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The most important game of the season.

No one believes in this Purdue team. The media has already written us off because of poor performances in the three games we have had against good teams. The fan base is upset because, even though we are exactly where we were expected to be at this point in the season, we haven’t done it with enough style to satisfy them. Michael Pointer has already given up on us making a New Year’s Day bowl, and being a Missouri grad I am sure he would love an Alamo bowl game against the Tigers. The general consensus is that we will make a bowl, but not a good one, which apparently is a failure with a young team coming off its first losing season in almost a decade.

I still believe, though. I have been called nuts by saying that we have an excellent shot of making the Outback Bowl. This is still possible thanks to Indiana, of all teams. When it comes to bowl selection, you can select a team that finishes behind another as long as they are within one game in the conference standings. That is the critical part of the wording. If we win the remaining four games, regardless of what happens on the islands, we will finish 6-2 within the conference. This would include a win over Penn State; one of the teams that I have been told will be selected ahead of us. Assuming Wisconsin stays on a roll, which they very well could, they will finish at 7-1. They have games remaining against Iowa and Penn State. If Wisconsin wins out, and we beat Penn State on Saturday, the best Iowa and Penn State can do in the conference is 4-4, losing to the top three teams, and Indiana and Purdue, respectively. This is what opens the door for us to go to Tampa. Assuming we win out, only Penn State and Iowa can catch us as far as finishing at least 4th.

I write that just to prove that it is still very possible to play on New Year’s Day, even if we lose at Hawaii. As I wrote on Tuesday, we still have to do our part in going Kill Bill on the schedule we have left. Penn State is a VERY winnable game at home, and should we get past the Nittany Lions, we have an excellent chance to take care of business.

We, as fans, need to view this game as the biggest game since The Fumble. We must be loud and make Ross-Ade as unfriendly as we possibly can. It is a blackout game, so lets black this place out. I’m even going with black shoes, socks, and pants. For one Saturday ever fan in that stadium needs to simply go crazy, from the opening kick until the final gun. We saw what happened last week in the first half when the crowd was into the game. The defense fed off things and the place was rocking for the first time in a long time.

This game is our ticket not only to staying out of the bottom half of the conference, but also to getting back into the middle of the race. It is also big in preparing for next year. We weren’t going to win the conference this year anyway, but we can still have a great finish and set things up nicely for the next two years. Remember, in 1998 we were 3-4 and lost all four games that were against good competition to that point. We then reeled off six straight wins, including one over the #4 team in the country (possible good SEC team in Tampa this year?) to finish 9-4. This set the stage two year later for a trip to Pasadena. What we do this year, even this week, will echo into next year and beyond.

There is still a full week of games to preview before I get to our game, starting with the ugliest of them all.

Northwestern (2-6, 0-4) at Michigan (8-0, 5-0) – The schedule just got a whole lot easier for the Wolverines. When Indiana is your toughest game in the next three, you have it made easy. When one of those teams just let a 38-3 lead collapse to Michigan State of all people, it gets even easier.

The only thing that would let Northwestern even stay close in this one is if Michigan is completely uninterested in showing up. The way Michigan’s defense has played this year; Northwestern may lucky to even score in this one. It’s worth mentioning, even though we already knew this, but one more loss officially eliminates Northwestern from the bowl pool. It’s a shame too, because they could have made it this year had they finished the game last week and taken care of business earlier in the year.

PREDICTION: Michigan 45, Northwestern 3 – Look for Michigan to get plenty of practice time in for all of its guys before the showdown that everyone in the media is already salivating over.

Illinois (2-6, 1-3) at Wisconsin (7-1, 4-1) – The same holds true for Illinois this week, as they need to win the rest of their games to qualify for a bowl. It’s not going to happen in ugly game #2 this week. The Illini have at least shown some signs this year that in a year or two they could be very dangerous. This team is perhaps the youngest in the entire conference, and while they have lost six games already, they have been surprisingly competitive in losses to Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio.

Wisconsin poses a very strong challenge in that they just shut down Purdue’s red zone attack, and the only other team that has worse trouble scoring points in the red zone than Purdue is Illinois. Give them another year and Illinois will be ready to take on the big boys, but this is their first game against the top 3.

Wisconsin also can move the ball a bit as well. If you look at the cold numbers from the Purdue game they appear to have dominated, but Purdue more than held their own until the fourth quarter when things got out of hand. Illinois could use its defense to hang around for a bit, but don’t expect an upset in Madison.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 34, Illinois 10 – This one will be a little closer than expected, but not much. The ground game will get the job done for the Badgers without seriously being threatened.

Michigan State (4-4, 1-3) at Indiana (4-4, 2-2) – As I said earlier this week, the winner of this game will go to a bowl game, while the loser is in serious trouble. I like what Indiana is doing this week in hyping things up and trying to get a big crowd there. It is certainly more than Purdue is doing for our game. This is the biggest home game Indiana has had in more than a decade, and a win would be huge for them. They are treating this game like we should treat our game.

As much as Indiana has improved, I cannot shake the fact that they should already have the six wins they need to make a bowl. They still lost to a 1-AA team and a bad Big East team. They got absolutely crushed last week, and unlike Purdue, they can’t take advantage and beat the teams they should. They were lucky to escape Ball State with a win. I like what Coach Hoeppner is doing with the program. Many Purdue fans mock him, but he may do the impossible this year and take the Hoosiers bowling. At the very least he is making them a threat again and if you’re an IU fan after not mattering for so long, that has to be welcome.

