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Champs Sports Bowl Preview (With a shallow Big Ten Bowl preview)

I hope all the Boilermaker fans out there (and the Maryland fans who have stumbled across this blog) had a Merry Christmas and are enjoying the magical, non-productive week of work between Christmas and New Year’s. Is there anything better than a week of work that feels like a vacation? I always thought it made sense to work this week and enjoy it when most other people are off, and save the vacation time for later in the year when you can go somewhere instead of sitting at home in the cold weather.

Of course, some of you out there are going somewhere, and that is toward Orlando for the Champs Sports Bowl in two days. Please know that I am envious, but I dug myself a hole on this one by going to Hawaii instead of the bowl game. Still, it will be nice to actually sit and watch a game on TV this year, a luxury I only had for the Michigan State game from B-dubs in downtown Indy thanks to attending nine games, and being busy for the other three. It should be an exciting bowl game, and I am very much looking forward to ending 2006 on a high note and sending out our seniors with a much-needed bowl win.

Speaking of our seniors, I wanted to thank them for all they have done for Purdue football. Ours is not a senior class full of big names that have loads of accomplishments outside of Spencer, Otto, and Nwaneri, but it is a senior class built on leadership. Spencer, George Hall, and Al Royal were all contributors and leaders on a very young defense and will be missed. Otto and Nwaneri were simply class acts that will be tough to replace on the offensive line. The rest of the seniors may not have contributed much on the field, but exhibited class that was sorely needed after last year. What else can you say about a guy like Casey Welch, who hung around and hung around waiting for his shot that at time looked like it was never coming? When he finally did get his chance, he was true and ended up winning a game for us. His punting also went largely unnoticed, but it was good to see him perform in a limited role there and showed his heart by contributing in any way he could.

Personally, I want to thank Mike Otto for a career that has spanned more than his five years at Purdue. I began writing part time for the Kokomo Tribune in the spring of 1999, just after I finished my freshman year at Purdue. That following fall and winter I was asked to cover quite a few Maconaquah High School football and basketball games in which Mike was involved. In football it was obvious he was the best talent on a team that was never that great, as most every running play was run in his direction of the field. In basketball he was a key cog for three years on a team that ended up being ranked #1 in the class 3A poll for most of the 1999-2000 season. That team featured a front line that went 6’7", 6’7", 6’6" with Mike, and they finished 22-2, losing only to Kokomo late in the season and Pendleton Heights in the regional. I remember Mike had quite a few huge rivalry games in both football and basketball with future Purdue running back Brandon Jones while he was at county rival Peru. Covering both of them at the high school level and seeing them continue their careers at Purdue has been a privilege.

Thank you, football seniors of 2006, and thank you as well, Mike Otto, for being a joy to watch over the past several years.

In the mean time, we still have a bowl game to prepare for, as do six other big Ten teams. So it’s time to dust off the old predictions page and try and call the scores for all seven Big Ten bowl games. I know I have had shallow, off the cuff predictions already, but it is time to vacillate a bit and nail some scores to the picks.

Dec. 29 Insight Bowl, Phoenix, AZ. Texas Tech vs. Minnesota – It’s time to draw weird parallels from across the college sports world. This is the first bowl game to kick off involving a Big Ten team, since there wasn’t one available for the Motor City Bowl last night, which had a Big Ten tie-in. Allegedly, this bowl was high on Indiana had the Hoosiers been bowl eligible, but thanks to three straight losses to end the season, the Gophers are here. The Gophers started that skid in resounding fashion, beginning a streak of three straight wins that were needed to get here. Who are they playing but Texas Tech, whose basketball team is lead by Bobby Knight. How Ironic would it have been to have Indiana playing Texas Tech in a football bowl game, a long sought grail for the IU football program, the night after Indiana’s most famous basketball coach is going for a record breaking win at the school Indiana would be facing?

Or is Knight really going for the record tomorrow night? Three of his victories came at Indiana in losses that were later forfeited because of the use of an ineligible player. Two of them came in the 70’s against… Minnesota! The other came in 1996 against Purdue, when Luther Clay played less than a minute and never touched the ball in a loss to the Boilermakers. Not only did Purdue have to forfeit that win (a forfeit that Purdue does not recognize, along with the other wins that Clay appeared in that season and Purdue later had to forfeit), but it officially means that Bob Knight finished his career with a 21-20 edge of Gene Keady. So that means knight holds a slim edge of Keady, and will temporarily hold the record on a technicality.

Sorry for the diatribe there, but I am still a huge basketball fan at heart and felt compelled to say something about coach Knight, whom I respect greatly as a basketball coach who flat out gets results on the floor and graduates his players. The fact Texas Tech is in this game gave me the opportunity.

As for the game itself, I don’t expect much of a contest. Texas Tech loves to throw the ball. They may not do it quite as well as Hawaii, but they do it fairly well. Minnesota has struggled mightily to stop the forward pass this year. If the Minnesota offense from the IU game shows up this could be a fun shootout. If not, Texas Tech will roll.

