Tuesday night I turned on the TV once my wife and I came home from our bible study group. The TV had been left on ESPN and the first thing I heard was "Miami-Dade County Police are investigating the incident and campus officials have yet to comment on what has happened." My first thought was, "Oh great, what now for the ‘Canes?" that is when we heard the terrible news about Bryan Pata.
When my wife was in school she knew many of the players and had classes with the likes of Ed Reed, Jeremy Shockey, Clinton Portis, and all the stars of that dominant National Championship team. Since then she hasn’t known many of the new guys living so far from Miami, but ‘Canes football is still dear to her heart. Over the past few seasons I have become an adopted fan into the family through her, and I look forward to the day I can finally attend a game in the Orange Bowl. Tears were shed by both of us on Tuesday night when we heard the news, and hurried calls were made to other friends that are Miami fans. Hurricane fans are a special breed: cocky, proud, and not afraid to tell you their team is better than yours. Though Miami has taken a very bad rap lately, the fans are still as loyal as they come and were hurting just as bad as any other fan if their team was struggling this year.
Nothing prepared us for this though. There has already been some backlash in the media, most notably in This MSNBC article suggesting that it is somehow the "Canes fault for recruiting thugs. Also, some Boston College fans, as followed in this CanesTime message board link ripped Pata in saying that he deserved what he got. You can follow the links to see for yourselves, but to me this is a sickening display of how low human beings can sink.
Here is a young man who was realizing his dream and was likely going to at least be in an NFL training camp next year, if not playing professionally. At worst he was earning a degree from a quality educational institution. Many people do not realize that the University of Miami is a private school and contrary to popular belief, you do need to be very intelligent to be accepted. If Miami apparently recruits thugs, then Rutgers, Florida, and Oklahoma recruit them as well, as they all recruited Pata out of high school.
This was a young man’s dreams that were cut short, and there are jackals out there that are ripping him and the university as if it was their fault he was killed. There are no further details at this time, but this is not a "crime in bad part of town." The Kendall area is one of the nicest areas in all of greater Miami. Coral Gables itself, where the university is actually located, is just to the northeast and both towns are quiet and relatively crime free compared to other areas of Miami. Pata was one of the good guys on a team that has had some moments of questionable character, and he was a leader. The fact that people are piling on to Miami when they should be grieving disgusts me, and it is an example of the negativity, sometimes deserved, sometimes not, that is often directed at the football program.
As a fan of the team, I agree the Louisville incident was stupid. I agree last year’s Peach Bowl incident was stupid. I agree that FIU started the brawl in the Orange Bowl, but Miami was stupid in escalating matters. I will criticize the ‘Canes when criticism is due. This is not one of those times. This is a time of mourning, and Saturday when they take the field at Maryland it is the best thing this team can do right now. So, the ‘Canes get the honor of being my first pick of the week. Miami 24, Maryland 14. There is no way Miami loses this one.
As for Pata, My prayers and condolences are with his family, friends and teammates. Please, let them grieve in peace, and on Saturday, give your thoughts to the Canes as they play Maryland under what has to be incredibly difficult circumstances.
In the mean time, there is still football to be played. This blog is primarily about Purdue football and it is Purdue football we will be talking about. The rest of the Big Ten is gearing up for the holy war in Columbus next week, assuming Northwestern and Indiana don’t come up with major upset to spoil the party. I also want to take a look at tonight’s Rutgers-Louisville contest that I think will provide the opponent for the Michigan-Ohio state winner.
Wisconsin (9-1, 6-1) at Iowa (6-4, 2-4) – Wisconsin has a virtual bye week next week with a game at home against Buffalo, so this game will be huge if the Badgers want to finish with an 11-1 record and keep alive faint hopes of winning the conference or at least going to a BCS game. It is a shame that more than one team from one conference can’t got to the BCS, because circumstances have certainly worked out that the Badgers are worthy, but will likely get shut out by the big two. They can still win this game and pray for upsets by Northwestern and Indiana. Also, what happens if Michigan comes alive and absolutely crushes Ohio State in the ‘shoe? Could Wisconsin jump over the Buckeyes then? It’s probably the best Wisconsin could hope for at this point.
Normally I would not pick against Iowa at home, but I have no idea what happened to them in losing to Northwestern last week. That was just an ugly, ugly loss at home to a bad team. It is looking more like the exception this year for the Hawkeyes was their demolition of us, instead of losses to Indiana and Northwestern. They are fortunate to have that win, as neither this week nor next week is guaranteed and they could finish 6-6.
