Sunday, August 31, 2008

Big Ten week 1 wrap-up

After seeing yesterday’s college football results I realize that I should probably stick to covering the Big Ten. At the end of the week’s preview I went on a diatribe about Alabama, and specifically coach Nick Saban, being overrated. The Crimson Tide crushed Clemson, and officially shut me up from saying anything about the man again.

As far as the Big Ten goes, Things went almost exactly as planned. Only Michigan, Michigan State, and Illinois went down to defeat. Those were defeats that were somewhat expected, even mildly in Michigan’s case. The other seven games were the blowouts that we expected.Teams that weren’t supposed to have problems with their opponents did not. Teams that were expected to have some problems did. The glaring exception was Minnesota, which pulled out its game, but will likely continue to have defensive issues. Perhaps the worst thing is that The Big Ten went 0-2 in its biggest games this week, further weakening the stature of the conference at large.
There’s no real change in the power rankings this week. This is mostly because there isn’t enough evidence yet to necessitate a change. There will be after next week when there are some better games and Purdue finally joins the party. What follows is a quick wrap up of each team in order of its original ranking.

Ohio State 43, Youngstown State 0 – The goal of these games is obviously just to keep everyone healthy. Ohio State probably was not going to lose unless it committed about 15 turnovers and generally played the worst game in its history. As a result, they simply wanted to avoid injury. Since the story of the game was Beanie Wells getting hurt that is a fail.

Wells looked impressive from what little he played, but if it is indeed turf toe/Lisfranc/a sprain it is the kind of nagging injury that can derail a season. The Buckeyes face another near certain win this week, so it may be best to rest him before the showdown with USC (which looked awfully good on the road against a team with a pulse). Like many games yesterday, this one simply went as expected aside from Wells’ injury.

Wisconsin 38, Akron 17 – This was likely a little too close for comfort with it only being 17-10 at the half. As we were driving toward Wrigley Field yesterday (a small benefit of Purdue not playing, I must say) my wife was checking scores and I was surprised to see it so close in the fourth quarter. Wisconsin’s depth, experience, and talent took over in this one and made it the expected margin by the end.

Akron had no answer for P.J. Hill. That’s not a surprise considering that few teams will have an answer for him this season. The running game as a whole generated 404 yards. That’s just a staggering number. 75 passing yards from Allan Evridge is far from a concern if they can keep putting up numbers like that, but more balance will be necessary. Still, if a team can find a way to slow down Wisconsin on the ground they have a chance. I am incredibly thankful that is a question we won’t have to answer until 2009.

California 38, Michigan State 31 – I am not surprised that Michigan State lost. It’s hard to begin the season with such a long road trip. Traditionally Big Ten teams struggle when they go on the road to face the Pac-10 early in the season. The last time I think a Big Ten team won such a game was our win at Arizona in 2005 and Ohio State at Washington last year. What is a concern is that Javon Ringer and the vaunted running game did so little. Ringer did find the end zone twice, but had to work hard for his 81 yards with 27 carries.

Brian Hoyer also had the type of game that fans hate to see: a ton of passing yards but not a lot of production. Of course, two of those drives were ended by Ringer TD runs, so it wasn’t a total wash. Spartan fans have to be concerned that the defense gave up a lead early and just couldn’t quite get the one stop it needed to turn things around. Cal did a good job of keeping the lead comfortable throughout. Michigan State is one of the conference’s best teams, but they still have a couple of steps to go.

Penn State 66, Coastal Carolina 10 – Everyone expected a blowout, but probably not of this caliber. Everyone got in on the act for the Nittany Lions, including a peanut vendor, a Make-a-Wish Foundation kid, and four cheerleaders if you look at the box score. Like Ohio State’s win, it’s hard to take much else from this one because of the margin. At least for a week Paterno pulls even with Bowden in the battle to see who blinks first. Since Florida State has not one, but two 1-AA opponents this year I think it is an unfair advantage.

Purdue 457, Dreaded Bye Week 3 – We had another good scrimmage on Friday afternoon. Coach Tiller also seems to think the defense will be very good. I agree with him, but because Northern Colorado is quite punchless I don’t expect to find out for myself for another two weeks when Oregon comes to town.

Speaking of Oregon, once we got settled into our hotel last night I was able to watch a good portion of their game against Washington. The first thing of note was that Justin Roper did not play much at all after getting banged up in the first half. Washington had it close for awhile, but they were unable to offer any protection for Jake Locker against Oregon’s pass rush. Three quarterbacks ended up playing, and all three are dangerous on the ground. Running back Jeremiah Johnson looked especially imposing with 124 yards and two scores.

This was a close game (14-10 at the half) that Washington let get away late with 30 unanswered points in the second half. I don’t know if it was a case of Oregon being that good, or Washington’s defense being that bad. Honestly, it was probably a little of both. The Duck defense did a very good job of containing Locker, but he doesn’t have as many weapons as Painter. They face a meek Utah State team next week, so they won’t have another good opponent until they face us. We’ll need to be ready to face multiple speedy quarterbacks.

Northwestern 30, Syracuse 10 – The Wildcats passed their toughest test of the non-conference season, but that is not saying much. Their preseason schedule makes Indiana’s seem rough. At least the Hoosiers are playing two really good MAC teams. Northwestern has four godawful teams to open against. The Wildcats actually trailed in the second half of this one, but went to the ground game like Wisconsin to dominate behind Tyrell Sutton.

Getting Sutton to the 100 yard mark in each game will be critical to Northwestern’s success. If he does that, the Wildcats have the balance that good teams need in order to win. Look at Michigan State this week. They had over 300 yards passing but didn’t hit 100 yards rushing and lost. If you can generate about even numbers in each phase of the game it makes things much easier. Northwestern did that yesterday and won comfortably.

Missouri 52, Illinois 42 – The Illini are clearly not ready, at least nationally. They have an offense that can do a little bit of everything, but their much talked-about defense didn’t even slow down Chase Daniel. If you have a good defense you should at least be able to force a Heisman candidate like Daniel work for his yardage. Illinois did not do so. For good measure they also surrendered a kickoff and interception returns for scores.

Missouri achieved the balance mentioned above and won going away. Illinois only gained 17 fewer yards, but barely gained anything on the ground by comparison. A ton of passing yards don’t equal wins. Just ask Drew Brees in against Wisconsin in 1998 and Brady Quinn against Purdue in 2004. Illinois’ defense failed it on this day.

Utah 25, Michigan 23 – I found this very interesting perspective on the Utah-Michigan game through CFN. Essentially, it states that Most of Michigan’s points came off of mistakes that Utah made. They are the types of mistakes that Michigan won’t get, at least in terms of total volume, the rest of the year. Teams will play sharper as the season goes on. The Big Ten is also better than the Mountain West, meaning better athletes will also factor in.

I still like Michigan to win their other three non-conference games. Despite everything, the Wolverines do not lose games against the MAC. That means Toledo and Miami should be wins. I still also favor them against Notre Dame, though it could be as big of a cripple fight as last year. I can’t help but think the Wolverines will have trouble, however, when they meet the better defenses of the Big Ten.

Indiana 31, Western Kentucky 13 – I know it was only a game against a team that’s not quite Division 1-A, but Kellen Lewis looked awfully good yesterday. Like Antwaan Randle El a few years ago, the Hoosiers are a much better, and more dangerous, team than they have been in a long time. I refuse to join my Purdue brethren that continues to cut them down. This is a good football team that can use this season to springboard into a very promising future. If we’re not careful, they will pass us.

Indiana has taken that critical next step where it is learning to dominate the games they should win. It used to be they would struggle somewhat, but still beat these types of opponents. Now they are learning to take care of business early, which is a very necessary skill if you’re going to become a good football team. They still must develop a ground game outside of Lewis, but if they do they will be dangerous.

Minnesota 31, Northern Illinois 27 – I was surprised that Minnesota had so much trouble with the Huskies, but the 10 game losing streak is at least officially history. They cannot be happy that Bowling Green took out a ranked Pittsburgh team on the road, but I am sure Gopher fans are happy to have any win after last season.

Still, the story was the same. The defense gave up an alarming number of big plays to an opponent that is nowhere near the talent level that the Gophers will face the rest of the year. Northern Illinois scored three touchdowns from farther than 50 yards. Two of those came as Minnesota already held a lead, a rarity in itself from last year. This is not a good sign for the future of the season.

Iowa 46, Maine 3 – This is another incomplete game, as any marginally good Big Ten team should beat a 1-AA opponent by a similar margin. Iowa continues to do what I hate, and that is not settle on a quarterback and stick with him. The dual quarterback system, unless you’re Florida, NEVER works. You might win a few games with it, but in the end it is more likely that you won’t have a ton of success. Nothing really stands out from this one.

Since this is another team that has the perfect schedule to build some confidence. Florida International will provide better competition next week, but not a lot better. We likely won’t have a full handle on iow until the end of the non-conference season.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Big Ten week 1 preview

Since I’ve hit two years here I think I will start a new feature. This came about from seeing it on other blogs and seeing its success when I tried it during the NCAA tournament. On game day mornings I will post an open thread entry and open up the comments section for live game discussion. I’ll only be able to participate for some of the road games, but I am going to work on trying to comment from my phone in Ross-Ade. I figure I have an Env2, so I might as well use it. We’ll see how things go next week against Northern Colorado.