PREDICTION: Texas Tech 45, Minnesota 28 – I’ll go with fun shout for this game. Unfortunately, only about 12 people will see it since it is on NFL Network. And I thought we were on a bunch of networks this year. Minnesota can add TBS (from the California game) and NFL Network to their long resume.

Dec. 29 Champs Sports Bowl, Orlando, FL. Purdue vs. Maryland – Boy it has been a fast few weeks since the end of the Hawaii game. I think that may actually be beneficial and break us out of our slump of slow starts in bowl games. That will be critical because this is the type of game will need a fast start. If we can get off to a fast start, there shouldn’t be any problems.

Both teams appeared to have mirror image seasons. We both had comfortable, but unexpectedly close wins over Division 1-AA teams. In Maryland’s case it was a 27-14 win over William and Mary. We both struggled to barely beat a bad team. In our case it was the Miami (OH) overtime win, while Maryland barely beat winless Florida International 14-10. They had their share of ugly losses (West Virginia 45-24, Boston College 38-16), and so did we (Iowa 47-17, Wisconsin 24-3).

What I like about the game is that they have an offense that hasn’t done much all season long and a defense that isn’t that great. When you see that they surrendered 45 points to West Virginia, the one good offense they faced, that is a good sign for us. I know we have moved the ball very well this year, only to have several empty drives because of turnovers and missed field goals, but we have still averaged almost 28 points a game. When you take away the very poorly played (offensively) Penn State and Wisconsin games, our average suddenly jumps to over 32 points per game. Those two games were poor performances against two very good defenses. Maryland defense isn’t nearly as scary.

Defensively we have gotten better as the season has gone on. If you take away the Hawaii game, we did a good job of forcing turnovers and at least keep teams from the end zone in most games as the season progressed. Maryland ranks 96th in total offense. That is statistically worse thane very single team we have faced this year, including Indiana State. They rank behind a Northwestern team that saw us have our best defensive outing of the season. People talk of them beating Florida State and Miami this year, becoming the first team to do so in 21 years, as if it was a great feat. Well, Florida State got worse as the season went on, and they beat Miami by a point thanks to two long TD passes, a terrible Miami offense, and the fact that Miami attended Bryan Pata’s funeral a few days earlier.

On paper I have a hard time seeing why Maryland is a favorite in this game. Yes, we haven’t beaten a team with a winning record all season, but it’s not our fault that every team we beat went on to have a terrible year. We can only play who is scheduled, and we accomplished exactly what we needed to do. The ACC wasn’t anything special this year, as evidenced by the fact that Wake Forest won the conference and they ranked behind even Maryland in total offense. We have a good offense and a bad, but improving defense going against a bad offense and a mediocre defense (ranked 89th overall). Putting who played whom aside, the statistics alone favor us.

If it is a close game, then I favor the Terps because of their experience. They are 6-1 in games decided by less than a touchdown this year, playing al seven of those games in a row. We are 3-1 in such games, proving that we either win comfortably or lose comfortably, but we’re getting better in close games.

PREDICTION: Purdue 38, Maryland 24 – We’re due for a fast start. I see us being comfortably ahead the whole game, and even getting Chris Summers a confidence building field goal heading into next year.

Dec. 30 Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, TX. Iowa vs. Texas – We really need to get a rule about getting conference records involved in bowl selections. Iowa finished 2-6 in a mediocre Big Ten, beating only Illinois and us while losing to Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, and Northwestern. Three losses can be understood since they are to teams currently ranked in the top five, but a team as good as Iowa shouldn’t lose the other three.

The Hawkeyes were fairly banged up all season long, and a long layoff before a bowl could get them healthy enough to return to form. Texas comes into this with a two game losing streak that saw them fall from potentially being in the national title game to not even winning their division in the Big 12.

Someone has to win this game after finishing on such a down note. Iowa could step back even further next if they lose this one, losing a decent senior class that underachieved mightily this year. Texas is a young team that will likely improve going into next season, and they still have plenty of players that won the national championship last year.

PREDICTION: Texas 31, Iowa 14 – Iowa simply had worse losses to finish the year. At least Kansas State and Texas A&M went to bowls. The Northwestern and Indiana losses were simply ugly.

Jan. 1 Outback Bowl, Tampa, FL. Penn State vs. Tennessee – This is the first of three Big Ten-SEC bowl games, as the conference generally like to brag about being the best conference in the country. I don’t know too much about Tennessee, except that they saved us from being the most disappointing team in the country last year. While we were a dark horse national title contender, they began the year with higher expectations than us and finished it with a 5-6 record.

Penn State’s defense is a solid one, but they, much like us, didn’t really beat anyone of note and lost to nearly every good team on its schedule. In the game for the Outback bowl against us, they won 12-0. Their other seven wins were unspectacular, and their four losses were to teams that went a combined 44-4 and all finished in the top 10. Penn State’s obvious weakness is its offense, with Tony Hunt being the key to stopping them.

