any team with fans like this deserve to win. I’ve met Lois and she is one of the most wonderful human beings on the planet. Good luck to her and the Canes this weekend.

hype it up!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Know thy Opponent Takeover 2008: Black Shoe Diaries

We're going to get a bit out of sequence today, but I don't mind. Pat from Blue Gray Sky has agreed to answer some of my questions about Notre Dame's upcoming season. He'll get back with me either later this week or sometime next week, so those questions and answers will go up as soon as I get them. That means I have a blogger lined up for 10 of or 12 opponents. The possibility still exists for a Central Michigan Q and A, so if anyone can find a brave soul that blogs about Northern Colorado football please let me know.

What causes me to go out of sequence today is the expeditious nature of Mike from Black Shoe Diaries. Like my earlier session with Pac-10 winner Addicted to Quack, Black Shoe Diaries is the 2007 winner of College Football Bloggers' Best in Conference blog for the Big Ten. Here is Mike with some insight on our first conference opponent of the 2008 season, the Penn State Nittany Lions.

OTT: If you listen to the media, losing Sean Lee in spring practice has cost Penn State the season, caused rioting in the streets against the idea of spring practice, and much existential angst among Nittnay Lion fans. I know it is Linebacker U., but how bad is this loss, really?

BSD: Our defense is deep enough and talented enough we can withstand the loss of any one player and still be very very good (Ed. Note: This is true, as Penn State is the only team that has shut out a Joe Tiller Purdue team). We’ve recruited enough man-eating linebackers in recent years that we’ll plug the best guy in there and he’ll do fine. In that sense I’m not worried about it.

But what Penn State can’t replace is his leadership. He’s a student of the game spending hours in the film room. Nobody else on the defense reads plays as well as he does. That can’t be replaced. Lee will take a redshirt this year, but his teammates still voted him a captain. He’s the heart and soul of the defense. Everyone looks up to him. While he’ll still be on the sideline cheering on his team and offering advice, we’ll badly miss the field general keeping everyone focused in the huddle.

OTT: Of all the programs in the conference it seems like Penn State has the most trouble in replacing its quarterback. This is a large question coming into the season, even though Morelli was somewhat disappointing. Who will be under center when the season starts?

We don’t have any problems replacing quarterbacks. We always have four or five of them on the roster. Our problem is getting any of them to play well. Some might say the common factor is the quarterback coach. But then that wasn’t part of the question, was it?

The quarterback situation has been a topic of debate ever since the Alamo Bowl. The major players are Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin. Clark played sparingly in the bowl game rushing six times for 50 yards and a touchdown. But he didn’t throw a single pass leading many to believe he’s not a great passer. It’s your typical “black quarterback” stereotype thing. Everyone is calling him the next Michael Robinson which probably isn’t fair to him. On the other hand Pat Devlin came to Penn State highly touted after breaking the Pennsylvania state record for passing yards in high school. Reports are he’s a highly accurate passer, but he doesn’t yet possess the confidence and poise Clark does. But the best part is no matter who we go with his name is not Morelli.

If I had to bet money I would say both guys play a lot, but Clark sees 75% of the snaps. Paterno refuses to commit to one guy publicly, but that’s how it played out in the spring game. Penn State is going to go back to the spread offense we used in 2005. That means Clark is going to see 10-12 carries a game. He’s going to take a beating, so Paterno is going to want Devlin to get experience and be sharp if we need him.

OTT: Rumors of JoePa's health have been circulating all spring. With other schools having a succession plan in place how does Penn State handle the delicate issue of its beloved, but sadly aged coach? How does this affect your seasonal outlook?

This has been the topic of debate all spring and summer. Paterno and university president Graham Spanier have agreed that from here on Paterno will coach on a year-to-year basis without a contract. But there is wide speculation the end is near. My personal belief is that 2008 will be Joe’s last season.

But I don’t see this having any adverse effect on the season. Joe’s assistants have been handling the team for years. They put together the game plan during the week. Joe looks it over and makes changes to it if he wants to, but they do most of the work. During the week the assistants run practice. On Saturday they run the game. Joe offers observations and makes suggestions for personnel changes and play calls, but for the most part the coordinators call the plays.