Purdue is off this week in a brilliant stroke of planning that gives us our bye week in week one. I’m not sure why the schedule was made out this way, especially when we were looking to move the Central Michigan game to another year and pick up a different opponent. Couldn’t we play someone else this week and move Central Michigan a few years down the road after playing them twice last year? Everyone else is active in the Big Ten, so we’ll get a good week of scouting done before we even start. Thanks to my ongoing war with Brighthouse I won’t be able to watch most of the games unless the promised end of the war comes through. ESPN360 became a last minute option tonight, but it’s highly annoying to watch football with the game freezing every five seconds.

Akron (0-0) at #13 Wisconsin (0-0)

The Big Ten is infamous for almost everyone playing at least one game against the MAC. This year there are probably a record low number of games between the two conferences. Only 12 times will a Big Ten team face a MAC opponent. Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota account for half of those games as they each face two MAC opponents. Two MAC opponents (Central Michigan and Ohio) face two Big Ten teams each as well. These games have gotten more competitive recently, but this one likely won’t be.

Akron has fallen back a bit after winning the MAC in 2005 (giving us maybe our best win of the past four years in the process). They aren’t expected to contend in a competitive East division, while Wisconsin is a dark horse national title contender. The Badgers traditionally open strong, and new quarterback Allan Evridge should have plenty of time to get in sync here. I expect the Badgers to win big. The MAC will get a Big Ten team, but not here.

Wisconsin 38, Akron 13

#20 Illinois (0-0) vs. #6 Missouri (0-0) at St. Louis

This is easily the game of the week in the Big Ten and, if not for USC-Ohio State in a few weeks, would be the biggest non-conference game. These two teams played a pretty good game to open last season before anyone knew how good they were. Illinois ended up in the Rose Bowl while Missouri was only beaten by Oklahoma twice and probably should have been in the BCS. If not for the 2 team per conference limit they would have been. The Tigers have a Heisman candidate in Chase Daniel and are once again one of the better teams in the country.

Illinois has plenty to prove after the thumping it took in the Rose Bowl. Losing their best offensive and defensive players will not help either. The Juice was much better a season ago, but he needs to continue cutting down on turnovers and finding his receivers. In my season preview I said that Illinois was overrated. If they manage to win this game I will officially retract that statement and they will become a legitimate threat to win the conference. That would be good for the conference profile as a whole.

Missouri 28, Illinois 24

Indiana (0-0) vs. Western Kentucky (0-0)

The Hilltoppers have traditionally been a power in Division 1-AA but are in the middle of a move up in weight class. Next season they will become eligible for postseason play and can compete for the Sun Belt title. Because of that they are in limbo a bit. They are playing essentially for pride this season as they build for the future. Under those circumstances, there is nothing more they would like to do than scare the crap out of a BCS conference program.

Since Indiana finally made the postseason a year ago they have clearly raised their program a couple of steps. Still, they are viewed as a Big Ten team that non-conference opponents expect to have a better chance against than a Michigan or Ohio State. Western Kentucky was 7-5 last season in their first transitional year. I expect the Hoosiers to win this one easily, but Western Kentucky is capable of scaring them for a quarter or two.

Indiana 45, Western Kentucky 10

Maine (0-0) at Iowa (0-0)

The Black Bears are not one of the better 1-AA teams out there. Even if they were, there is absolutely no excuse for Iowa to lose this game. It was embarrassing enough that The Big Ten lost three games to 1-AA opponents last year. That needs to end now. Iowa needs this game to work on its offense, and that is what it will do.

Iowa 41, Maine 7

Michigan State (0-0) at California (0-0)

This is another game that has the potential to be very, very good on the opening weekend. This kicks off the unofficial Big Ten/Pac-10 challenge as the two conferences meet in four pretty big games during the non-conference season. A Spartan win in Berkeley would open the door to a pretty successful season in East Lansing. They have enough returning starters to make it a memorable season as well.

The Golden Bears are a lot like Michigan State historically. They have been right there on the verge of a breakthrough for some time, but it has yet to happen. They always have a slight edge in recruiting because of location, but have yet to have everything click for them. They are one of those teams that could use a win over a good Michigan State team to compete in the Pac 10. Right now I would give them the edge because they are at home, but don’t be surprised it Michigan State makes a statement by taking this one. Either way it will be close.

California 21, Michigan State 20

Utah (0-0) at Michigan (0-0)

This game is on the upset watch for a number of reasons. Utah has a very experienced, explosive offense that could give the Wolverines fits. The questions surrounding the Wolverine offense are well documented as well. You can be assured that 10 other teams in the conference will watch this game very closely. If Michigan struggles, it will be blood in the water for everyone else. The Utes are more than capable of pulling this one off, but it will be difficult considering that defense will be Michigan’s strength this year.

Michigan is the team we have struggled the most against in Big Ten play. I am envious when anyone else has success against them, especially in Ann Arbor, because no matter what we do we can’t seem to ever even compete with them. The Utes can. This is far from an easy opener for the Rodriguez era. Another season opening loss will quickly erase the goodwill he has earned.

Michigan 17, Utah 14

Northern Illinois (0-0) at Minnesota (0-0)

The Gophers couldn’t ask for a better opener if they are going to break their long losing streak. The Huskies we at the bottom of the MAC a season ago, and they are not expected to compete this year either. The Gophers have lost 10 in a row, but pride and improvement dictate that the streak shouldn’t reach 11.

This will be our first look at a defense that is still very young and wide open. Every starting position is still up for grabs. A number of JuCo transfers should help the unit out. If not, teams will continue to score at will on them and even Northern Illinois could make this one exciting.

Minnesota 35, Northern Illinois 21

Syracuse (0-0) at Northwestern (0-0)

Early last season the Orange appeared to have turned the corner with a shocking win at Louisville. As it turns out, the Cardinals simply weren’t that good and Syracuse was as bad as ever. It seems like the Orange are slowly trying to invade the Big Ten. They have faced Iowa and Illinois each of the last two years, while this season they pick up Northwestern and Penn State. This will be the Wildcats’ most difficult non-conference game, but that is not saying much.

Syracuse lately is about as bad as it gets for a BCS conference team. Only Duke, who is also on Northwestern’s schedule, has been worse in recent seasons. Many Purdue fans remember the 51-0 waxing that we handed the Orange to start the 2004 season. They are a program that desperately needs to turn things around, but this year doesn’t look like it. If Northwestern gets out of this one, and they should, expect a 4-0 start.

Northwestern 33, Syracuse 10

Youngstown State (0-0) at #2 Ohio State (0-0)

Ohio State could play its third string and still name its score. The suspensions won’t matter except for the fact that the returning players may be a little rusty by the time the Buckeyes head to L.A. to face USC.

Ohio State 42, Youngstown State 3

Coastal Carolina (0-0) vs. #22 Penn State (0-0)

Coastal Carolina has two things going for it: A cool nickname (The Chanticleers) and the fact they are becoming a college baseball power. Neither of those will help as JoePa begins maybe his final pursuit of Bobby Bowden. Penn State will win easily.

Penn State 38, Coastal Carolina 10

National games:

#24 Alabama (0-0) vs. #9 Clemson (0-0) at Atlanta

I think this is the battle of who is the most overrated. I can’t believe Clemson is ranked 9th in the preseason, so this will be a chance to prove that they deserve that lofty ranking. Nick Saban is just the most overrated coach in college football. He has a history of losing leads late and having his teams lose games they shouldn’t. Yes, he won a title at LSU, but that team was ready built for him and a trained Labrador retreiver could have won the title with that LSU team. I still remember him from his Michigan State days where there Spartans blew back to back wins against Purdue. Who can forget last year’s “Pearl Harbor” loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Bear Bryant had to be rolling in his grave at that one, as a historical program like Alabama should never lose a game like that.

Based on the fact alone that Saban is coaching I like Clemson.

Clemson 27, Alabama 20

Washington at #21 Oregon

This is one of the better games in an otherwise watered-down opening weekend. Who can blame most BCS teams for scheduling a Northern Colorado in order to guarantee a good start. Pac-10 teams aren’t afforded that luxury, as many of them must be ready early. This game will also be of interest to Purdue fans, as we want to get a good look at Oregon with Justin Roper at quarterback after Nick Costa was lost for the season.

As for Washington, they have been terrible since falling apart in the 2002 Sun Bowl against us. Most of America is hoping they get it together when they face Notre Dame later on, and with Jake Locker at quarterback they have a chance in a lot of games. I like Oregon at home where they are nearly unbeatable, but this could be interesting if they struggle.

Oregon 30, Washington 18

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Celebrating Two years with a roundtable

This will be a multi-part entry. The second part of which basically fell into my lap tonight when I got home from an Indianapolis Indians game. First, I can celebrate the 2-year anniversary of Off the Tracks, launched with this modest entry on August 28, 2006 concerning the beginning of that season. My readership was non-existent back then, but I wanted to thank everyone who has stopped by since for making this the labor of love that it is.

On to the second part. I received an e-mail from Valerie Todryk of the Big Ten today with a link to the following Big Ten PSA featuring our very own Curtis Painter, David Pender, Anthony Heygood, Greg Orton, and Jaycen Taylor. This is a great ad, and the perfect way to generate more excitement for the season.

