I just finished listening to the Boiled Sports podcast and it was the rare time that they were a little more optimistic than I. Naturally, they were discussing the injury to Rob Henry from yesterday, but they raised an excellent point. Rob Henry is a good player, but it not like he was the only hope for our 2011 season. If we're going to have success it is going to rely on a number of other factors.
To clarify, I will consider the 2011 season if we reach a bowl, which really isn't that difficult in this day and age. All that you really need is six wins in a major conference. That's it. To reach that, we need Ralph Bolden to be healthy and move the running game (he is right now), the defense to be solid (it appears to be), and the passing game to at least be a threat. On that last point, Caleb TerBush has been noted several times as the best passer among the three quarterbacks that were practicing with the first team.
TerBush now gets his chance as the starter, and it may help us in the long run. We didn't have a true pocket passer last season, and an experienced offensive line and strong running game with Bolden and Akeem Shavers should help him succeed. In a way, he enters a situation very similar to Joey Elliott two years ago. He's been in the system away. He has a good arm. He ran the option in high school, so he is somewhat mobile, but he wouldn't be considered a running quarterback. Elliott was the same. He could move if he needed to, just enough to keep defenses honest.
We don't have any choice but to move forward, but before getting into my individual game analysis, another scientific poll:
Middle Tennessee State - This needs to be a win regardless of who is playing. We get a rebuilding Sun Belt team at home and it is the perfect opportunity to give TerBush his first start. I think we'll be pleasantly surprised with the result.
At Rice - This is a potentially tricky game, but Northwestern went down there last season and won easily. There is also going to be a large Purdue contingent on hand to help out. It still should be a winnable game
Southeast Missouri State - No Big Ten team ever has a valid excuse to lose to a I-AA team ever. If we lose this we deserve to be mocked.
Notre Dame - Notre Dame is probably going to be a pretty good team this year, but we come in after an off week and hopefully with some confidence at being 3-0. They could also have a couple of losses at this point to Michigan and Michigan State. A night crowd at home, with everyone buzzing to get Gary Harris on board for basketball, and Shavers and Bolden moving the ball on the ground could help out. How well we play in this game really depends on what happens in the first three games.
Minnesota - We beat them last year at home when we had all the injuries and there isn't a lot of confidence in the Twin Cities for year one of Jerry Kill. This is another game that has to be a win if we're going to have success.
At Penn State - We might have a chance if things are moving smoothly and we have no more injuries, but it's always tough to go to Happy Valley, especially since it will be their homecoming. I don't think anyone was expecting this to be a win even before the Henry injury.
Illinois - When I wrote my preview on this I was very clouded by how badly last year's game in Champaign tuned out. Now, I don't know. I think it can be a true toss-up game because of the nature of the Fighting Illini. We also get it at home, which helps. I won't go as far as calling it a definite win, but we're certainly capable of it.
At Michigan - I know we won the last time up there, but I have too many bad memories of trips to Ann Arbor. If their defense is still awful we've got a shot to win, but I would say this is in the Wolverines favor.
At Wisconsin - This would be the most shocking game of the season to win.
Ohio State - We play them well in West Lafayette, but they are still the better team overall. I'd love to spring the upset and see where we can do it, but don't count on it.
Iowa - This is another toss-up game, merely based on the fact that I have a "good feeling" about it. Take that for what it's worth.
At Indiana - Despite losing last year, I think you'll be hard pressed to find a Purdue fan that thinks Indiana is better than us. This needs to be a win.