We at Purdue would love to see Wisconsin win this game, as it would likely lock the Alamo Bowl bid if Iowa loses and we can knock off the Illini. Wisconsin is playing well enough of late and Iowa is playing poorly enough of late that the Badgers shouldn’t have much of a problem.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 30, Iowa 13 – Iowa is not Iowa at home this year. Wisconsin locks up a 10 win season and virtually assures that the Big Ten gets two BCS berths, which is good news for everyone since that second infusion of cash gets spread around the entire conference.
Minnesota (4-6, 1-5) at Michigan State (4-6, 1-5) – This is elimination for what may be the Big Ten’s last bowl slot. It’s a sign that it is a down year when there could be no more than six teams going to bowls from the conference, but there still could be as many as eight if things go well. As long as Purdue get win #7 it is looking more and more like we would be in San Antonio no matter what, as we already own wins over these two teams and we still can personally eliminate Indiana. The money that the Big Ten gains from a second BCS bid could be offset partially by the money lost if the winner of this game doesn’t go bowling and if Indiana doesn’t as well. That would mean the Big Ten would not fulfill two of its seven obligations because of the second BCS bid.
Minnesota came alive last week with a shocking performance against Indiana. Since Iowa is not playing well right now, the Gophers may have the best shot of getting to a bowl game of the triumvirate of teams behind us. After years of being a running team they bombed away with the pass and it paid off. Michigan State defense is shaky at best, so Cupito should have plenty of time.
Apparently Drew Stanton is a good quarterback. I could have been fooled me, because good quarterbacks raise the level of the team around them and Michigan State has been a steaming pile of crap in the second half of each of the last three season while he has been the starter. This can be the final nail in that myth as the Spartans simply need to be put out of their misery. Yes, they have had a lot of injury, but with a supposedly fantastic quarterback they have beaten Idaho (improving, but still a WAC doormat), Eastern Michigan (horrible), Pittsburgh (a team with a pulse), and Northwestern (and were lucky in doing it. If Stanton is as good as he is made out to be, then there is no way they blow the Notre Dame game, nor do they lose to Indiana, Illinois, or even us. Drew Stanton has officially taken the mantle of "most overrated quarterback in college football" from long-reigning champion Brady Quinn.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 24, Michigan State 17 – The Gophers go out and do what needs to be done, putting Sparty and John L. Smith out of their misery. The winner has a chance to be the first bowl bound team we’ve beaten since Akron of all people last year.
Purdue (6-4, 3-3) at Illinois (2-8, 1-5) – Even though the records are quite lopsided, I don’t like the vibe coming from this game. Illinois has a solid defense to confront our offense that is still struggling. They have an offense that likes to move the ball against our defense that has had trouble stopping the run lately. Finally, they have a mobile quarterback and that always gives us fits. Fortunately for us, Illinois has not yet figured out how to close games and they love turning the ball over. Hopefully, this won’t be the week they figure out how to win.
We need to get this game. This was one of my seven "win at any cost" games coming into the season, and so far we are a perfect 5 for 5. If we drop this, suddenly we need to beat an Indiana team that is hungry to go to any bowl and ruin our season at the same time, or a Hawaii team that could end up having a track meet against our defensive backs after we fly 8,000 miles to play them. After all the work and sweat we have put into this season, this will be the game that decides if we go to a bowl or not. Like a team that has a 3-0 or 3-1 lead in a playoff series, you want to go out and clinch things as soon as is humanly possible, because if you don’t things can get out of hand in a hurry. Winning this game take A LOT of the pressure out of the last two games, as I certainly don’t want to play IU with a bowl bid on the line for both of us.
Illinois has played very well against some good teams the past few weeks, but they haven’t quite had enough. This feels like a dangerous trap for us to walk into. There is also the ominous stat that we have not won three conference road games in one season since 1997 when we knocked off Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota on the road. We already have two and this third one will be difficult.
Still, Painter had a much better game last week. Illinois has been oriented defensively to stop the run for several weeks, so it may be a good idea to come out and bomb away. I am not saying that we should abandon the running game entirely, but I would like to see us pull out all the stops offensively and open up the playbook fully to win at any cost.
We also need to remember this is a trophy game, although since we lose Illinois from the schedule every six years many people forget it. We’ve had the Cannon for three straight years and it would be nice to keep it in West Lafayette for at least three more since the Illini go off the schedule for the next two seasons.
If the offense is moving the ball early and often like we did earlier in the year we shouldn’t have a problem. The defense has been improving drastically and they are playing with some solid momentum. This is also the least experienced quarterback we have faced since Northwestern, and that is big.
PREDICTION: Purdue 24, Illinois 20 – I am debating heading over to Champaign for this game, as I have the last two times played there. Hopefully if we go it will be worth the drive.