Where I though Joe’s situation was really going to hurt us was in recruiting, but that has not been the case. Several recruits have stated the coaches are telling them the next head coach will come from the current staff. I’m not sure I believe that, but that’s what they are being told. So perhaps there is a succession plan in place and we just don’t know about it.

OTT: It seems when Penn State is successful they have a very good running back to pace the offense. How does this area look and who should Purdue's shoddy run defense fear in the conference opener?

Those expecting three yards and a cloud of dust they are used to seeing from Penn State will be very surprised this year. We’re getting away from the Tony Hunt battering ram offense and going back to the spread option we ran with Michael Robinson. We lost Rodney Kinlaw and his 1300 yards from last year, but Evan Royster returns after averaging 6.3 ypc as a redshirt freshman last year. He’s a good all around back with a good combination of size and speed. He should get the bulk of the carries, but watch out for freshman Stephfon Green. The redshirt freshman is a high school track star with sub 4.3 speed. In the spring game he took his first carry off tackle and broke it 60 yards for a touchdown against the first team defense. He gives the offense the home run threat in the backfield we’ve been lacking since Larry Johnson in 2002 (Ed. Note: Wonderful!).

Don’t be surprised to see both of these guys in the backfield along with Daryll Clark effectively giving us three options in the running game. But the real strength of our running game will come from the offensive line. We return all five starters on a line that averaged 193 yards/game last year. Our running game will be just fine, and that spells bad news for shoddy run defenses (Ed. Note: If Purdue's D is anything like the past three seasons you may have that by halftime).

OTT: It's been 15 years now, how do you feel Penn State fits in with the rest of the Big Ten, especially since some have argued to either add a 12th member or kick the Lions to the Big East and go back to 10 teams?

No question that geographically we’re a horrible fit, and I think that’s why most people have a tough time accepting us in the Big Ten. Fifteen years after joining we’re still looking for a natural rival in the conference. But academically and athletically we more than hold our own in the conference. Football hasn’t worked out as well as we would hoped. I sure thought we would have won more than two conference titles by this time. But last year Illinois and Michigan State both dumped Gatorade on their coaches after beating us, so a win over Penn State must still have some prestige in the conference. Basketball has been a complete disaster for us. We were a respectable program in the Atlantic Ten before joining. We started work on the Jordan Center almost immediately and everyone thought for sure we were going to get over the hump and become a national player (Ed. Note: Thank you for beating Indiana and Michigan State though, I appreciate it). Obviously things haven’t worked out as well as we had hoped there. But I feel Penn State has elevated the level of play in other sports like wrestling, volleyball and soccer, so I think our presence in the Big Ten has been mutually beneficial.

Penn State fans have never felt welcomed in the conference. (Ed. Note: Actually, we brought some good friends of ours that are Penn State fans two years ago and they had a wonderful, welcoming time at Ross-Ade). You may be too young to remember, but a lot of people were afraid Penn State was going to dominate in football when we joined. The Big Ten was going through some down years in the early 90’s and Penn State was still fresh off of two national championships in the 80’s. We’ve always had an inferiority complex since the 60’s and 70’s when we struggled to earn respect as an independent school in the east. Not many people outside of Penn State know that Joe Paterno went undefeated in 1968 and 1969 and finished #5 in the polls. We always feel like we have something to prove which is probably why Penn State fans are perceived as the crackpots of the internet.

OTT: Last year's Purdue game featured a ton of controversy with the officiating that may or may not have cost Purdue the game. What makes you afraid of visiting Purdue this season, even though the Boilers have a ton of questions right now?

Oh no. You’re not complaining about the officiating to a Penn State fan are you? Please. Do I have to explain our games against Iowa in ’02 or Michigan in ’02 and ’05? We were due for a few breaks. Consider it karma finally coming back our way. And I seem to recall a few calls going your way in that game as well. (Ed. note: Fair enough, I was in Miami so I didn't get to watch the game)

I’m not overly confident in our secondary this year. We return everyone except Justin King, but they weren’t very good at times last year. The Tony Davis at safety experiment didn’t work so well last year, so he’s moving back to corner where he played pretty well in 2006. That puts Mark Rubin at safety who frankly I believe is a step slow for the position. If Painter gets hot we could be in trouble.

