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Big Ten and National Week 2 (The improvement between weeks 1 & 2 of this column is dramatic)

First off, I am really tired of hearing that phrase. If you look at all the teams using that phrase, the vast majority of them have fan bases who are highly disappointed with their opening game and are trying to put on the plastic ‘all is well’ smile when, in reality, they are questioning whether they threw money away on Season tickets or not. For these teams, unless drastic improvement is seen in week to, then a full-fledged panic is on.
I say this because my beloved Boilermakers find themselves in that exact position this week. At our tailgate Saturday after the game the mood was so somber it was as if a family member died, and this was after a 25 point win! So many fans need to see a drastic improvement right now, and honestly, I am not sure it is going to happen immediately, but I do believe there is still hope.
On a larger scale, however, we look within our own conference to find that everyone has identical 1-0 records. Now, I don’t think we’re going to have a second straight 1-0 week, but with three of the 11 conference teams playing games of national significance, it would make the whole conference look great as a whole if the Big Ten started a collective 22-0.

Central Michigan (0-1) at Michigan (1-0) – The Chippewas threw an awful scare into Boston College last week and had 10 days to prepare for a trip to Ann Arbor. One has to question, however, what the hell they were thinking on the final play when they had a chance to tie Boston College and ran an insane trick pass that was intercepted. The Wolverines were certainly not convincing in beating Vanderbilt, and as I said last week, no one truly fears playing them anymore.
I can’t figure Michigan out because they have TONS of talent compared to about 95% of other college football teams, but they cannot make it all click together. This talent alone is good enough for winning seas after winning season, but the Wolverines are missing some intangible that keeps it from being great. They have fast receivers, a solid quarterback, a great running back, and an experienced defense, but they can’t put everything together.
It won’t matter this week, however, as Central Michigan will likely come in and do what most MAC teams do at the Big House: collect a big check and move on.
PREDICTION: Michigan 38, Central Michigan 10 – Michigan will look better, but will they tune up enough before going to South Bend?

Illinois (1-0) at Rutgers (1-0) - What in the world has happened when Rutgers of all teams is feared to blow out a Big Ten team at home? They went down to North Carolina last week and won, and while it wasn’t exactly in the Dean Dome on the hardwood, it should be noted that the Tar Heels did upset Miami at home two years ago to derail a potential championship season. The Big East is the other hot conference right now, going 7-1 in its own right. This is not the Rutgers patsy that we’re used to, and Illinois could be in for a world of hurt.
Are Illini fans really that excited with a 42-17 win over a 1-AA team? Probably about as excited as we are with our win over Indiana State. What has happened to this program after winning the Big Ten just five years ago? When you throw that in with the fact that the Illini are very young, and they struggled on the road last year at the always-tough Rock in Bloomington, means that they are not looking too good for this test. It should be noted that the Illini did beat Rutgers 33-30 in OT last year for one of their only two wins, and Rutgers went on to make a bowl game for the first time in more than two decades.
PREDICTION: Rutgers 31, Illinois 17 – We will learn much about the Illini, and it's not good. They are about a year or two away at best.

New Hampshire (1-0) at Northwestern (1-0) – Another big Ten 1-AA matchup this week, the first of two. New Hampshire, though, is no Indiana State and the Wildcats had better come ready to play or they could get "Colradoed" The Wildcats (of the New Hampshire variety, making this a real catfight) are probably a better team than Miami of Ohio, and they faired well last year in the 1-AA playoffs. They beat the previously mentioned Rutgers squad two years ago, and have no fear of playing up against 1-A opponents. They also have a receiver in David Ball who is within easy striking distance of Division 1-AA records for career yards and TD’s held by some guy named Jerry Rice. Of course, I doubt that Rice guy ever amounted to anything in the pros.
If Gold and Black Illustrated is to be believed, beating Miami of Ohio isn’t that difficult this year, plus Northwestern was playing off of loads of emotion in their cancer boy game. This is, of course, still a cancer boy game as it is the first one at home without randy Walker, but how long can Northwestern ride this? Would Randy Walker really want a "first night game at home after his death," "first road conference game after his death," or "first game where they were concentrating on just football without really playing on the emotions of losing their coach."
Is Northwestern’s defense really that much improved, or is Miami of Ohio really that bad on offense, especially running the ball. Purdue will learn a lot from its own game, as well as this one, on where they stand in the Big Ten.
PREDICTION: Northwestern 24, New Hampshire 21 – I think that this one will be a close one, but the Wildcats will most definitely pull it out.