Temple (1-9) at Penn State (6-4) – Penn State adds its 12th game during what was supposed to be its bye week, but it might as well still be a bye with the Owls coming to town. The only good that could come from this game is if the Owls somehow pull the upset and Michigan State does the same next week, leaving Penn State at 6-6 and suddenly putting us in Tampa on New Year’s Day if we take care of our own business. I don’t think that is a good idea because it would prove the Big Ten is horrible this year outside of the top three and we would likely get crushed by whatever SEC team we played.
I thought Joe Pa was throwing down the gauntlet to Bobby Bowden this week as they both look to finish their careers as the winningest coach in NCAA history. Paterno is not, however going to try and coach from the press box in order to keep pace with Bowden, severe-knee injury be damned. This should be a good chance for the Penn State offense to get going.
PREDICTION: Penn State 42, Temple 7 – This is just an easy, easy game for the Nittany Lions.
Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) at Northwestern (3-7, 1-5) – Northwestern hasn’t played too badly the last couple of weeks by hanging with Michigan and pulling the upset over Iowa last week. Ohio State probably just pulled a Milton Berle last week at Illinois, putting out just enough to win knowing that they wouldn’t lose their inside track to Glendale unless they lost the game. I wouldn’t read too much into it, as they won several closer games four years ago on the way to the title, and Illinois took them to overtime that year.
You get the sense that Ohio State is the type of team that only cares about winning and not style points. They are more efficient that way and less prone to an upset. Northwestern did pull the upset two years ago in Evanston, but don’t look for that to happen again this year. The only way Ohio State loses is if they don’t show up.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 38, Northwestern 10 – The Buckeyes will simply toy with the Wildcats before heading back to Columbus next week.
Michigan (10-0, 6-0) at Indiana (5-5, 3-3) – A lot more needs to be said about Michigan nearly losing to Ball State last week. At least Illinois was playing at home after playing very tough in tough venues like Penn State and Wisconsin. Ball State is still Ball State, and no Big Ten team, let alone one contending for a national championship, should have to survive a first and goal chance to tie the game with them in the fourth quarter.
Indiana is just punchy enough this year to get some momentum and if the Wolverines are off, turn it into a monumental upset. The offense can score, but they haven’t faced a defense like Michigan’s. Indiana struggled last week at Michigan, but they are beginning to defend the rock in earnest and could be a danger at home. It all depends on how well things go early.
Indiana is the type of team that feeds off of early momentum. If they are playing well early, they will play well the entire game. If they struggle early, they are going to get their heads handed to them.
Michigan is still Michigan though, and does anyone seriously think they are going to trip up before playing the big game against Ohio State that has been talked about for months? It’s usually Ohio State that does that and not the Wolverines. Michigan also gets Mario Manningham back from his knee injury, and that will be key. Look for Mike Hart to run wild all day as well.
PREDICTION: Michigan 31, Indiana 21 – I’ll give Indiana some credit and say that they hang around for awhile, but don’t be shocked if Michigan destroys them early and often to make a statement.
NATIONAL GAMES OF THE WEEK:
Tonight’s Louisville at Rutgers game is probably the biggest game of the week, as it pits two of the five remaining undefeated teams against each other. Boise State won’t be in the title game, and the Big East is better than most people think, so the winner of this should control their own destiny to get to Glendale. People have discounted Rutgers all year, but if they win this game and beat West Virginia in Morgantown to finish the season, they will have earned the right to go. They crushed the same Illinois team that just played Ohio State to a seven point game, so why not? If they finish undefeated and a one-loss team gets into the championship ahead of them it will be a travesty, especially if that one team is Notre Dame.
All that being said, Louisville is very, very good. People ripped last week’s Louisville-West Virginia as having no defense, but ESPN pointed out this past week that the Rose bowl last year was almost the same score-wise and yardage-wise and it was the greatest game ever. Who cares if you can play defense as long as your offense scores more point than the other team. I would love to see Rutgers win this to get some new blood in the title chase, but I don’t see it happening. Louisville 27, Rutgers 21.
My final pick of the week is Oregon at USC. I would love to see Oregon win this, and then California beat USC next week just to lessen any victory that Notre Dame could get over the Trojans. Unfortunately, USC is still one of the better teams in the country at home with a 30-game winning streak at the L.A. Coliseum. It’s not quite Miami’s 58 in a row, but it is still very impressive. USC 30, Oregon 20.
NEXT UP: Reactions from the Illinois game Saturday night as hopefully the Boilers will clinch their ninth bowl game in ten years.