But what really scares me is our own coaches. We have a tendency to go conservative on the road and dumb down the offensive playbook. On defense we sit back in cover three and let the other team chip away at us five yards at a time. We always come out flat once or twice a year on the road, so if Purdue jumps out to a quick lead we could be in trouble.

OTT: Finally, do you plan on visiting Ross-Ade or have you in the past? What are your impressions?

Unless my business travels happen to land me in Indiana that week I will not be attending. I hope to make it to every Big Ten stadium at some point in my life, but so far I’ve only been to Ann Arbor. My current life situation with two kids, a mortgage, and a wife with a shoe addiction severely restricts my expendable cash.

Hehehehehe, Everyone needs their addictions, Mike. At least that one is better than crack. Thanks for stopping by and giving my readers some insight on the Nittany Lions. If you ever do make it to Ross-Ade you'll be more than welcome.

As a preview to tomorrow's Boilermakings Lake the Posts recently compiled the Big Ten blogging network's preseason picks for 2008. The outlook isn't so good for Purdue, but tomorrow I'll reveal how I voted and my explanation why (as if I have detailed, inside analysis all the time).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Know thy Opponent 2008: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

This should be interesting. Last season I drew quite a bit of criticism for what was originally a scathing review of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and their chances at success for the 2007 season. I admit that much of the original criticism was wrong, but the original prediction did come true. I originally predicted that the Irish would struggle mightily and a 1-7 or 0-8 start was entirely possible. It turns out my assessment was accurate, as the Irish did indeed start the season with a 1-7 record against eight tough opponents.

I do not think the Irish will have similar results in 2008. For one, they brought in another highly touted recruiting class. This was their third in a row. Regardless of how good or how bad their coaching may be, that much talent simply cannot play that poorly again. Second, the Irish face a much easier schedule in 2008. Notre Dame will rebound in 2008 and probably win at least seven games, but the dreams of a national title are probably a bit premature.

Last season for the Irish:

As much as I was ridiculed and belittled, the product that the Irish put on the field was embarrassment enough for fans of the program. A 3-9 finish with wins over UCLA (playing a third string walk-on at quarterback) Stanford and Duke was clearly subpar by anyone’s standards, let alone Notre Dame’s. A 1-6 record at home with losses to Air Force and Navy added further insult to injury. November 3, 2007 was a glorious day for Notre Dame haters everywhere as Navy finally broke its 43 game losing streak to Notre Dame 46-44 in triple overtime. It is hard to judge whether that was the low point in the worst season the school has ever had on the football field, or if a 17 point loss to Air Force a week later was rock bottom.

There were some positives, however. Notre Dame did recover to win its final two games of the season. Beating Duke is not a great achievement, but a loss to the Blue Devils would have meant a winless campaign at home. It also saved the greater embarrassment of losing to a team that has won only one game against a Division 1-A foe in the past three seasons. The win over Stanford also showed that the Irish could win a close game on the road against a motivated opponent. The Cardinal did upset USC at USC in one of the most shocking upsets in college football history, so they did have some talent.

As previously stated, the Irish should be much better in 2008. You can most likely already chalk up wins against San Diego State, Syracuse, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Navy, and North Carolina. With a little luck it is actually not outside the realm of possibility that the Irish could be 8-0 before going to Boston College on November 8th. Michigan will take a step back and must come to South Bend, while Notre Dame must go to Michigan State. Since neither team can win a home game in that series, expect an Irish win. Probably the only game on the schedule that Notre Dame may not have too much of a chance in is the season finale at USC. The other 11 games are certainly winnable if they are playing well.

Notre Dame offense:

I have derisively called him Jimmy Montana because of the amount of hype he has created for himself, but Jimmy Clausen appears to be the Notre Dame quarterback – for the moment. Evan Sharpley spent the spring playing baseball, leaving Clausen as the only scholarship QB for spring football. The Indy Star immediately anointed him as the starter, but Sharpley may return in the fall and new uber-recruit Dayne Crist could also earn some time under center. Clausen split time with Sharpley last season, throwing for over 1,200 yards and seven TD’s to go with six interceptions. Sharpley played less, but still had 736 yards passing with five TD’s and three picks.

