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2007 that was (As usual, three good quarters before blowing it in the 4th)

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Here at Off the Tracks I have been everything but scientific in my analysis. This is my 120th posting, and to honor that I will harken back to my days as a freshman taking Statistics 120. Yesterday on the GBI forums I posted a poll asking how much a bowl win would help our struggling program. Coming into the year I predicted a 9-3 regular season and a winnable bid to the Alamo Bowl.

Through 10 weeks this still seemed probable, as a promising game at Penn State certainly had me believing wins over Michigan State and Indiana were going to happen. Instead we crashed in both games, not only giving away what could have been a New Year’s Day bowl, but falling so far that we’re likely going to be selected behind both teams when bowl bids our handed out Sunday. Obviously we need some kind of boost, and a bowl win, be it in the Motor City, Armed Forces, Humanitarian or Texas Bowls would help. So posted a poll to see how much a win would help with six possible choices:

1. Totally Delusional: A springboard to the 2008 national title
2. A huge boost to the sagging program
3. A small boost to recruiting, but nothing major
4. A great way to send off the seniors, but nothing more
5. It still doesn't matter, Joe must go!
6. What's this bowl win you speak of?


As of 8:30pm on Wednesday the overwhelming response was with choices five and six. 26 of the 46 total responses went with those two choices, while five felt we had no chance to win the bowl game at all. That means there isn’t a ton of optimism out there even if we should win said bowl game. Right now there is even a question if we will go, but we are at least to the point where any door the BCS closes will likely open another.

We took a hit when the Armed Forces bowl took Air Force this week, meaning TCU is likely headed to Houston if still on the board. The Big 12 will most likely get two BCS teams, leaving that spot open and TCU a perfect fit. Should UCLA upset USC and Arizona upset Arizona State we then lose the Armed Forces bowl as a spot even if the Pac-10 still gets two into the BCS in the form of Arizona State or USC plus UCLA grabbing the automatic bid in that scenario. The Big East is unlikely to get two BCS teams, so a Louisville upset of Rutgers ruins them of having an open spot even if they do. The SEC will get two teams in the BCS, and they won’t have an open bowl to go to. That leaves the ACC and the Humanitarian bowl open if both Va Tech and Boston College go to the BCS.

With all that we’re only totally screwed if Hawaii goes to the BCS, Arizona beats Arizona State AND the Pac-10 somehow still gets two into the BCS, the SEC gets two, and the Big 12 gets two allowing TCU to go to Houston. At that point we’re hoping for the Big Ten bowls to pick us or nothing. My vote there is nothing, because we don’t deserve to be picked ahead of anyone but Iowa and Northwestern in the Big Ten. Since Arizona beating Arizona State would likely at least send the Va Tech-BC loser to the BCS we would still most likely go to Boise in that case.
So how did we get to this point in a season so promising? Let’s review:

Sept. 1 at Toledo W 52-24 (original prediction W 31-21)

This win gave me promise because I knew we were going into a charged atmosphere to face a team that appeared to be one of the better ones in the MAC. I wasn’t sure how we would handle things, but we dominated in the type of game we never dominate. The defense played well until garbage time, and the offense was lights out once it got going. All in all, a very good win that had me excited for the year.

Sept. 8 vs. Eastern Illinois W 52-6 (original prediction W 49-13)

Unless the big school loses you can’t really take much away from these 1-AA games. Eastern Illinois did go to the 1-AA playoffs again only to lose in the first round, but when they may be the second beat team we beat you have a problem with your program. At least we got a sweet Jake Standeford block out of this game.

Sept. 15 vs. Central Michigan W 45-22 (original prediction W 28-24)

The first half may have been our best half of football all year. The defense was dominant against a pretty potent offense, and the offense was simply unstoppable. Who cares that we gave up three touchdowns in the second half. We won comfortably and were never seriously threatened. Central Michigan is likely going to win a second MAC title, but was simply annihilated by every non-MAC foe on its schedule including 1-AA North Dakota State.

Sept. 22 at Minnesota W 45-31 (original prediction W 38-24)

This game featured our defensive play of the year with Cliff Avril’s pick 6, but I honestly expected more out of Minnesota. This was just a bad, bad football team we beat as they were lucky to have the one win they did get. Still, they ended up being close in several games, so if they get over the hump, watch out. It’s hard to argue with any conference win on the road regardless of opponent, but this was our only one. It was much like the Central Michigan game in that we got up big and coasted.

Sept. 29 vs. Notre Dame W 33-19 (original prediction W 31-24)

This is the post that elicited a record 12 comments, some of them questioning my ability to tie my own shoes because I predicted the mighty Irish would lose. This game was alternately encouraging and discouraging. It was encouraging in that we got four field goals from Chris Summers and won despite playing ugly. It was discouraging because we played a crap game against the worst Notre Dame team ever and it was still close into the fourth quarter. A better Notre Dame team beats us on this day, but thankfully this Irish team won more games (2) in the state of California than it did in the state of Indiana where it played eight times. Gerry, if you’re out there, am I still biased for predicting 1-7 or 0-8? How is the rainbow sherbet smell coming from your toilet?