What Michigan State team will show up this week? You can’ figure them out. If the one that played the second half against Northwestern and first half against Notre Dame shows up they’ll crush the Hoosiers. If the one that played the other halves of those games shows up Indiana will roll. It’s not like Indiana has been consistent either.

Honestly, how do you call this game? If Indiana wins it won’t have a better shot to get win #6 than at Minnesota next week. It may even be good for Purdue if they win because it could shock Michigan State right back into the tank for our game with them next week. Personally, I don’t want to face the Hoosiers if they have five wins coming into West Lafayette on November 18th. They could be very, very dangerous for us.

PREDICTION: Indiana 26, Michigan State 24 – Honestly that is a shot in the dark. It could be a blowout going either way and I wouldn’t be surprised. I have no idea how to call it.

Penn State (5-3, 3-2) at Purdue (5-3, 2-2) – While Indiana is hyping up their game like we should be doing, we have been there more recently. While they are playing for a bowl, we are playing to get a better bowl. I have a hard time seeing us not making it to at least San Antonio if we win this game, based simply on the way things look in the standings right now. Penn State still plays Temple, so they already have win 6 unofficially.

We need this game because I would like to have bowl eligibility at least locked up by the end of the Illinois game. We’re playing with fire if we don’t have it by then. How we play this week will determine the outcome of the rest of the season.

Simply put, it all depends on which Purdue team shows up. If last week’s team shows up, even on defense, we are in serious trouble. I’ll take last week’s defense combined with the Indiana State game's offense please. If our offense is back to the way it should be, we won’t have a problem.

The one consistent offensive weapon Penn State has is Tony Hunt; and even Illinois kept him quiet last week. Morelli hasn’t done anything special this year and if we can generate pressure like we have the last two weeks, we can keep their passing game in check.

We could not have had a worse week offensively last week. Can someone tell me why we aren’t running the ball more? Kory Sheets has been so quiet since the Notre Dame game. He is due for a breakout game on the ground and needs to add a touchdown or two to his total. If Painter and the receivers are on the same page this week, then I think we will roll easily in this one. It will be critical to score early and build a lead, because Penn State simply doesn’t have the offense to mount a comeback. If the offense is clicking, we roll

PREDICTION: Purdue 33, Penn State 20 – We are due. Karma owes us for all that has gone wrong the last few years. I just feel a breakout performance from us, as we put it all together. The Penn State couple coming with my wife and I to the game will have a long ride home in the backseat.

Northern Illinois (5-3) at Iowa (5-3) – The Heisman hype surrounding Garrett Wolfe has died down after being stuffed the past two weeks by Western Michigan at Temple. It’s a shame too, because it could have been in a seriously high gear with a good performance in Iowa City this week. Wolfe had a monster game against Ohio State in his other appearance on the Big Ten stage this year. If he goes nuts against the Hawkeyes he could be right back in the race, too.

Iowa will also be playing with Drew Tate, who is out with a busted thumb. Iowa has been banged up quite a bit lately, and I am beginning to wonder if our 30-point loss to them was more a result of us playing an absolutely horrible game than anything. Don’t forget though, if the 98-yard interception return for a TD was a touchdown pass like it should have been, the score physically looks a lot better. We also left more points on the field there than people remember.
This game could be a dangerous upset bid if Wolfe can get hot early.

PREDICTION: Iowa 27, Northern Illinois 14 – The Hawkeyes don’t lose at home very often, much less to MAC teams. They do just enough to get the win.

Minnesota (3-5, 0-4) at Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) – This is ugly game #3 of the week. The top three teams in the conference are playing the bottom three in the conference, with four of the five in the middle fighting for bowl positioning. Minnesota hasn’t looked that bad in many of its games outside of Wisconsin, but when you need a blocked field goal to beat a 1-AA team, what hope do you have against the #1 team in the country in their house.

Ohio State did what it should in handling the Hoosier juggernaut last week, and this is their toughest game remaining before Michigan.
That is not saying much.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 40, Minnesota 10 – The only thing we have to worry about is if Ohio State and Michigan get bored before playing each other. Minnesota will go the brink of missing a bowl.


If UCLA could only tackle someone I would have been right last week on my upset special of the week. This week Notre Dame has Navy, and I am not even going to bother.

I will, however, bring the Canes back into view for one of the national games I’ll pick this week. They travel to Georgia Tech on Saturday for a game that will likely decide that division of the ACC. They certainly haven’t proven it so far, but the Canes are due for a "Miami" type of game and this would be the week to do it. They still can come together and win the ACC, which would go a very long way toward shutting up the critics.

Still, Miami’s offense has done next to nothing in games against bad teams, let alone good defenses. Georgia Tech has one of the best that got ripped up by Clemson last week. If Miami can pull this out, they get limited swagger and Sandbar privileges back from my wife. (For those that don’t know, Sandbar is one of the top UM hangouts in Coconut Grove not too far from Coral Gables. If you’re in the Miami area, stop by and have a category 5 Hurricane. Their isn’t a tastier, stronger drink out there. It certainly beats a Boilermaker). Georgia Tech 21, Miami 17

Game #2 nationally is Oklahoma at Missouri. I picked this game because both teams are ranked, and there is a strong chance we could face one of them in either the Alamo bowl or Insight bowl. Missouri is playing very well this year, and only have a late loss to Texas A&M against them. Oklahoma is a shell of its former self, as they have lost a starting quarterback, offensive linesman, and Heisman caliber running back for the season. This one would be huge for Missouri in the middle of a special year. Missouri 31, Oklahoma 24.

NEXT UP: My reactions from our game with Penn State sometime Saturday night or Sunday night.