Tennessee has had a solid season in the SEC, losing by a point to Florida, by four to LSU, and 17 to Arkansas. That’s certainly a solid year in a very tough conference. Still, they struggled against the likes of Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina, and Air Force. This is an up and down team and Penn State has a great chance to win if they can work out the kinks offensively.

PREDICTION: Tennessee 17, Penn State 10 – This is the hardest bowl game to pick, mainly because I have no idea of how good Tennessee really is.

Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl, Orlando, FL. Wisconsin vs. Arkansas – One of these teams is highly overrated. Wisconsin lost the one game that really mattered on its schedule, while getting past Purdue and Penn State, it’s next two toughest opponents, without a lot of trouble. Arkansas had a good season and finished as the SEC runner-up, but I can’t respect any school where the mommies and daddies of players come whining to the head coach that their little boys didn’t get enough playing time even though they were the stars of the team. Seriously, in this ESPN article the incident is spelled out.

I am surprised that Mitch Mustain, Ben Cleveland, and Damian Williams can go to the bathroom by themselves. This is worse than Jeff George’s little tenure at Purdue with his mommy.

I like Wisconsin, and they will be a dangerously good team next year. I think Arkansas got hot and overachieved at the right time during the season, while Wisconsin took advantage of a weak schedule to gain confidence for next season. They have that confidence now, and they could get rolling in a hurry over the Razorbacks. John Stocco will also want to go out with a bang after a nice career with the Badgers.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 27, Arkansas 21 – The Badgers have one of the best defenses in the nation and Arkansas’ little boys will probably go running to the sidelines crying for mommy when things start to not go their way. Go out and make the Big Ten proud, Wisconsin.

Jan. 1 Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA. Michigan vs. Southern Cal – What a great way to return to the traditional Big Ten-Pac Ten Rose bowl. In recent years the game hasn’t quite been the same with the rotation of the title game and the fact that Ohio State and USC have played for multiple titles, but this should be a great return to the game’s roots. USC has been suspect all year, and in my opinion they are the best team of a highly mediocre Pac-10.

Michigan has been good, but the rest of the Big Ten outside of Wisconsin and Ohio State has been average. Still, Michigan came the closest to beating Ohio State and pretty much destroyed everyone else on its schedule. They should be incredibly good next year, and they even get Ohio State at home.

The long layoff shouldn’t matter for either team, even though USC has played twice since Michigan’s last game. Michigan also has the added motivation of playing for at least a piece of the championship should Ohio State lose. I honestly like the Wolverines a lot this year, and they have been more consistently solid than any other team. Plus, what is not to like about this game? Both of these teams beat mighty Notre Dame and Brady Quinn badly, so that means they have to be the best two teams in the history of college football, right?

PREDICTION: Michigan 31, USC 21 – I really don’t like USC in this game. They got lucky way too many times this year and they are due to get waxed by a good team.

Jan. 8 BCS National title game, Glendale AZ. Florida vs. Ohio State – There are tons of predictions and analytical pieces out there for this game, as well as for every other bowl game. That’s why I have been probably as shallow as possible in writing about them. Honestly, I am not that excited for this national title game. To me it is a case of two teams that are always good playing for either an undisputed championship in Ohio State’s case, or disputed chaos in Florida’s case.

I don’t particularly like either team, since Ohio State may run one of the dirtiest programs in the country and Florida has been so good for so long they are boring. I would rather see Ohio State play Wisconsin because I think it would be a better game.

Ohio State has been #1 all year and they have twice beaten the #2 team during the season. No one else, outside of Boise State, could even finish undefeated. If the regular season matters at all, Ohio State has already proven themselves and it is ridiculous to have them play again. Some people are crying that Michigan should be here, but Ohio State already proved they were better and its not like we would get a third game if Michigan won this time around.

What I would love to see is a conference like the ACC or SEC that has a conference championship game have two really dominant teams in each division, for example, Florida State and Miami. Say both were obviously the best two teams in the country, and Miami won the regular season meeting, but Florida State wont he SCC title game. Would we get a third game in the National title game? What if it was Florida and LSU, or Oklahoma and Nebraska?
Still, this is what we have for a title game, and we have to deal with it.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 24, Florida 20 – It will be a closer game than you think, but to me Ohio State has been the best team all year and they were never seriously challenged. Even against Michigan they were comfortably ahead most of the game.

BCS game predictions: Speaking of shallow predictions, its time to do a quick pick of the other three BCS games, two of which look like snoozers.

Boise State 25, Oklahoma 23 – The kids have their shot, so why not call for the upset.
Louisville 42, Wake Forest 21 - Of course, Wake Forest has been written off all year.
LSU 38, Notre Dame 20 – I can’t think of a better way to end the college football season. It’s tradition to see Notre Dame lose a bowl game.

And with that, I am out of here until the end of the Champs Bowl. I may do a running diary of the game, but there will at least be a wrap-up afterwards. Everyone enjoy the game and BOILER UP!