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Bowl announcement (Oh you know I fear the Turtle, TURTLE POWER!)

My apologies for the lack of updates over the past few days. I had about half of an entry prepared last week but I never finished it, so I will save it for the lag between now and the bowl season. It is more about the season as a whole and how everything turned out for the Boilers. I also want to get in a quick look at next year’s schedule before the bowl game, as well as how things look for the conference as a whole going into next year.

It is bowl time, however, and that means we’re back playing in the postseason after a year’s absence. At least this time we’re not headed to El Paso. As much as I liked playing in the Sun bowl, three times in four years is enough, especially when two of those three games were very tough losses. This time we get the Terrapins of Maryland for the first time in school history, and I think we could not have asked for a better matchup.

Think about it things for a minute. If we had gone to the Insight bowl, not only would we have been unable to watch it on TV (It’s on the NFL network), we would have had to play a Texas Tech team and their pass-happy offense. Going to the Alamo Bowl would have likely meant getting destroyed by a Texas team that did win the National Championship last year. The Capitol One and Outback bowls feature Arkansas and Tennessee, two top-tier SEC teams from the toughest conference in the country. Someday soon we will need to play a team of that caliber (or Texas) and beat them in order to gain respect, but as anyone who has watched us this season knows, we are not ready.

Instead we get an offensively challenged Maryland team that may be the boost our young struggling defense needs. Yes the Terps are 8-4, but that’s in the ACC, perhaps the worst of the six major conferences this season. They have losses to West Virginia, Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Wake Forest. All four are very, very good teams, and much like us against Notre dame, Penn State, Hawaii, and Wisconsin, they couldn’t get the job done. An interesting note is that the Terps became the first team in 21 years to beat Miami and Florida State in the same season, but when both teams finish 6-6 that’s not a great accomplishment.

Instead of looking at Maryland’s loss, more attention should be paid to their eight wins. This is where things get a little dicey. If it ends up being a close game, I give the edge to Maryland as six of its eight wins, all in a row by the way, came by less than a touchdown. They also have wins over four bowl teams in Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Miami, and Clemson. While they aren’t great bowl teams, and much of it may be the byproduct of eight bowl bids by the ACC thanks to a good non-conference schedule, which is still better than our measly one win over a bowl team.

Maryland seems to be the type of team that relies on its defense and gets just barely enough out of its offense to get the win. No respectable team should have a 14-10 win over Florida international, which finished 0-12. The Terps also struggled with 1-AA William and Mary. Perhaps their best win was 13-12 over Clemson, which is likely why we are playing Maryland instead of the Tigers.

Maryland’s largest scoring output of the season was only 28 points in a 28-26 win over Virginia. They rank 97th out of 119 teams in total yards by averaging 314.7 per game, otherwise known as a decent half by Hawaii’s standards. They pass for only 190.2 yards per game (88th nationally) and run for 124.5 yards per game (74th nationally). They are also only 81st in scoring at 21.7 per game. Offensively we have a huge advantage and numbers tell me that even with our defense, if we can score 35 we have a great shot at winning. Then again, that is the story of our entire season. We have managed to hold all but four opponents under 35 points, and still had enough to win one of those four (Indiana State, Notre Dame, Iowa, and Hawaii).

Defensively we should, should being the key word, be able to keep them at bay. Unfortunately we have had a habit of letting even the most pedestrian of offenses have a field day against us. We were able to keep Wisconsin and Penn State in check for the bulk of each game, but fatigue took its toll because the offense was unable to hold up its end of the deal. Outside of those two games, the only team we have held in check offensively was Northwestern. Miami, Ball State, Indiana State, Indiana, and Illinois all move the ball consistently against us, and were only undone by turnovers and one or two key stops.

I have said all along that this team was going to find one game in which everything came together. Unfortunately, I think that game already happened in Evanston. Maybe I am wrong and a month off will change things, with the extra practices allowing us a chance to gel that we did not have over the course of a 13 game season. I am not exactly encouraged when, outside of Hawaii and Wisconsin, we didn't exactly face a good offense, and both of those offenses bulked up on weaker schedules. If Miami of Ohio can go nuts on us, then Maryland certainly can.

Offensively, we will go as far as Painter can take us in the bowl game. With our past bowl history, that does not leave me with much confidence. Hopefully with the Hawaii game making for a shorter layoff between games the offense won't have the struggles it has had in recent bowl games. Hopefully Tiller won't have as relaxed of an attitude that he did going into the Hawaii game either. Hawaii easily could have been a win, but his timeout that allowed Hawaii to change its mind and kick a 52-yard field goal instead of punt changed the game. I am not sure how that really links with what I am talking about, but I wanted to hit on that point since I missed it in my last entry.