The next part pertains to my duties in the Blogpoll this season. Apparently, they also have roundtables. Our first host of the season is Hey Jenny Slater, a very decorated and well written Georgia blog. These roundtables probably won’t be as regular as the Big Ten roundtable discussions (of which I will be hosting during the season’s final week), but I’ll try to do them from time to time to give Purdue a more national blogging voice.

1. In his "visiting lecturers" series posted on Every Day Should Be Saturday over the past few months, Orson Swindle asked each participant to explain which country, during which historical period, their team most resembles. Let's bring everything up to the present day and ponder: Which current sovereign nation is your team? Or to look at it another way, how does your team fit into the "world" of college football?

Well, it is clear that Purdue is not the United States, Great Britain, Russia, or any other world power. We’re not really a developing power either (aka South Florida equaling China or something). I certainly would not qualify us as the Sudan or some other third world nation, much to the dismay of some of our friends in South Bend who think we barely know what a football is. Considering all that, I think we are Australia.

We’re a friendly place that everyone likes to visit, but we’re not that intimidating. We can hold our own, but we’re not really a dominant world power. We’re not really that well understood. We have a small fanbase, but that fanbase is very loyal. The same is true for Australia, which has a small but loyal population for its size. Also, there is no immediate concern that we’re going to rise up and take over as a power. The program is happy at its place in things, just as Australia is happy at its place in the world.

2. Every preseason roundup has to have some discussion of who's overrated, but let's go beyond that. Which team do you think is poised to crap the bed in the biggest way this season relative to high expectations, and which game do you think will begin their slide into ignominy?

I think it will be Notre Dame. There schedule is not as easy as everyone says it is. They face three teams ranked currently in at least one of the top 25 polls, and three more in the others receiving votes category. I am not convinced that their defense or their offensive line is much better than a year ago, but they can prove me wrong. Those six also don’t include Purdue, which has a reasonable but far from guaranteed chance to win in South Bend. It also doesn’t include Washington, a team that will be dying to beat them in Seattle. Everyone is saying they should start 5-2 without much trouble, but I think that will be more difficult than people realize.

This was the worst offense in America last year. They are suddenly supposed to be great because almost everyone is back? I think the game things could really go south for them is ironically the Purdue game. I am not saying we will win. I’ve been conditioned to not count any victory in South Bend until the game is over. Two years ago if we had had any kind of a defense and an ability to finish in the red zone we could have won in South Bend when the Irish were much better and we were much worse. The stigma is still there that any loss to Purdue, no matter how good Purdue is or how bad the Irish are, is almost unthinkable. Should Purdue win in South Bend on September 27th (especially if they lose to Michigan and Michigan Stat before hand) you’ll be able to hear pitchforks being sharpened and torches being lit all over the country.

3. On the flip side of that coin, which team do you think is going to burst out of nowhere to become 2008's biggest overachiever -- this year's version of Kansas '07, as it were -- and what's going to be the big upset that makes us all finally sit up and take notice of them?

The Miami Hurricanes when they go into the swamp and shock the Gators on September 6th. If you’re looking at one game that can restore a program and make the country take notice that they are back, it is this one. Even a close lose would do it, as it would put the Canes in position to suddenly contend in a very weak ACC. Miami has the running game and the building blocks of a dominant defense. If they can have anyone even be a serviceable quarterback after the disaster that was Kirby Freeman and Kyle Wright a year ago they can be at least a nine win team.

This is where I hope Randy Shannon names Jacory Harris the starter and sticks with him. Robert Marve’s recent suspension clearly shows he has no interest in being the starting quarterback at the University of Miami. If he did, he wouldn’t have done anything even remotely suspension worthy. Shannon should send him to the bench and go with Harris for his dumbass attack.

4. Here's an "I'll hang up and listen" question. I put Ohio State and Oklahoma #1 and #2, respectively, despite their recent high-profile BCS face-plants. Where did you rank those two teams, and did those BCS issues have anything to do with it?

I had Ohio State 3rd and Oklahoma 7th. Last season was last season. It has absolutely no bearing on where we are right now. I honestly only did a ranking because I needed to. It’s way too early to properly judge this season’s teams.

5. Last season was a statistical outlier in countless ways, not the least of which was the fact that we ended up with a two-loss team as national champion. Do you think anyone plays a strong enough schedule to get MNC consideration as a two-loss team this year? Conversely, do you see anybody managing to sail into the national-championship game undefeated?

No two loss team deserves to be in consideration unless you have a situation like last year. Even then, there should be a simple rule that you must win your conference to be considered for the title. Georgia has absolutely no beef trying to get into the title game. If they wanted to get in that badly they would have won one of the two games they lost and at least played for the SEC title.

No one, no matter how strong of a schedule, deserves that consideration unless we have a situation like last season. Kansas had one loss and wasn’t considered. This was rightfully so because they didn’t win their division. I have always wondered about the following scenario, however:

In this era of conference championship games we see more rematches than before. Say you have two teams play during the regular season, like Georgia and LSU. They play a classic during the season, and Georgia wins by a point. Both suffer no other losses, meet again in the SEC championship, and LSU wins by a point late in another classic. Assuming there are no undefeated teams, do you make them play a third time for the title? What if it happened in the ACC or Big 12 and those two teams were far and away the best teams in America?

If you want a team that can get there undefeated I nominate Wisconsin. Going to Fresno State is tough, but they can win there. That leaves a trip to Michigan State and the Big Ten game of the year when Ohio State travels to Madison. Wisconsin fans won’t let Ohio State take over the crowd like the Buckeyes do in so many other Big Ten venues. If Wisconsin can get past those three games, I like them in the other nine by a lot.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Training Camp Wrap-up

Training camp for Purdue ended this past weekend. Coach Tiller seems to be very happy with the final incarnation he will lead in West Lafayette. Fans like me are just anxious to get the season going. Unless you have NCAA ’09 and can change the schedule, however, we have to wait another week while everyone else starts this Saturday. This may be a blessing as we have three tricky games before we even get into the conference, but in reality I think everyone would rather have us play this week and take a week off elsewhere.

Training camp was what training camp always is for us. There are plusses and minuses. There are injuries as well as the emergence of new stars. There are academic casualties and freshmen who surprisingly put themselves in a position to make a contribution. Chris Carlino is the hottest news this week, but he just as likely could end up redshirting the year as much as starting. Overall I think it was a very good training game from the news I have been able to gather, but things obviously could have been better.

Preseason positives:

Dwight McLean – I saw this guy’s picture through Purdue’s site the other day and my reaction was, “Holy crap, that dude is ripped!” McLean seems to have come out of nowhere to grab one of the starting safety positions, allowing us to move Brandon King back to his natural position of cornerback. McLean comes off like a guy that is driven to prove people wrong. He barely got recruited after getting hurt in high school, and we had to fight off football power New Mexico State to get him well after signing day. The fact he displaced to other guys in Torri Williams, Josh McKinley, and Brandon King who have experience for us at his position gives me hope. He’s a very hard worker and likely won’t be shying away from contact. That’s what we have needed in a safety for a long time.

Even the secondary as a whole has been a big plus. David Pender is a bit banged up, but should be ready to go. King moving over to corner gives us four young corners with playing experience in Pender, King, Royce Adams, and Charlton Williams. McLean coming on takes the pressure off of Torri Williams and Josh McKinley. The best news is that everyone will be back next year if Torri Williams stays healthy, stays out of trouble, and gets a 6th year back because of all the injuries he has had. All of them but McLean played last year, so we can do more in the secondary to help out the run defense.

Chris Carlino – He’s undersized and it scares the crap out of me playing an undersized true freshman at middle linebacker in the Big Ten, but I am encouraged that he has come on enough to at least provide some depth at a much-needed position. It is disappointing at the same time to see guys like Kevin Green and DeVarro Greaves haven’t developed enough already being here to solidly beat him out for the job. If Carlino is the best man for it, I say have at it.

Defensive Line – The GBI Football yearbook both praised and ripped out defensive line throughout. They complimented numerous times about how deep it would be, yet said that our run defense would be suspect. I think things will change drastically with Magee moving to defensive end. We finally have the big monster at defensive end most teams that are good against the run have.

Kris Cooke appears to be ready to contribute enough that we could move Magee. The same can be said for Mike Neal. Ryan Kerrigan is coming on at the other end position, and Magee’s move lets Keyon Brown, Nickaro Golding, and Gerald Gooden develop at a slower pace. I’ve even heard Nick Mondek mentioned as being played some in the rotation. That’s ten guys we can rotate among four positions. I think we’re going to be much better against the run than people realize because of this depth.

The entire defense – I am as reserved as anyone when the news comes out that one unit dominated the other in a scrimmage. Last week it was the defense over the offense, which naturally raises the question of the defense being that much better or the offense being that much worse. Personally, I think the defense is that much better, and we might be able to call the 2008 season How Brock Spack Got His Groove Back.

As long as everyone stays healthy, I feel safe with 10 of our 11 starters. Only the middle linebacker position gives me concerns among the current projected starters. The best part is that Only Anthony Heygood, Alex Magee, and Ryan Baker will be gone next year from this group. Magee and Baker have depth behind them, while Heygood doesn’t quite yet. I believe the defense will be markedly better this season than in past years based on experience alone. These guys often had to play before they were ready the last two years. Now they have experience and we can simply do more as far as blitzes and coverages go. How is this a bad thing?