Miami (OH) (0-1) at Purdue (1-0) – The tone in Gold and Black Illustrated this week was as if a Presidential assassination occurred. Apparently, the instant that Torri Williams went down with his season and possibly career-ending knee injury, the sky turned as dark as sackcloth and the moon turned to blood. Never mind that, until that point with Williams, we had already given up 28 points against a bad 1-AA team. The rest of the defense might as well give up and throw in the towel, because we don’t have a prayer of improving.
This is the last time I will address the Williams injury, because we cannot make it an excuse. We didn’t have him last year, and I doubt he would have made the difference in close losses to Minnesota and Northwestern that could have easily been wins, nor would he have made a difference when we got smoked by Notre Dame. He’s gone, and we simply have to move on.
I feel this game is the perfect next step tune up for us. We had the sure win last week and found out we still have a lot of work to do, but ultimately got the job done. The offense rolled exactly like it was supposed to, and if you take away two horrible special teams plays and a drive against the scout team, the defense was admirable if not great. If anything it was generally disinterested from the beginning and played simply not to lose or give away anything.
That being said, Miami is a step up in competition, but enough of a step that we should have to fear losing. Each of the next 3 weeks is a gradual step up in class, enough so that none is overwhelming and we should be favored in each. We can try some new things out, show a little more of the game plan, and try out some new guys. I am very interested in seeing if Terrill Vinson and Keith Smith will get a look at safety. How do we know they won’t make us forget about Williams? I mean Stu was a converted QB and look how well he turned out. We’ll give up some plays, but I honestly think there will be more blitzing and more activity from the front 7, because if not, then it doesn’t matter if we play Deion Sanders, Ronnie Lott, and Ed Reed in our secondary, we’re going to get smoked all year.
Offensively, the loss of Ingraham hurts, but it means we get to see some more Selwyn Limon. Last week I saw him come out of the locker room and walk to the tunnel on his way into the stadium and he just looked like a potential All-Big Ten receiver. We need to look his way more than once now. We should run the option a little more, take the throws that we can get, and methodically drive this team into the ground. If anything, a steady ground game will help our defense by keeping them off the field longer this year. God knows we have the personnel to do it.
PREDICTION: Purdue 42, Miami (OH) 21 – We’ll give up a few things, but not as bad as last week. We need to take things one game at a time and view getting back to any bowl as a plus in terms of advancing the program. Therefore, we have to treat seven games as must win under any circumstance. We already have one locked away, and this is #2. Ball State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois, and Indiana have to be the other five. Anything else is a bonus.

Western Illinois (1-0) at Wisconsin (1-0) – This is our second Big Ten-1AA matchup of the week, and honestly it shouldn’t even be a contest. Wisconsin typically destroys non-conference visiting opponents at Camp Randall Stadium, and I don’t think this one will be any different.
I give props to the Badgers for going on the road last week and getting the win against Bowling Green in Cleveland, now they get to take a break and let some reserves get some much needed PT. This is another game that if it is close, the Badgers should be panicking, because everyone improves greatly from week 1 to week 2.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 52, Western Illinois 3 – Since ‘On Wisconsin’ is my high school’s fight song, I always get nostalgic when I hear it. If I were at this game I would be sick of it.

Penn State (1-0) at Notre Dame (1-0) – Ahhhh, the first conference game of the season… oh wait, Notre Dame isn’t in the Big Ten? I thought it was since it is playing half of a conference schedule this year. It’s time for the Irish to stop being pansies and join us, although can you blame them with the sweet deal that they and only they get from NBC and the BCS?
This is a delicious matchup as this week I have seen everything from Notre Dame being highly overrated and exposed against Georgia Tech, to being gutsy and praised for gritting out a win over a solid team on the road. I tend to lean toward the later, as previously discussed. They are going to get everyone’s best shot all year long, and they simply got the job done last week. Walker scares me as a running back, as he has been able to run well in critical points to keep them going.
That being said I feel Penn State is much, much better than Georgia Tech, especially on defense. I view this game as being just about even for both teams, and we know that if Notre Dame wins this one, the hype will only grow worse. Penn State was impressive last week and honestly this may be the best defense Notre Dame sees all season. Anthony Morelli even looked very sharp in his first start, as it cannot be underestimated how much he learned in two years as a backup as opposed to being thrust into the starting role as a freshman.
PREDICTION: Notre Dame 24, Penn State 23 – If this were in State College I would say the Nittany Lions by at least a TD, but I just have a feeling some dumb "luck of the Irish"-type play is going to happen to tip the scales, thus causing the hype to grow even more.

Eastern Michigan (0-1) at Michigan State (1-0) – Eastern Michigan lost to Ball State last week while Michigan State struggled with Idaho of all people. The Eagles are probably one of the few 1-A worse than the Vandals, so expect the Spartans to take this one in a walk.
The thing about Michigan State is, yes Drew Stanton is a great player, but who else does it have that gets people really excited about them? I think last week’s game is very telling in that the Spartans are going to struggle this year much more so than last year, and if they have a hard time with the Eagles this week, then watch out.
Stanton should run amok this week, however, as he is a much more improved quarterback than eastern Michigan faced last week against the Cardinals.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 45, Eastern Michigan 10 – I don’t think even Michigan State can screw this one up.