So where was I? Oh yes, our offense in bowl games. A major point of contention among our fan base has been our slow start in every bowl game since the 2000 Outback bowl. It is no coincidence that, including that Outback bowl, we are 1-5 in our last six bowl games. In all but that Outback bowl we fell behind by multiple scores in the first half, but came back to tie if not take the lead in every game. I honestly don't have a good feeling about our offense at the start of the game. Painter is still working on his game, but he is the best option we have and may be ready to make a leap next season. Both of our starting tackles are injured and may not play. Finally, until I see otherwise, I am going to expect our token slow start.

Still, this is our best possible matchup. If the offense is working like it did in the second half against Hawaii, we have the potential to roll in a bowl game like we haven't rolled since the first Alamo bowl against Oklahoma State. This is a good our, in fact our last chance, to have a bit of a signature win to make the 2006 season look that much better. After everything we have been through in the past two seasons, 9-5 with a bowl win won't be that bad of an ending. It certainly will make me feel better going into next season, and I feel like this is the type of game we can win going away without having to sweat out another close game. I'll have a more in depth preview when the game gets closer, but my knee-jerk prediction is Purdue 34, Maryland 24. It is the second straight game in which we play a school for the first time ever, and we begin this new series with a bang.

Meanwhile, we have six other bowl games as a conference. Here is the quick, paragraph-long preview of each one.

Insight Bowl – Minnesota vs. Texas Tech – Minnesota has trouble with the pass and Texas tech loves to throw the ball around almost as much as Hawaii. This has blowout potential all over it, although I give the Gophers credit for turning their season around and making it to a bowl. Minnesota showed it has a passing offense with the way it played the final three games, so this could turn into a shootout if Minnesota gets rolling. My pick: Texas Tech

Alamo Bowl – Iowa vs. Texas – I could have picked this game earlier in the season, but only as a dark horse national title game and not the Alamo bowl. Iowa has gone into the tank since they destroyed us, and I see no way of them hanging with Texas. Sure, the Longhorns lost two games late in the season, but Kansas State is returning to its former strengths and Texas A&M is a solid team. Iowa dropped games to Northwestern and Indiana. My pick: Texas

Outback Bowl – Penn State vs. Tennessee – This is a very interesting game because I am not fully convinced Tennessee is that good, and Penn State has a tremendous defense to go with an offense that has really struggled at times. I don't know how to call this one, except that with the inspiration of having JoePa on the sidelines again could be a huge boost for the Nittany Lions. Tennessee nearly lost to Air Force at home for crying out loud. At least Penn State's losses were to teams that finished a combined 44-4, with 3 of 4 losses coming to each other (Ohio State over Michigan, Michigan over Wisconsin, Michigan over Notre Dame). This could have been us, but our offense took the Penn State game off. My pick: Penn State

Capitol One Bowl – Wisconsin vs. Arkansas – People get on us about our weak schedule, but Wisconsin's schedule may have been even weaker. They took advantage of a very weak Big Ten to go to 11-1 and played four lay-up non-conference games. At least they were dominating and not seriously challenged in all 11 wins, but they are still one bad game against Michigan away from having an all-Big Ten title game. Hopefully we'll be able to warm up the stadium with a Big Ten win for them. My Pick: Wisconsin

Rose Bowl – Michigan vs. USC – I don't care what Michigan fans say. They had their chance against Ohio State and lost. Get over it. I actually like that they got left out of the title game, and we get to keep the traditional Big Ten-Pac 10 Rose Bowl. USC played way too many close games this year and ended up being the rare two-conference loss champion. California has to feel terrible about blowing the Arizona game now; otherwise they would be here instead of USC. The media is already jumping all over this as a preview of next year's title game, but let's worry about this year first. My pick: Michigan

National Championship game – Ohio State vs. Florida – Florida is a tough team from a very tough conference, and this will be the third time Ohio State will face the #2 ranked while being ranked #1. They truly are the best team in the country if they can win for the third time in such games. Personally, I think it would be interesting to see Ohio State play Boise State, since they are the only two undefeated teams left, but we very well can't give Boise State even a chance to be named the national champion. What if Florida blew out Ohio State and Boise State blew out Oklahoma in the Fiesta bowl? I don't think it will happen, but its fun to think about. My pick: Ohio State

I'll get to more of an in depth national and bowl preview later, but I just wanted to touch on a few things about the Big Ten before anything else. Look for my season review sometime later in the week.