Keith Smith and Aaron Valentin – We needed two receivers to emerge, and it appears we have found two. Valentin has been making a number of highlight reel catches in practice. Smith was said to be the second best receiver in camp behind Greg Orton. Since Orton had a pretty good camp as well, that’s a very good sign. Others like Desmond Tardy, Joe Whitest, Byron Williams, and others will surely play and get plenty of balls thrown their way, but we needed two guys to become starters. It is also nice that Valentin and Smith will return next year like so many others.

Tiller mentioned recently how there won’t be as many big plays, but is that really a bad thing? So what if we dink and dunk our way down the field. As long as we don’t turn it over we take time off the clock. At that point it becomes a very simple equation: the other team can’t score if it doesn’t have the ball. I think the big play will be there if we need it, but I very much welcome longer drives as long as they end in points.

Caleb TerBush – Rumor has it the kid can play a bit. Some say that it was his play in training camp that moved Siller to running back. This is pretty good for a very lightly regarded kid from Central Illinois. We still won’t see him on the field until next season at the earliest barring a disaster, but I am a big fan of developing quarterbacks so they are ready to take the field. Very rarely do you get a guy that is ready to go from day one.

Camp negatives:

Jaycen Taylor’s injury – This is obviously the worst thing that has come out of training camp. We lose starter-caliber player before a down is even played, and he happens to be one of the team’s best energy guys. Not only that, it prompted a move of the quarterback of the future to running back. That move has seen mixed reviews at best, but we’ll see what happens.

I am glad that Jaycen seems committed to returning for 2009. His return then will be very important as Joey Elliott becomes a first-time starter. It also helps that he will be a presence at practice and on the sidelines. His loss to the offense is still big. Dierking and Halliburton will likely get more carries, but for now it is the Kory Sheets show.

Desmond Tardy – I had really hoped he would seize the opportunity and become an offensive anchor. He appears ready to do so in the return game, but after being a projected starter for so long he is still on the second string. I am sure he will play, but I expected more out of him than I have heard. Of course, Valentin and Smith may have simply played that much better.

Kevin Green – Green is another guy, like Tardy, that hasn’t fully taken control of a position that was all but promised to him. I think with Werner and Heygood on the outside we’ll be able to do more defensively than people think, but Green, or whoever ends up in the middle, needs to contribute too. There was some depth that developed, especially with Joe Holland moving over, but it is still a major position of need. The Dwayne Beckford loss has also already been discussed at length.

Final expectations:

Now that camp is over I have a really good feeling about the coming season. We may have caught a break when it came out that Oregon quarterback Nick Costa will miss most of the season after re-injuring his knee, but the Ducks are still a very good team. I maintain that this game is the key to the season. A win would make things a lot brighter as far as the rest of the season is concerned. A loss would continue the questions of if we can beat a good team. That makes it even better that they are our first real test.

I think the offense will be fine. Painter will get the ball to his receivers, and we’ll find some guys that can consistently catch the ball. The defense will be much improved. It will be better than everyone thinks, too. The position switches, Siller aside, are all logical and even expected. They will make the team better both now and in the future. Many of the new players in starting roles like Cory Benton and Jason Werner have adjusted well and will quickly become strengths.

This team is ready. The only major negative is the Taylor injury, which can be overcome. The table is set to surprise in the Big Ten. Now we merely must go out and do it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Off the Tracks Big Ten Preview

Everyone in the blogosphere wants to rank things before they even have anything to rank. This was absurd even before App State made the exercise even more ludicrous a year ago. I should have learned my own lesson when my pick to finish last in the Big Ten at 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the conference ended up beating us at home badly and playing in Orlando. Though I am a fast learner, this is an area where I remain slow.

What follows is my Big Ten preseason rankings and predicted order of finish for the 11 teams. This means absolutely nothing at the moment, but to save myself some face I am not going to bother predicting records or anything. Things can change so rapidly that predicting a preseason record is meaningless. I believe a 10 win season is possible for Purdue, but injuries or suspensions in key areas can limit that quickly. Even our talent, despite how good of a training camp Tiller said we had, can limit it. The same is true for the other 10 teams in the conference. What happens to Illinois if the Juice gets pulped? What about Indiana is Kellen Lewis gets suspended again? These rankings are just a guess, and can easily be proven wrong for almost everyone.

11. Iowa – Someone has to be at the bottom, and I am putting the Hawkeyes there because they seem to be the messiest team in the Big Ten at the moment. The offense was a wreck last year and doesn’t appear to be leaps and bounds better. The defense is okay, but that won’t cut it in the league. Even against one of the easiest schedules in the conference I think they will have a very tough time qualifying for a bowl. Six wins is not the guarantee it once was, so they had better get 7 if they want to feel safe.

Maine and Florida International to start is as easy as it gets, but Iowa State has always been tough for the Hawkeyes and a trip to Pittsburgh is not a guaranteed win. If they come into the conference 2-2 they can forget about the postseason. They have lost two straight to Indiana, and Illinois will have revenge on its mind in Champaign. Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Northwestern are all capable of winning in Iowa City. Minnesota will also certainly be fired up for their final game in the Metrodome when they end the season with Iowa .

10. Minnesota – Last year when I wrote about Illinois I still had the Illini low, but I said they would be better and shock at least one team in the conference. I never dreamed it would be #1 Ohio State in Columbus. I am not going out on a limb when I say Minnesota will be better. It is hard for them to be much worse when their defense was the worst in the country a year ago. Do you realize that in consecutive weeks we played the country’s worst defense (Minnesota) and the country’s worst offense (Notre Dame)? Thankfully these two did not play, saving the world from the worst display of college football in history.

Only a semi-difficult trip into MAC country at Bowling Green and a home date with feisty Florida Atlantic stands in the way of a 4-0 start before conference play. If the Gophers can do that they would need just 3 conference wins for a bowl game. I think it is possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The year will be a success if Minnesota can reach .500 and be poised for a breakout 2009 in the new stadium. All four road conference games look like losses and Iowa is probably the easiest home game.

9. Indiana – Indiana has the makings of a pretty good team, but I cannot understand why Bill Lynch is implementing an offense that will hinder its greatest weapon. Outside of Lewis there is no proven running game unless Marcus Thigpen is facing Purdue’s defense. Also, receivers need to develop and an answer needs to be found at cornerback. The lines are both going to be surprisingly good, however.

I’m also not buying into the belief that Indiana has four slam dunk wins outside of the Big Ten. Yes, Murray State and Western Kentucky will be wins, but you’re telling me a very good offensive team like Central Michigan has no chance? How about a pretty good Ball State team that has played Indiana fairly well the past couple seasons and went to a bowl last year? If Indiana gets past those four unscathed they will go to another bowl, but those predicting 9 or 10 wins are a little overzealous.

8. Michigan – This is the first bold pick here, but Michigan is facing the largest questions of everyone in the Big Ten. Rich Rodriguez hasn’t helped matters by alienating to most everyone in the country except Michigan fans. Personally, I’d love for him to become the most overrated coach in the country just because of his attitude, taking the title from Nick Saban. Michigan fans are naturally nervous about this year, while most of the teams that the Wolverines face are thinking this is their best shot, maybe for a long time.

Look, I know Michigan is Michigan. They have great athletes and great tradition. But after App State last year how are we expected to believe a team that will like take a step back offensively can compete for a championship? When teams like Utah and Miami of Ohio have legitimate shots at an upset in Ann Arbor how should we expect the rest of the season to unfold. Other than Toledo and probably the game against the Redhawks I don’t see a stone cold lock win on the schedule. Utah is a sneaky-tough team to open against, and since Notre Dame is returning to glory we must all be ready to bow.

7. Illinois – I am far from sold on the Illini. They haven’t had a sustained period of success since Red Grange played in Champaign. They followed their last BCS bowl with a 5-7 record after losing their best player (Kurt Kittner in that case). Rashad Mendenhall meant at least as much to Illinois’ offense last year, and the way they were rocked in the Rose Bowl leaves me little confidence. I don’t care that USC is that good. A top 20 team in 2008 would have put up more of a fight.

Eastern Illinois, Western Michigan, and Louisiana-Lafayette will give them three non-conference wins, but Missouri is a tough opener. All four Big Ten road trips are not easy either. A season ender at Northwestern will be more difficult than people realize. At least all four Big Ten home games except Ohio State will be pretty easy. I expect Illinois to make a bowl, but they will not be back in the BCS this season. Making it to a New Year’s Day bowl is a big if.

6. Northwestern – This is the most dangerous team in the Big Ten. No one ever takes them seriously, and that’s about the time they go on a four game winning streak in the conference where three of those teams are left shaking their heads and wondering what just happened. Because of where that games falls in the schedule, Purdue should be very worried about going to Evanston. We have a realistic shot of being 5-1 coming into this game, but will likely have just lost at Ohio State regardless. This is right in our “October swoon” wheelhouse.

There is absolutely zero excuse for the Wildcats not being 4-0 before Big Ten play starts. Ohio, Syracuse, Duke, and Southern Illinois is as easy as it can get when you face two BCS conference teams in non-conference play. That means Northwestern should go bowling with even moderate success in the Big Ten. They are good enough to win at least three conference games. Don’t be surprised if they win more.