Much of the reason that Notre Dame struggled so much stemmed from poor play offensively. Their best offensive effort came in scoring 44 points against Navy. In the first eight games of the season Notre Dame never cracked the 20 point barrier, coming close only once with a 19 point effort against Purdue (they did miss two extra points). Notre Dame didn’t have an offensive touchdown until the Michigan State game, and Notre Dame quarterbacks didn’t complete a touchdown pass until Clausen found John Carlson on a 4th down desperation heave in the third quarter of the Purdue game. Much of these struggles were attributed to a poor offensive line that didn’t allow the running game to get going or protect Sharpley and Clausen. It will not take until the third quarter of the season’s fifth game for Notre Dame to throw its first touchdown pass this year.

The offensive line allowed 58 sacks last season. That’s nearly five a game and is simply inexcusable. Center John Sullivan is the only player that needs to be replaced, and Irish Illsutrated seems to think that may actually make the line better. The current depth chart has plenty of size with all five projected starters over 300 lbs. Paul Duncan and Sam Young appear to be the tackles, and both are massive standing at least 6’7” and weighing close to 310 pounds. Dan Wenger looks to place his 6-4 300 pound frame in the middle as the new center.

At the other skill positions Notre Dame essentially gets everyone back. James Aldridge and Armando Allen were the leading rushers last season and both return, but neither rushed for more than 500 yards. Both were also kept out of the end zone for the entire season. The departed Travis Thomas led the team with five rushing scores, but that came with just 58 yards rushing. Four-star running back Jonas Gray may also see time in a crowded back field that features a number of stars recruiting-wise, but was unable to produce behind the poor offensive line last season.

Should the Clausen-Sharpley-Crist combo have time to throw they will have a number of options. The incoming Michael Floyd is a five-star recruit from Minnesota, while Duval Kamara, Robby Parris, George West, and David Grimes all return as four of last season’s top five receivers. Notre Dame must replace John Carlson’s 40 catches and 372 yards from last season. He led the team in both categories from his tight end position. Of special note for Purdue fans is that Golden Tate also returns. Tate had just six catches for 131 yards and one score last season, but half those catches and 104 of those yards came against Purdue. Tate had a couple of highlight reel catches in the Purdue game, including a diving 25-yarder for his only score.

The bottom line is that Notre Dame’s offense was historically bad last season, but they are simply too talented and too many of them return for them to repeat the performance. By sheer evolution and repetition they will be better as they continue to play together. If the line comes together, everyone could take a giant leap forward.

Notre Dame defense:

When the Irish went to consecutive BCS bowls in 2005 and 2006 the offense behind Brady Quinn powered them while the defense merely had to hold on in a couple games. In 2007 the defense was talented, but the offense was unable to stay on the field for long stretches. This tired out the defense quickly, and the Irish gave up more than 30 points in eight of their 12 games. Still, there were signs of hope. A telling example from the Purdue game comes from that fact that Purdue was unable to finish drives against a Notre Dame defense that bent, but did not break. Notre Dame stayed close because Purdue had to kick four field goals instead of finishing drives with touchdowns.

The defense features a complex blitzing 3-4 alignment that is designed to keep opposing offenses guessing as to where the blitz is coming from. Last season teams ran wild on the Irish, averaging 195 yards on the ground per game. Much like the offensive preview, however, things will be better simply because so many people return with experience. If the offense can stay on the field longer the defense will also improve by simply resting. After all, you can’t score points if you don’t have the ball.

Linebacker Maurice Crum is the top returner defensively. Last season Crum had 84 tackles, a sack, a pair of interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and three forced fumbles. He is the type of player that, to borrow a cliché, has a nose for the football. Safety David Bruton also returns to lead the secondary. He was third on the team in tackles last season with 85 and had a team high three interceptions.

Anchoring the defensive line will be freshman All-American Ian Williams. Williams started just two games last season, but is a big nose tackle at 6-2, 306 pounds. He will be the key to improving the run defense by plugging up the middle. The Irish did not have a consistent pass rushing threat last season, but ends Justin Brown and Morrice Richardson will look to turn the corner from promising recruits to consistent producers.