Oct. 6 vs. Ohio State L 7-23 (original prediction L 10-21)

Looking at my original prediction I wasn’t that far off, but I was expecting much more than a garbage time touchdown. Other than the first quarter the defense really played well, and as well as our offense had been moving at that point I certainly thought we could score enough to beat them by holding them to 23 points. We should have seen the signs from the Notre Dame game, but as usual we were stopped on the ground and completely went away from it. To add insult we had to watch as the Buckeye fans did O-H-I-O in our house. What was an electric atmosphere ended as a truly miserable game. Not only that, the Cubs were eliminated from the playoffs that night.

Oct. 13 at Michigan L 21-48 (original prediction L 14-38)

Maybe we should have done more onside kicks more often with the way we kept recovering them late in the game. I actually drove all the way to Ann Arbor for this game, and left when it got to 48-7 because there was so little point in staying. Michigan made us pay for every mistake, and we made plenty of them. I had predicted a big loss before the season, but when game time came I actually predicted a win. Oops! Well, the streak has to end up there some time, right?

Oct. 20 vs. Iowa W 31-6 (original prediction W 31-21)

I got burned last year by taking the Drew Tate Kool-Aid, so I told myself it wasn’t going to happen here. Whether it was the fact that Iowa’s offense was terrible or just a great effort by our defense we played probably our most complete game of the season. We were in total control from start to finish and for once we completely dominated a Big Ten opponent. We also got Jaycen Taylor back, making the rest of the season look great. I really thought we had turned a corner by actually responding after two straight butt-whippings to administer one ourselves. Had we played like this in any of the final three games we would have won.

Oct. 27 vs. Northwestern W 35-17 (original prediction W 34-24)

One week after playing a complete game we were back to our two quarters on, two quarters off style of play. Fortunately for us the first and fourth quarters were more than enough to get the job done against a Wildcats team that helped us out with four turnovers. Taylor turned in one of the best days we have seen from a Purdue running back in just his second game back. Our defense also held a really good offense to under 300 yards for the first time in who knows how long. Things were indeed looking up heading to Happy Valley since the Nittany Lions weren’t as good as originally expected.

Nov. 4 at Penn State L 19-26 (original prediction L 24-31)

You couldn’t ask for a better start than we had. Much like the Wisconsin game from 2004 we will always wonder how well things would have turned out if not for a critical fumble. I didn’t get a chance to watch this game, but in reading about it I wonder why Kory Sheets, a proven goal line touchdown machine wasn’t in the game getting Taylor’s carry, especially after Taylor had fumbled in almost the exact same spot the week before. If we convert that touchdown we go up 17-3 and possibly cruise to a rare easy in Happy Valley. Everything looks different now if we turn that around.

Nov. 11 vs. Michigan State L 31-48 (original prediction W 38-20)

It’s funny, but before the year started I thought this was going to be the easiest game on our Big Ten schedule. I was not impressed with what the Spartans had coming back, and the old Michigan State would have been even more of a walkover by game time after what they had gone through. Just look at the "know thy opponent about this game to see how much I disrespected the Spartans, and how right the Anonymous commenter at the bottom was. There was no effort, heart, or hustle from us and the coaching staff completely botched a game we really had no business losing. I mean come on, we stopped a team from doing what they wanted to do so they adjusted, yet we didn’t adjust ourselves.

Nov. 18 at Indiana L 21-24 (original prediction W 34-28)

This is another game where I had changed my prediction by game time, and successfully called a three point loss. In another game where we didn’t adjust, we kept in check what a team wanted to do, only to see them go nuts the other way. This time we kept the passing game mostly in check, but let a bad running team run all over us. It’s like we had never seen a halfback draw up the middle. Giving James Hardy single coverage on 3rd and five on the final drive was another huge mistake and non-adjustment by our coaching staff. I don’t feel bad losing to Indiana because of the Hep factor, but we still could have won if we had shown any heart.

What next?

The first step has to be winning the bowl game no matter what should we get selected. As Boilermouse on the Purdue boards said in response to my poll, we’re going to one of the lowest bowls out there. The higher the bowl the easier the loss is to take so we need to win. Winning a bowl game for the first time since 2002 would be a step in the right direction, and just look what happened after that win. We came back the next year and had our best post-Rose Bowl year and possibly played better than that Rose Bowl team.

Much like that 2003 season we face a difficult schedule in 2008 that offers few gimmes outside of the opener against Northern Colorado. Winning our bowl game can be a reason for at least a small amount of renewed optimism which is sorely needed after finishing the season the way we finished. A loss could easily mean a major step back next season, and a possible 3-4 win campaign for the first time in more than a decade. The tools are there to improve and still have a good year next year, but after another season that quickly unraveled there are no more excuses.

NEXT UP: The most surprising players and most disappointing players of 2007.