5. Purdue – It seems like Purdue has lived in this spot since I started ranking the Big Ten two years ago. If we beat the teams we should and lose to those we should lose to we’ll be right in the middle again. No one is giving us much respect nationally, predicting the same thing. After the way we have performed since 2003, I don’t blame them. Even our dream season that wasn’t in 2004 wasn’t that great. We were a 7-5 team. Yes, we had no business losing five games, but we still did. Losses are losses. Call this the homer ranking, but as a Purdue blog I am required to be optimistic and this is as optimistic as I can get before the season.

I do have a strangely good feeling as we get closer to the season. I think it will be justified in the Oregon game when we pull a minor upset over the ranked Ducks. It is a game we still should lose, and I even predicted so in my preview. If we can get it though, I think it will change a lot of things for the 2008 season. It will give us a confidence we have been missing, and suddenly Notre Dame, Penn State, and Michigan aren’t so daunting. I am saying it now. If Purdue upsets Oregon we will win 9 games. If not, only expect 6 or 7 at best because we won’t be ready yet again. Anything between 4 and 10 wins would not surprise me with this team.

4. Penn State – I almost put the Nittany Lions as low as 7th. They must break in a new quarterback, they lost their best player for the season before it started, there are clearly discipline issues. The Paterno situation will continue to be a distraction until it is resolved. Of all the teams in the top half of the conference I can see Penn State falling the hardest if things break. They are Penn State, however, and last year they still managed to get it done for a pretty good year.

Coastal Carolina, Temple, and a trip to Syracuse should be easy wins, but Oregon State could be a tricky home game in the Big Ten/Pac-Ten challenge. The Purdue game is their third toughest in the conference on the road, and I feel we are capable of beating them at home. If the Nittany Lions can finally figure out Michigan I think they will hold serve at home, but road losses at Wisconsin and Ohio State will prevent a Big Ten title.

3. Michigan State – I am required, as a blogger and pseudo-journalist, to call the Spartans this season’s Illinois. Personally, I think they may be better. They had a successful year when few expected such last year. They have one of the better quarterback-running back tandems in the conference and a defensive minded coach that appears to have changed the entire attitude of the program. The way they won in Ross-Ade with ease a year ago surprised me.

If they can survive an opening road trip to California they very well could be undefeated facing Ohio State on October 18th. After the Spartans nearly beat them with defense alone a season ago who wouldn’t give them a chance against the Buckeyes? If Ohio State is also undefeated at the time, it will probably be their final major hurdle to the national title game.

2. Wisconsin – As a Purdue fan, I am hoping Wisconsin does not win at home over Ohio State on October 4th. That will be a very, very good game, perhaps the best in the conference this year. Should Wisconsin win, we will be facing a very angry Ohio State team the following week in Columbus. Though I think we’ll have a better than expected season, I would be absolutely shocked if we won in Columbus. If they lose to USC and Wisconsin before playing us I expect such an upset will be even more unlikely.

Thankfully, we don’t face the Badgers this year. They are the most complete team outside of Ohio State. If a quarterback emerges and does well I think they can compete for the national title. A trip to Fresno State is the only difficult non-conference game as Akron, Marshall, and Cal-Poly are very simple. The toughest Big Ten games aside from Michigan State are all at Camp Randall. They have the best combination of running backs as well, which is always handy.

1. Ohio State – This is not a surprise, but until someone goes into Columbus and rips the Big Ten title from Ohio State’s grasp they will be here. Unfortunately for Ohio State, teams may not have to go to Columbus to do it. They have the most talent rich roster in the conference by far. Their backup quarterback could probably start for the other 10 teams and have a very successful year. They have a running back that is Heisman-worthy, and a linebacker that needs to work on his signature so he can sign a massive NFL check in about 8 months. The other positions aren’t as lauded, but may be just as good.

The only hang-up is the schedule. Going to USC, Wisconsin, and Michigan State are by far the toughest three games the Buckeyes must face. They will face a hostile crowd in each no matter how much they take over the opposing venue. Many of these guys have played for the last two national championships, but can they come out successful in all three games? If the Buckeyes win all three (or maybe even two) of those games they will play for another national championship. Yeah, they’ve lost the last two, but unless you’re an Ohio State, LSU, or Florida fan you can’t even say you’ve played for the title in that time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Boilermakings for 8/22

Because of the resounding failure of the “Know thy Team” Series I think I will move it back next season to before I do out opponent preview. It seems like it would make more sense to do it in the summer immediately after spring football so it doesn’t become obsolete as training camp happens. With the Taylor injury, Malcolm Harris dismissal, and Justin Siller move it made things look really bad just after the quarterback and running back articles were published. I’ll chalk it up to a lesson in learning.

This also will likely be one of the last regular Boilermakings for awhile. Once the season starts it looks like there will be a regular schedule of posting all the way through basketball season. I’ll try to touch on some of the major news from the other athletic teams from time to time, but from here on in I’ll pretty much be in football and basketball mode through March.

Football training camp notes and comments

Training camp was actually going quite well until this week. Jaycen Taylor’s injury set off a chain of moves that were discussed here earlier. My readers did an excellent job of calming me down and stepping back a bit about the Siller move. It is true that I am only a blogger and not a coach, but this still felt like a strange move with as much as they were talking about Siller before spring practice as the heir apparent.

I’ll trust coach Tiller on this one because of how he has backed off in his talk of Siller since the spring. It may be a case not so much of need at running back, but of something missing in Siller at the quarterback position. I saw a lot of speculation today on his possible transfer, but I won’t believe that until it happens. Since he has already redshirted he would totally lose a year of eligibility. This gets him on the field this year, but it still feels like we are mortgaging the future. If he is going to be a future quarterback, he needs as much time as possible back there learning. He may simply not be ready for the position, or better suited elsewhere.

Is this setting up a situation where Joey Elliott takes over for Hope’s first year like Billy Dicken in 1997? That remains to be seen. We would need a Drew Brees type to emerge for history to totally repeat itself, and we lost one of those chances when Morgan Newton committed to Kentucky today.

As far as other camp news, there isn’t a ton to report other than Taylor’s injury. I like Magee’s move to defensive end a lot. I think it makes the defense even better. In an unsurprising move, Joe Holland was moved to linebacker today. In the same article it mentioned that true freshman Chris Carlino will be playing that rotation as well. It is nice to see that we have some named backups now at a position of glaring need. They will need to learn quickly though. Holland and Carlino are probably undersized, but in a few years this experience could pay some serious dividends.

Coach Tiller seems to like the energy of this team. People outside the program are not sharing such optimism. Though the offense is supposed to be pretty good with one of the best quarterbacks in the country and the defense should be improved, ESPN’s resident Big Ten blogger thinks that Purdue will be one of only two teams in the Big Ten to not go bowling. He’s apparently banking on a 2-2 (or worse) non-conference season knocking us out early. Tiller likes this team, so I hope he is right. I think we will be better than a lot of people think.

Volleyball ranked in top 25 preseason poll

Coach Dave Shondell has accomplished quite a bit in a very short time in West Lafayette. When he came here a few years ago, Purdue volleyball team was at or near the bottom of the conference. In 2003, his forst season, Purdue finished 10th in the Big Ten. The very next season the volleyball team broke a 14 year NCAA tournament drought and hasn’t missed the event since. They followed that in 2005 with a sweet 16 appearance. They will begin the 2008 season ranked 25th in the coaches poll.

Shondell has in state ties with the strange volleyball hotspot in East Central Indiana. He is a former coach at state power Muncie Central, and Muncie is also home to one of the best high school volleyball programs in the country at Muncie Burris. Since Indiana moved to class sports for the 1997-98 school year, Burris has been a class 2A juggernaut. They have yet to lose a match in IHSAA tournament play. They are 75-0 with 11 straight state championships and counting. They had eight championships before the state even went to class sports, so it is not just a result of a watered down tournament. That team is coach by his brother, Steve, so you can bet some of that talent gets a point towards West Lafayette.

Defending national champion Penn State is ranked #1 in the preseason poll, so the boilers will have a chance or two to take on the best. The season officially opens next weekend at home int h Mortar Board invitational, of which #14 Kansas State is taking part.

Men’s basketball comes home 2-3 from Australia

They’ll be the #1 seed in the Preseason NIT and play a pair of games at home before (hopefully) heading to New York, but the Pre-teen Boilers took some lumps down under. Purdue ended up playing four professional teams in Australia, and only won one of those games. There are some positives to take from this trip.

First of all, Purdue scored A LOT of points. I am concerned that the defense wasn’t what we will be expecting come November, but that’s to be expected from a fun and run summer tour. Second, the points came from a number of sources. JuJuan Johnson and Nemanja Calasan had offensive breakouts on this trip. I am very pleased to see them play so well in the middle against professional competition. Johnson had a 21 point, 11 rebound game in the trip’s final contest, showing a breakout season is in order. E’Twaun Moore ended up averaging 27 points per game on the trip. Most importantly, I think the losses will keep them humble.

No just imagine how much better they will be when Keaton Grant starts playing with them and true point guard Lewis Jackson can dictate the pace.

Olympics update

Beijing has not been kind to Purdue’s Olympic athletes. I missed out on an earlier Purdue athlete when I didn’t mention Croatian Shotputter Nedzad Mulabegovic. Nedzad had a pretty good career at Purdue, but against the world’s best he didn’t even qualify for the finals. He placed 29th in a field of 45 in the qualifying throws with a throw of 19.35 meters. Only the top 12 went on to the finals.