The defense must replace Tom Zbikowski, but safety is one of the deeper positions on the roster with Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith looking to step in with Bruton. The Irish also have a number of talented freshmen coming in to compete for spots at linebacker and defensive end. When combined with the recruits that coach Weis brought in the previous two seasons, the amount of raw talent is staggering. Still, this is the year that those previous recruits on both sides of the ball must produce.

Notre Dame Special Teams:

It didn’t matter in a lot of games last season, but Notre Dame’s special teams were just as bad as the other two units. Kicker Brandon Walker hit on just 6 of 12 field goals and was 22 of 23 on extra points. Nate Whitaker also saw some time at the position, missing his only field goal attempt and going 1 for 2 on PAT’s. neither kicker had much of a chance to prove themselves since Notre Dame often couldn’t get into field goal range, but Walker at least showed some range with a 48-yarder against UCLA on his resume. According to Irish Illustrated, Whitaker has beaten Walker for the starting job as of right now.

Notre Dame must replace Geoff Price as its punter, but Eric Maust, who had a slightly better average in 21 attempts last season, looks to be capable of holding down the job. Both kickoff and punt coverage units were pretty good last season, failing to surrender a touchdown either way. Like the other areas, there is enough experience here for expected improvement.

Intangibles:

Much of Notre Dame’s fuel comes from its tradition. I know it has been 20 years since their last championship, but the Irish are still one of the most successful teams in college football history. Wherever they play, no matter how poorly they are doing, it is an event. Last season they came to Ross-Ade with a 0-4 record and terrible offense, yet the stadium was still sold out well in advance. Because of this tradition, they really get no off weeks. The Irish always get the best possible shot from their opponents. When they are good, everyone wants to beat them to improve their own seasons. When they are bad, everyone wants to beat them because they are still Notre Dame, making it a “name” win. This means that Notre Dame, in turn, is always forced to bring its best effort week in and week out. That can make them better, but it can also wear on them.

Game Outlook:

This game concerns me because it is in South Bend. If you take away the 2004 game, Purdue has not played well in South Bend for decades. Based on stars alone the Irish should win in a walk, but those stars have yet to produce. In his career coach Tiller has gotten the most of out of his 2 and 3 star guys, while Notre Dame in the past 11 years has gotten the least of its 4 and 5 stars guys. Notre Dame will always get better recruits simply because of who they are, yet over the past 11 seasons they are only 6-5 against “inferior” Purdue.

Much of Notre Dame still remains a mystery, therefore it makes this game hard to call. I will give the Irish the advantage in that it is the fourth game for both teams. Both should be getting into their seasonal rhythm. Both teams have similar schedules to this point in that they are difficult, but hardly overwhelming. If Notre Dame can figure out its offensive woes and get things rolling in its first three games we should watch out. If they continue to juggle quarterbacks and can’t get moving, expect a Purdue win.

Curtis Painter will need to avoid a game very similar to his own to two years ago. His effort there reminded me a lot off Brady Quinn’s effort in 2004. In 2004 Quinn threw for 432 yards and no picks, but had just one touchdown. In 2006 Painter had 398 yards and two scores with no picks. In both cases the quarterback with the “better” game lost because they didn’t get much from the running game. Quinn came back to play very well in winning the next two games against Purdue. Painter won last year with a much more pedestrian effort and a big game from Kory Sheets. Sheets went for 141 yards and a score, dictating the pace much like Darius Walker did a year earlier with 146 yards and a score. To me, Painter and Sheets (or Jaycen Taylor) must reprise their roles from last season, without the pair of Painter interceptions, for Purdue to win.

Prediction:

This should be a good game. I think Purdue can definitely compete in South Bend. Notre Dame has a ton of talent, but I think they are about one year away from exploding. This is the year where everything begins to come together and they must learn how to win as a group. Their fight during the spring isn’t encouraging if you’re a Notre Dame fan, but the spirit is there. Purdue should be starting to come together at this point as well, but it is still South Bend. Losses in 1998, 2000, and 2002 taught me that those games are never over and victory can be lost in a heartbeat. If Purdue is playing well and beats Oregon I think we will win. If the same Purdue of the past few seasons that cannot beat good teams shows up, we will lose. The Boilers must prove themselves to me before I will believe they can beat a good team, and Notre Dame will be a good team. Notre Dame 28, Purdue 24