Iowa (1-0) at Syracuse (0-1) – Wow, this game is polished versus putrid in almost every respect. I think the Orange are still smarting from the beating they took in West Lafayette two years ago, and there is no way they can match up with Iowa. As part two of the Big Ten-Big East challenge this week, the Orange represent the 1 in the combined 18-1 records of the conferences, losing to Wake Forest.
Iowa is still one of my picks not only to win the Big Ten, but go to the National title game if they can get past Ohio state in Iowa City. It should not have any trouble for the second week in a row. Its beef is next week against the thorn that has been Iowa State of late.
PREDICTION: Iowa 45, Syracuse 13 – I used to remember when beating Syracuse used to mean something. Too bad we can’t get a reciprocal game at their place this year after they came to play us two years ago.

Minnesota (1-0) at California (0-1) – I think this is a huge game to tell how well the Big Ten will do nationally. Minnesota rolled a bad Kent State team on the road last week and has the ignominious distinction of being the only Big Ten team to open the season with two road games. Cal, meanwhile, got de-pantsed on national television at Tennessee, the same Tennessee that did a wonderful job of drawing attention away from us by having just as bad of a season with higher expectations last year.
Minnesota showed last week, even if it was only against Kent State, that it could indeed just plug guys in at running back and have them run for 1,000 yards. That will be their strength this year and if Cupito continues to manage games and not make mistakes, we could be in for a tougher test than expect in two weeks for homecoming.
Cal will be chomping at the bit to prove they aren’t grossly overrated, however, and Marshawn Lynch will certainly be more difficult than a random Golden Flash. If the bears lose this game, they could be the Purdue/Tennessee of 2006.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 27, California 21 – I am going to give the gophers the upset here. I think they have the tools and ability to do it. If Cal is as overrated as they appear to be, this could even be worse.

Indiana (1-0) at Ball State (1-0) – Only Indiana would be the first Big Ten team, maybe ever, to go into Muncie to play the Cardinals at home. You know Ball State has to be pumped for this game, as even though it’s just Indiana, they have Big Ten team coming to (is it David Letterman?) Stadium that is beatable. Ball State should be in the upper half of the MAC this year, and this is a Golden chance to make some noise for them. Since there are so many bowls this year that even middle level MAC teams can get to one if they get six wins, this sadly has bowl implications for both teams.
I still think the Hoosiers are going to be much better than expected though, and they want this game for their own hopes of getting into a bowl. If Powers comes back to play, he has James Hardy to work with, but no real running game. It is that lack of a running game that will make IU struggle all year against good teams.
I see this game as being almost dead even, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Ball State comes together and pulls it off. Purdue should also pay attention as well, as this has two of the ‘must win’ teams playing that it should be able to beat.
PREDICTION: Indiana 23, Ball State 20 – The Hoosiers get a win on the road, and start to think bowl game.

Ohio State (1-0) at Texas (1-0) – Everyone knows the storylines coming into this game, as we have been bombarded with this #1 vs. #2 matchup all week long. I won’t rehash what has already been said, but I’ll try to provide some unique analysis.
I think it should be noted that Texas is still the champs until someone beats them. Ohio state was unable to do it last year in Columbus, and it will be that much harder to do this year in Austin. Ohio State’s defense gave up quite a bit last week at home against Northern Illinois. Now the Huskies have a great running back, but Texas is light years better in talent. The only question mark that Texas has is Colt McCoy at quarterback, while Ohio State’s defense was highly recruited, but not game tested. I think, in the end, that playing at Texas against the Champs will be the difference there.
No team is far and away the dominant team this year, but I think Texas is close. Until someone goes in and takes the title from them, it is still the Longhorns’. I see them defending that title well at home.
PREDICTION: Texas 24, Ohio State 17 – I think the home field will be just enough for Texas to hang on when it matters.

NATIONAL GAMES OF THE WEEK: Since I picked two games outside the Big ten last week, I will try and do a couple of quick picks among the other games nationally. Of course, I missed both national games last week, but not by much. If Miami and Georgia tech’s offenses had both not forgotten that you have to play TWO halves of football, I would have been 13-0.
With so many of the Big games involving Big ten teams this week, it’s hard to find two other that truly stand out. One that does to me is Georgia at South Carolina. The Gamecocks lend themselves to all kinds of dirty jokes, but could be in a position to really rise up in the SEC this year. They only lost by two last year in Athens, and Spurrier has the program headed in the right direction. Don’t expect an upset, but don’t be surprised if there isn’t one, either. Georgia 17, South Carolina 7
The second game I want to comment on Oregon at Fresno State. Fresno State is always known to play anyone, anywhere, any time, and they have faired very well against the likes of Oregon and Oregon State. Why anyone would volunteer to play them at home is a mystery to me. Fresno State 31, Oregon 28

NEXT UP:
Week two Purdue reactions sometime Saturday night.