Another athlete that failed to make the finals was U.S. champion Kara Patterson in the javelin throw. Her effort in Beijing was well below her personal best of over 60 meters. Patterson only had a best of 54.39 meters , finishing 41st in her qualifying heat. This was her first Olympics, however. Her chances for a better showing in 2012 are pretty good.

Incoming freshman David Boudia did not compete anymore after finishing 5th in the 10 meter platform synchronized diving event, so there is nothing more to report on him. Finally, former baseball player Mike Duursma’s Olympics are over as his Dutch national finished 1-6 in pool play, beating only the host Chinese. I tried to find some stats on him, but I have the unfortunate handcap of not being able to read Dutch. Spanish and maybe German, but sadly, not Dutch.

Women’s Soccer also ranked in the preseason

Last’s year’s women’s soccer season was a great year that ended in the most sour way possible. The Lady boilers won the Big Ten Tournament, had an in-season win over #1 ranked Portland, and were a top 5 team for a good portion of the year. They were a legitimate threat to win the national title. That is, until they lost at home in the second round of the NCAA tournament… to Indiana.

Title IX is often listed as the reason that Purdue doesn’t have a men’s soccer team, but I have often heard that the unofficial reason is because we would regularly get drilled by our neighbors to the south who have won multiple national titles. Last year was supposed to be the year the women’s soccer team got one back, but the Hoosiers came to West Lafayette after losing 7-0 during the regular season shocked Purdue 4-3 on penalty kicks. It was only Purdue’s 3rd loss on the season.

Purdue lost 13 seniors, but is ranked 24th coming into the 2008 season. They are expected to contend for another Big Ten championship. They begin the season at Kansas today (Friday).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Know thy Team 2008: Specialists

The first blogpoll of the season is up. Purdue is not ranked in the top 25, which isn’t a surprise. Some bloggers were kind enough to throw us a few votes, however. I have the feeling that if we start 2-0 with a win over a ranked Oregon team we can crack the top 25 easily. My final official ballot can be found here. During the season I’ll be posting my ballots on Sunday night for discussion, and they are due to be finalized by Wednesday morning for the next poll. Feel free discuss/praise/rip me for my choices as the season goes on. Special thanks go out to Brian of MGoBlog for running this with statistics I have long forgotten since my freshman year statistics class at Purdue.

As far as analysis, there are plenty of chances for Purdue to make noise in this poll. #2 Ohio State, #18 Oregon, and #21 Penn State are all on the schedule. Michigan, Michigan State, Central Michigan, Notre Dame, Iowa, and Northwestern were all good enough to at least receive votes in the poll as well. There will be no complaints about an easy non-conference slate this year. Not much else can be done until we go out and play the games now.

Special Teams preview

The know thy Team series didn’t go as well as I had hoped, but it mercifully comes to an end today. During the 2001 season it seemed like Travis Dorsch did everything. He handled punts, kicks, and kickoffs. As poor as our offense was, that meant he was on the field a lot. His clutch 50-yarder in the “Miracle in the Metrodome” game has to be the toughest Purdue kick ever. I think it benefited a kicker like Travis because he didn’t have time to think about it. As a result, Dorsch finished third in the voting for the Lou Groza award and won the Ray Guy award as the nation’s best punter.

Fortunately, our offense should be much better in 2008, meaning we won’t have to rely on Chris Summers as much. He is expected to handle both the placekicking and punting duties, but a couple of freshmen should challenge him in both areas. We may end up using someone else for kickoff duties as well, just to give Summers a break.

Chris Summers, Jr.

When it was announced that incoming freshman Carson Wiggs had agreed to come to Purdue after graduating high school in 2008 many fans thought Purdue would simply hang on with Summers doing the placekicking again. As a freshman in 2006 Summers was just 8 for 20 on field goals. He didn’t hit one after the Wisconsin game, and missed the final 8 kicks he attempted. It got so bad that fifth year senior Casey Welch came on to hit an 18 yard game-winner at Michigan State in the only field goal attempt of his career. Summers was roundly booed, and many people dreaded seeing him come on for even extra points. It was a worse season than Berin “The Serbian Shank Machine” Lacevic had in 2002.

With no one to really replace him the job was pretty much his by default in 2007. Tim Daugherty didn’t seize the opportunity before him in camp and later transferred. Summers made the most of his second chance by working hard with kicking guru Doug Blevens in the offseason. Blevens coached some guy named Adam Vinatieri, who has had a decent career in the NFL. In the season opener at Toledo Summers’ first attempt was just barely wide, but the second one of the game was true. A huge cheer went up from the Purdue section, and the pressure was lifted. After that opening miss Summers hit 18 of 21 attempts, with one of those missed kicks being blocked at Minnesota. He had a four field goal day with a career long at Penn State, hit four against Notre Dame in a game where we needed him to convert points, and hit three in the Motor City Bowl. His final kick of the season was a 40-yarder that gave Purdue its first bowl win since 2002.

Now a junior, Summers looks like he may be one of the better kickers in a conference full of pretty good ones. Austin Starr at Indiana, Dan Kelly at Penn State, and Ryan Pretorius at Ohio State could all lay claim as finalists for this year’s Groza award. With another season like he had in 2007, Summers could be right there with them.

Chris Summers, Jr.

It’s not a typo here. Summers is also expected to take over the punting duties for the departed Jared Armstrong. This was long suspected as he has been apprenticing Jared the past two seasons in practice and has carried the honorable title of backup punter since. Summers punted in high school at Hamilton Southeastern and was one of the best in the state of Indiana at the time. Two years and a change in levels later he is expected to handle double duty again. Coaches like his leg strength, so it is possible we could have a repeat of Dorsch’s final two seasons. In 2000 Dorsch was the deep punter while Scott Kurz was more of the pooch punter (though Kurz took over full time punting later in the year). Armstrong and Welch played those roles in 2006. We could see a reprisal of this with any of the incoming freshmen.

Cory Kemps and Carson Wiggs are candidates to start here as well, but Summers has the clear edge being the upperclassman. Placekicking is still his priority, but if he can punt that will make him even more valuable. It couldn’t happen to a nicer kid either. The blueprint for success is there from Dorsch’s final two years.

The future:
Cory Kemps, Fr.
Carson Wiggs, Fr.

Both of these kids are versatile players that can both kick or punt. If Summers can nail both jobs this year I expect both to redshirt, then use 2009 to prepare for when both spots are open in 2010. If that happens, Purdue is likely set at both kicking positions through the 2012 season when Eastern Kentucky will travel to Purdue in the revenge game for stealing coach Hope. Asking Summers to place kick, punt, and kickoff may be a bit much. Either Wiggs or Kemps could see action if only on the kickoff team.

Wiggs may have a slight edge as the recruited player as opposed to the preferred walk-on status that Kemps has. Kemps did have three clutch field goals in last season’s class 5A state championship game for Carmel, a 16-7 win for the Greyhounds. Previously he only had a single made field goal in 14 games. Wiggs averaged 47 yards per punt as a junior in 2006. He has a big leg on kickoffs and was one of the most highly recruited specialists in the nation because he can kickoff, punt, and placekick.

Summers has been outstanding on kickoffs in his career. He has a good leg, but has often been asked to kick to a spot around the 20 in order to limit a big return. He has been very successful in this, as the Boilers have had one of the best kickoff coverage units in the country the past two seasons. Last season we gave up 16.9 yards per kick return, ranking second in the country. We finished 4th in 2006. As much as the defense has struggled, keeping opponents at the far end of the field is necessary.

Wiggs had to be disappointed that Summers came on strong last season to cement what looked to be an open job, but he still should get plenty of opportunities in the future. Kemps sadly won’t be coming with teammate Jordan Brewer just yet. He’s probably third on the list right now, but you can’t make an accurate assessment until training camp is over.

Kickoff Returns:
Desmond Tardy, Sr. (5)
Kory Sheets, Sr. (5)

1,007 yards, 28 per return on 36 attempts, and two touchdowns. That is what Purdue lost with Dorien Bryant departing as a kick returner. It is a shame that Bryant has been unable to land a spot in an NFL training camp as a returner because once he did touch the ball on a return there was a chance for six. He had three kickoff returns for scores in his career, more than anyone in recent Purdue history. I don’t know if Purdue as a team had three other kickoff returns for touchdowns under Tiller (I know Jerome Brooks at Notre Dame in 2004 and Desmond Tardy at Minnesota last year, but that’s it).

Tardy is the leading candidate here, and he is more than serviceable as a replacement. Minnesota kicked away from Bryant to start last season’s game and Tardy simply fielded his first kickoff ever (at any level) and took it 95 yards untouched for a touchdown. He only fielded 8 kicks, but Tardy had a slightly higher average than Bryant. Sheets has experience from two years ago, which will be handy. Jaycen Taylor appeared to be ahead of him for the other spot until his injury this week. I’m perfectly comfortable with Tardy and Sheets back there.

Punt returns:
Desmond Tardy, Sr. (5)
Royce Adams, Jr.

Purdue has had a number of good punt return specialists like Vinny Sutherland and Anthony Chambers, but since Chambers left this has been an area where we have been lacking. Bryant and Tardy shared duties last year. Bryant had 15 returns for a 6.2 average while Tardy carried a 20.5 average on a pair of returns. That’s a good sign. If Tardy can return some electricity to the punt return game then it will be another weapon we can use. The defense must consistently get stops so this weapon can be used, however.

