Salvaging The 2011 Purdue Football Season

We're all hurting today. It's been 48 hours but I am still pretty down about Saturday's loss to Rice, especially when secured the third straight year in which we dropped a game to a non-BCS team. This is a very bad precedent that absolutely needs to end next season when we play Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, and Marshall.

But I am not ready to give up on 2011. I have seen a lot of positives in the players, and the general underwhelming nature of the Big Ten so far gives me the smallest thread to hold on to that we can still salvage something out of this season. By something, I mean a bowl game. I don't think anyone realistically expected much more than six or seven wins, and that's fine. It would at least be a step forward. Saturday's loss makes that difficult, but not impossible.

We have a few things going for us. We do not play Nebraska, Northwestern, or Michigan State. These teams have all taken care of business in relatively convincing fashion so far. We still have some solid talent that is emerging and learning. Most importantly, we still have 10 games left. I have zero confidence in the coaching staff to do what is necessary, but I still believe in the players and the talent we have on the field.

Southeast Missouri State - Chance of winning 95%

Saturday absolutely needs to be a confidence building game. There is no excuse to lose to a 1-AA team and the coaching staff should be fired in the post-game presser if it happens. In fact, it is because of the coaching staff that I don't have this as a 100% win. We have better players, greater depth, better facilities, and every advantage possible. The only way we lose is if the staff screws up royally.

Notre Dame - Chance of Winning: 30%

The Fighting Irish should destroy us. Their defensive line should be able to slow down our running game (if we choose to use it) and their offense can move the ball at will. The one major advantage that we have is that we have taken great care of the football so far. We have only one turnover, while Notre Dame continues to shoot itself in the foot, especially in the end zone. It would take us winning the turnover battle by a wide margin, but so far the Irish have been more than accommodating in that department.

Notre Dame also has two games before this one, while we have one and a week off to prepare. That could be a benefit to us, but the odds are still greatly in their favor. If we can prepare well and play off of what should be an electric night crowd we can erase the Rice loss with a surprise win, but I am not counting on it.

Minnesota - Chance of winning: 65%

The Golden Gophers are in complete disarray at the moment and the frightening collapse of Jerry Kill on Saturday certainly does not help their cause. We're playing at home against one of the few teams that we should be better than. Before Kill's collapse the Gophers were struggling all day against New Mexico State, which has consistently had one of the worst defenses in Division I. As long as we contain MarQueis Gray I feel pretty good about it. This absolutely has to be win #3 then.

At Penn State - Chance of winning: 30%

Our next road game will be my first trip to Penn State, and that alone should be enough to guarantee a loss. Northwestern is the only Big Ten venue that I saw Purdue win in during my first visit. I am encouraged that the Penn State offense is like a driverless car with Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden. The longer they take to figure out their quarterback situation, the better our chances. This is not a great Penn State team of years past. It is a solid defense mixed with good receivers, but a quarterback that can't get them the ball. That said, we're still someone's homecoming opponent, and they have a 100,000+ seat stadium.

Illinois - Chance of winning: 40%

I had a bad feeling about this game before the season started and it is worse now. The Fighting Illini have looked really, really good thus far. Nathan Scheelhaase could go crazy against us, and our inability to adjust to passes over the middle could be very problematic with a receiver like A.J. Jenkins. At least it is our homecoming. Maybe, just maybe if we can grow during the next few weeks we can steal this one at home. We had better hope so.

At Michigan - Chance of winning: 35%

What did we learn on Saturday? We learned that the Michigan defense is still awful and that Denard Robinson can be a difference maker, but he is still living on a knife edge. Every pass he completed seemed to be the jump ball variety. He can be a feast or famine player. For the first three quarters, it was famine. Then you had the bizarre fourth quarter. I think we have the better defense, so if we ever figure things out offensively this could be an interesting one.

At Wisconsin - Chance of Winning: 1%

The Badgers terrify me. If we somehow pull off a miracle in Madison I might walk to Bloomington and buy IU basketball season tickets.

Ohio State - Chance of winning: 30%

The Buckeyes are not a good team this year. Toledo should never play down to the final possession with them, and OSU was lucky as hell to take this game. With them likely being out of the Big Ten race by this point (I am predicting at least losses to Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan State by then) who know what will be going on. I'd feel even better if we were playing them with some of their players still suspended, but such is life.

Iowa - Chance of winning: 50%

The Hawkeyes let some guy named Steele Jantz go crazy on them this past weekend. I had no idea who that guy was before Saturday. I felt before the season this was a game we could take and I feel even better about it now given Iowa's struggles in Ames. As long as we have four wins by this point we'll at least still have something to play for in the final home game of the year.

At Indiana - Chance of winning: 65%

The Hoosiers have shown to be pretty awful so far, especially against the run. That's a glaring weakness though, so I am betting we will come out by spreading the field with seven receivers (offensive line be damn) and deactivate Ralph Bolden entirely. After all, running the ball down their throats and getting our Bucket back would make sense.

Conclusion:

I can't give up on this season yet because I like these players too much. Bolden is a difference maker that needs the ball more. So is Akeem Shavers. Caleb TerBush is showing more and more growth each week. He may not bomb away for 400 yards per game, but he is learning from his mistakes and should be a very smart quarterback as the year goes on. The tools are clearly there. Defensively we held for most of the second half last week and gave our offense a chance to win. If we ever fix the glaring middle of the field problem it will go a long way toward making this defense better.

Mostly, I can't give up on this team because I love Purdue football too much. Sure, they hurt me greatly at times, but I would much rather be a passionate Purdue fan and revel in the good times when they come (because they are much sweeter then) than be a fan of any other team.

So to recap, here are the remaining games rated from most likely to win to least likely. These precentages are heavily skewed by my complete lack of faith int he coaching staff. I believe in the players. I believe in guys that have fought hard to make fourth quarter comebacks in two straight games. I believe in Caleb TerBush. What I don't believe in is a coaching staff that does not put them in the best position to win.The coaching at this point must improve or we will win three more games at best.

Saturday is a new day, so let's enjoy what should be another Boilermaker victory.

1.       Southeast Missouri State 95%

2.       Minnesota 65%

3.       Indiana 65%

4.       Iowa 50%

5.       Illinois 40%

6.       Michigan 35%

7.       Ohio State 30%

8.       Notre Dame 30%

9.       Penn State 30%

10.   Wisconsin 1%

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