Other Specialists:
Holder: Curtis Painter, Sr. (5)
Long Snapper: Andy Huffman, Jr.

I was recently watching the tape of the 1998 Alamo Bowl and I was thankful that snapping issues have been an afterthought for a long time. Anyone who remembers that game may have conveniently forgotten that punts were and adventure then. Huffman has handled duties just fine since 2006. If you look at his Rivals profile you can see a link back to a 2006 article wishing for his anonymity. He has it, and that’s a good thing.

There have been some rumblings about a potential new holder this season after Jared Armstrong’s graduation. Painter had the duty two years ago and appeared set for a return this year. The new situation may not be working out though, so it should be Painter’s job for the time being. Any time he is on the field gives him another opportunity to throw, so on a broken play or designed fake it is important to keep in mind that the starting quarterback is right there. Then again, when Dorsch threw for a TD off of a blocked punt at Central Florida in 1999 things were just fine.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The first WTF of the season

I’m taking a break from the position previews because today was a very busy day when it comes to the upcoming season. Last night we had the news that Jaycen Taylor was injured at the end of practice. Today it was revealed that the injury sounds just as serious as expected. Nothing is official, but the tone of that article certainly makes it sound like Taylor is done for an extended amount of time, if not the entire season. At least if he returns healthy he will be the full on starter in 2009.

What was more surprising was some of the position switches that were announced at the end of practice today. The Magee move is not a surprise. I actually like it as it gives us some serious size on the defensive line, which is what we have lacked for a long time. Magee is quick for his size as well. He can make a difference on the end while we have several other good players that can play at tackle. This makes the defense a lot better, in my opinion. It also erases, at least partially, a question mark. The Justin Siller move, however, as me thinking one thing:


Since beginning this blog two years ago I have often been slow to criticize moves of this nature. I have taken a wait and see approach to things. This is something I can’t sit on. Here is a kid we were grooming for the future at quarterback. Even though Tiller won’t be on board, Danny Hope will still need a quarterback for his team. I liked that Siller could gain experience this year and maybe split duty with Elliott next season before taking over full time. It was a great plan. We were finally going to have a quarterback with plenty of time in the system ready to take over (aside from Kirsch) when someone left. Everyone was fine with this.

Now he’s moving to running back? A 6’4” running back? Excuse me? Does anyone else not notice the tone of the article announcing the switch? He’s not exactly excited to be there. It feels like we’re going to just shoehorn him into the offense before anyone else who naturally plays the position has a chance. I know he was going to be more of a threat running the ball at quarterback, but that doesn’t exactly make for a great running back. In terms of size he’s close to Halliburton and Jared Crank, but they are fullbacks. It sounds like they want him as the tradition smaller, quicker halfback.

Siller is still behind Sheets and likely even Dierking at this point. Halliburton will also play a role as well. That’s what makes this move even more strange. Yeah, we lost one guy, but it’s not like we were dangerously thin at the position as we have been at safety for years or linebacker. Even a move to those positions would have made more sense. If he wanted to get on the field he was more likely to there as well.

We’re not afraid to burn redshirts on running backs either. Dierking wasn’t redshirted and played in his first game as a true freshman surprisingly last season. Ralph Bolden likely could have done the same this year and been even more successful. Maybe he is still being hampered by his knee injury more than we know and that is why they want to save him.

I just don’t know about this. It doesn’t feel right to me. It feels like we just mortgaged the future for a knee jerk (no pun intended) move, especially if Siller isn’t exactly excited with the move itself. Perhaps his development at quarterback isn’t what it was expected to be. We saw signs of that in the spring when there was talk of him playing a few snaps per game at QB, but that talk was silenced this fall. He lost out to Elliott, and from what I saw of his throwing motion at the spring game I could tell he needed to work on some mechanics.

I think, at least on the field, the Taylor loss is big, but it happened early enough that we can get around it. We’ll get our yards and I am comfortable that someone will emerge. I also feel that Sheets is capable of picking up most of the slack himself if he can hold on to the ball. We will miss Taylor’s heart and spirit. That is something that is irreplaceable. We know he’ll be on the sidelines as one of the team’s biggest cheerleaders, but that is totally different from being in the huddle.

I’m not going to panic because of the injury. We’ve survived injuries before and they will happen again. Fortunately, this happened at a position where we at least had a little bit of play. It’s not like it happened at linebacker, where we can’t afford anyone getting hurt. It won’t make a difference in the games where we completely abandon the running game anyway.

So I want to know. What do you readers think? I’ll get back to the previews later this week with Special Teams concluding the feature.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Know thy Team 2008: Defensive Backs

The breaking news late this evening from West Lafayette is not good for the present, but may be good for next season. It has nothing to do with the secondary, but it is clearly important enough to be talked about immediately. Gold and Black Illustrated is reporting that running back Jaycen Taylor has a leg injury that is potentially serious. Taylor missed four games with a broken arm a season ago, and in those four games Purdue went 2-2 and barely had a running game in each. This is something we can recover from, but it is still a difficult blow because of Taylor’s fire and leadership.

There is nothing definitive yet, but GBI seems to think this injury will cost him the season. He can redshirt, leaving him as the number one guy with a much improved Dan Dierking in 2009. Dierking would serve as the primary backup this season, allowing Frank Halliburton and perhaps incoming freshman Ralph Bolden some playing time. Since I published the running backs preview a few weeks ago we have lost Malcolm Harris (dismissed from the team), and Albert Evans (switched to safety) from our depth at running back. Suddenly we went from a promising future to making this a major position of need recruiting-wise.

This also means that Kory Sheets will get his wish. He will be the man and have every chance at getting his 1,000 yard season. If he does, Purdue will be just fine offensively. I can see Kory having a big year, but I will miss Taylor for the leadership and depth he provides. The safety net is now gone. Sheets had better be over his fumble issues. It also means Sheets will most assuredly break the career touchdowns record.

Secondary Preview

Two years ago Purdue’s secondary was in even worse shape than our current situation at linebacker. At least there we have two players who are solid starters and could be all-Big Ten picks before the season is over. In 2006 we were faced with starting freshmen and JuCo transfers at all four spots in the secondary. Depth became even more a problem just one game into that season when Torri Williams shredded about every knee ligament you can shred in a meaningless game against Indiana State. Brandon King also became an academic casualty, so we were forced to start undersized true freshman Brandon Erwin for most of the year. He played with a ton of heart and had a fumble recovery in seemingly every game, but he was severely overmatched most of the time. Keith Smith, now at wide receiver, was also forced to burn a redshirt and play at safety for a good portion of the year.

Last year was more of the same, as our corners were better with a year of experience, but injuries in consecutive weeks to Erwin and Williams burned the redshirt of Josh McKinley. Brandon King got over his academic issues and we got a pretty good year from Justin Scott before he graduated. Terrell Vinson also grew up and gave us a five interception, 84 tackle season before getting abused in the second half of the Motor City Bowl. Vinson and Justin Scott must be replaced, but the playing time gathered by everyone under emergency conditions the past two seasons should pay dividends this year. Because of that, I think the defense as a whole will be much improved and will surprise some people.

Starting Cornerbacks:
David Pender, Jr.
Brandon King, Jr.

I am excited that Pender has switched jersey numbers to #9 with the departure of Dorien Bryant, as it gives me two more solid years of wearing that jersey. That even applies to the gold jersey with black numerals I bought for Stu Schweigert in 2003. As a freshman Pender was in the right place at the right time as he caught a tipped pass by George Hall for an interception in the end zone against Minnesota that probably assured the Boilers would go bowling that year. His sophomore year saw him gather 44 tackles, 6 pass break ups, and another pick. He has some good experience having played extensively the past two seasons.

Pender is expected to be one of the best cornerbacks we have had this year, as he has always been pretty athletic. He now has more size to better match up with the big receivers found around the league. With him we may have the coveted shut down corner we’ve been looking for. He started last year opposite Vinson for the final seven games, but will be the number 1 guy this year with Vinson’s departure.

Brandon King was recently announced to have switched back to cornerback after playing at safety a sason ago. This move slides Royce Adams back a bit on the depth chart, but Adams will certainly see plenty of playing time in nickel packages as an experienced corner. King’s natural position is at cornerback, and he moved the same day that Sean Sester moved back to right tackle. This move is not a surprise, as it has been suspected since spring practice. King wants to be in the middle of the action, so he will be happier at corner.

Adams has played a lot as he has learned the last two years, so I like the experience he brings to the table. Sophomore Charlton Williams played as a true freshman a year ago, giving us even more depth in this area. Having four good options is very good for nickel packages, so Adams will play a lot regardless. The best news is that all four should return for 2009 too.

Starting Safeties:
Josh McKinley, So.
Dwight McLean, Jr.

Our safety position could have been deeper. Erwin became an academic casualty over the summer, but he was recovering from a torn ACL so he was a question mark anyway. If Torri Williams can ever stay healthy he is probably our best player here, but he has been unable to do so yet. That leaves McLean and McKinley playing the role that has needed a Stu Schweigert or a Bernard Pollard for a long time. I was never fond of Pollard’s attitude, especially his penchant for celebrating tackles made 15 yards down field with the game out of reach and the bowl streak officially over (hello Penn state 2005). Schweigert, however, was one of my favorite players when he wasn’t getting arrested (which, sadly, was often).

McKinley is only a sophomore, but he could potentially become a Stu type of player. When Erwin and Williams got hurt last season McKinley came in and played very well, especially considering he was redshirting before the injuries. He played especially well in the bowl game, gathering five tackles and a sack. Purdue’s defense is best when it has a guy that can play up against the run as well as defend the pass. This is what Schweigert and Pollard both did well. When we have one dimensional safeties our defense is pretty bad.

McLean is a bit of a mystery. He was a very late JuCo signee from Fullerton College in California that came in long after signing day. Purdue was the only major conference program that recruited him, but since he came to campus he has impressed coaches with his work ethic and attitude. He’s a big safety at 6’1” and has worked hard in the weight room over the summer. We could use a big hitting safety quite badly, and I think McLean can fill that role. If everything the coaches have said about him is true, McLean could be one of the most surprising players in the conference.

Top backups:
Torri Williams, Sr (5) S
Royce Adams, Jr. CB
Charlton Williams, So. CB
Fabian Martin, Sr. (5) CB

The starters should all be around for another season, meaning the 2009 secondary will probably be a pretty good one at least as far as experience goes. The reserves this year are a mixed bag. We’re not as thin as we are at linebacker, but it’s not an extremely deep position either. All four players here have seen the field for us in their careers, but Martin and Williams are recovering from injuries.

The best player of the group, and maybe the whole secondary, is Williams. Everything that can happen to this guy to keep him off the field has in his career. 2005 was ended early because of a broken leg. 2006 saw him tear three knee ligaments in the season opener against Indiana State. Last year Williams had 17 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and a pair of interceptions before rupturing his Achilles tendon at Michigan. He also has been arrested a couple of times, once for DUI and another for stealing condoms from a local grocery store. As a result, he is on double-secret probation with the coaching staff. If not for the fact that he is such a hard worker he would probably already be gone. His suspension was recently lifted, but that only means he can play. One more mistake and he will be gone.

Charlton Williams is a promising player that got on the field as a true freshman a year ago. At 6’2” He is very tall for a corner, but he only had 4 tackles in all 13 games last year. Martin is back for another season after missing all of 2007 with a shoulder injury.

The safety position took a hit when Brandon Erwin flunked off the team. His depth and experience were important last season, and many predicted he would have made a big leap if he recovered from a torn ACL suffered against Iowa. It should be noted that redshirt freshman Joe Holland could also play, but he may be switching to linebacker because of need.

The Future:
Joe Holland, Fr. (RS)
Kevin Green, Fr.
Tommie Thomas, Fr.
Albert Evans, Fr.

It is hard to predict the future when all four current starters are set to return and the three seniors of the unit (Frank Duong included) are expected to have limited contributions outside of Williams. That means the 2009 secondary is likely set, and Charlton Williams with McKinley should play well into 2010 as well.

Evans recently switched over to safety from running back, but is a strong candidate to redshirt as he learns a new position. He was one of the better players in our most recent recruiting class. He is joined at safety by Thomas and Holland.

Holland is a very strong candidate to move up to linebacker and compete for immediate playing time. He was one of the top players in the state of Indiana two years ago and redshirted last year. He has long been speculated to be moving to linebacker, but no move has been made yet. Until he moves, he will be here as quite a promising prospect.

Thomas is also another promising player. He was one of the best players in the state of Illinois last season. Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, and Kansas State were some of the better programs recruiting him. He is tall, but he clearly needs some more time in the weight room at 175 pounds before he will be a serious contributor. I expect he will redshirt unless we absolutely need his services, but that is not a bad thing.

Green is the only cornerback of this group. He is a 3-star prospect from Tallahassee, meaning he was stolen right out of Florida State’s back yard. Because of the depth at the position with upperclassmen he will almost assuredly redshirt, but that is not a bad thing. He is expected to be a sleeper of a player, but we probably won’t find out until 2010.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Boilermakings 8/15

Training camp has finally begun for the Boilers. Thanks to the late start to the season Purdue did not begin camp until this past week. Already we have had a casualty with Dwayne Beckford’s ineligibility. I went over that in the last entry on the linebackers, but there is still plenty of other news.

DJ Donley not on campus yet

I don’t think this is a very big deal yet because Donley cannot even play until next season. He’ll have all year to practice with the team, and I think it may even be a blessing in disguise that he can’t play. Think about this: There’s little point in practicing him with the first team this year. Because of that, I would have him working with Joey Elliott and Justin Siller as much as is humanly possible. These are the guys that will be throwing to him nest year. Why not have them in the best condition possible as far as familiarity is concerned so they can be unleashed next season?

Donley is coming, despite what the guys over at Boiled Sports think. I am not going into meltdown mode just yet. We almost had him originally before losing him to Georgia Tech. I will be patient and wait for his arrival because, well, I don’t really have a choice otherwise. I think this is just a minor transcript issue and will be forgotten quickly once it is resolved.

Football media day comes and goes

I would love to say that I was at media day to cover this event for the readers of Off the Tracks, but until this blog or something else makes me enough money that I can go to such events and get paid for it I have to work a real job for a living. In said job I don’t even have internet access during the day, so my reaction when I came home was, “It was media day?” Besides, we all know Tiller thinks bloggers are the scourge of humanity anyway. I don’t know if Joe has ever read this, but if he has I feel honored at such enmity.

The biggest news is probably that Preston Numa, Nickaro Golding, and Josh McKinley will be suspended for the opener against Northern Colorado. The good news is that we don’t need them to play to beat Northern Colorado by five touchdowns. This is the equivalent to sending them to bed without supper. We do need them, at least McKinley and Golding, the following week against Oregon. Maybe this means they will be secret weapons since the Ducks will have little game film on them. Both Golding and McKinley are potential starters, so they should get their stuff together.

Everything else was pretty much standard. Bradon King has moved back to cornerback, which isn’t a huge surprise. I’ll hit on it more when I do the secondary preview next week. I like that Aaron Valentin and Keith Smith are coming along very nicely at receiver. Things are starting to look more positive than negative, which is what you want going into the season.

Update from Beijing

The first few days of the Olympics haven’t been kind to the past, present, and future Boilers competing in various events. Incoming freshman David Boudia has already competed once in 10 meter platform synchronized diving. He and his teammate Thomas Finchum just missed a medal by finishing fifth in a field of eight teams. He’ll still compete in the individual diving events still to come.

Former baseball player Mike Duursma is playing for the Dutch national team at these Olympics. I don’t know if they are playing in wooden cleats or what, but the Dutch are 0-2 after a pair of games, and they haven’t even scored a run. They lost their opener to Taiwan 5-0 before getting shut out 7-0 today by the U.S. So far the Dutch national team has managed five hits in two games, and have struggled to do much of anything offensively as the U.S. had a no hitter until the seventh inning today.

Finally, Kara Patterson hasn’t competed yet in the javelin, but is one of the favorites to bring home gold as Purdue’s first female track and field Olympian ever. She has the best chance of any Boilermaker of bringing home gold.

Hockey players like beer

This isn’t exactly earth-shattering news, but hockey players apparently like to drink beer. What is probably more shocking is the news that Purdue does indeed have a hockey team of some sort, let alone that it was suspended for drinking before a game last season.

I remember hearing about this club when I was at Purdue, but I played in the roller hockey club as opposed to the ice hockey club. The fact that the ice hockey club has to practice in Danville, Illinois because it is the closest rink was enough to discourage me from even trying. Some of the other details within this story show that the club isn’t all that cracked up to be. Forging documents, underage drinking, paying referees late, and other things are not the way to represent Purdue guys. Thankfully, this is already being taken care of.

Basketball lighting it up in Australia

Boiled Sports has been doing a better job of following this than I have, but that’s because they have real jobs that allow them to work on a computing tool that is better than a glorified etch-a-sketch for sales orders. The Boilers, playing quite shorthanded, are scoring a ton of points during their Australian tour, but they are losing a few games as well.

I think it is important to remember that they are playing without a couple of players like Keaton Grant and the incoming freshmen. Also, they are playing professional teams. They aren’t the caliber of the NBA, but they are pros. I agree with Boilerdowd that losing a couple of games will benefit this team. It should help keep them humble while everyone else builds them up.

Nemanja Calasan and JuJuan Johnson are probably the best news from this trip, as both are playing very well. If those two can combine to form a solid post presence and give us a bit of an inside out game we will truly be one of the best teams in the country. Things could get even better when true point guard Lewis Jackson gets on board.

Final note:

Here is my blogpoll ballot for the preseason poll. Feel free to comment/rip me apart as needed.

1 Georgia 25
2 Southern Cal 24
3 Ohio State 23
4 LSU 22
5 Missouri 21
6 Florida 20
7 Oklahoma 19
8 Clemson 18
9 Texas 17
10 Wisconsin 16
11 West Virginia 15
12 Kansas 14
13 Virginia Tech 13
14 Auburn 12
15 Brigham Young 11
16 Arizona State 10
17 Tennessee 9
18 Oregon 8
19 Penn State 7
20 Texas Tech 6
21 South Florida 5
22 Fresno State 4
23 Utah 3
24 Rutgers 2
25 Pittsburgh 1

Dropped Out: