The team ratings for NCAA Football '13 have been released, and the folks at Tradition Sports Online have already published them for good or bad. Our Boilers come in with a prestige rating of 3 and an overall rating of 87 (very respectable). The offense and defense both rate at 84. By comparison across the board we rate equal to Baylor, Fresno State, Georgia Tech, Houston, Louisville, Mississippi State, Northwestern, Rutgers, Texas Tech, UCLA, and West Virginia. Yes, that taste in your mouth is the creamy middle of college football.
Teams rated absurdly high are Notre Dame at 97 (equal to Alabama despite a drunken quarterback that can't complete passes to his own team while sober), Clemson at 97 (Clemson!?!?!), North Carolina State at 91 (ACC Football!?!?!), South Carolina at 95, and Indiana at 77 (Somehow equal to Vanderbilt, Western Michigan, and Navy bowl teams from last year).
With the release of the team rankings and the fact we're a mere 12 weeks from the season opener I figured it was time to start looking at our individual opponents, beginning with the opener against Danny Hope's old team, Eastern Kentucky.
Eastern Kentucky Colonels
2011 Record: 7-5, 6-2 Ohio Valley Conference (shared title with Tennesse Tech and Jacksonville State)
Bowl Result: Lost 20-17 to James Madison in FCS Playoffs First Round
Blog Representation: None
Series with Purdue: First Meeting
Last season for the Colonels
Coach Dean Hood took over for Danny Hope when he left and he has been quite successful. While Eastern Kentucky hasn't reached the heights of 1979-82 when they reached four straight I-AA title games and won two, Hood won conference titles in 2008 and 2011.
EKU was a pretty stout team last year, taking Kansas State to the brink in Manhattan before losing 10-7. This is the same Kansas State team that went 10-3 and damn near won the Big 12. It was 0-0 at the half and 7-0 EKU after three. Kansas State needed a 33-yard touchdown pass with 1:39 left to get the win even though EKU had just 129 yards of total offense.
The rest of the season was strong. A 52-48 win at No. 18 Jacksonville State gave them a share of the OVC title, and the right to host a first round playoff game. The magic number was 23, as EKU was 8-0 when it scored at least 23 points and 0-5 when it did not.
Eastern Kentucky Offense:
Eastern Kentucky will try to run the ball, then run it some more. Matt Denham is a senior after a 1,570 yard season with nine touchdowns. H.B. Banjoman also rushed for 159 yards and eight scores. Jermiah Williams also added 317 yards and three scores before missing most of the season due to injury.
Quarterback T.J. Pryor comes back after completing 55% of his passes for 1,605 yards and 18 touchdowns against only eight interceptions. The passing game was not a major aspect, but they were hardly Navy throwing only 2-3 times per game. Pryor was also mobile with 180 yards rushing and a score. He is a fifth year senior, so he has experience and has been a starter since 2010.
Also a fifth year senior is Tyrone Goard, who is a big receiver at 6'5" 194 pounds and he caught 39 passes for 627 yards and 11 touchdowns. It is safe to say he will be the main target when EKU chooses to pass. Cameron Bailey from Ft. Wayne Snider HS has been a two-year team captain and will come back after catching 29 passes for 370 yards and a score.
As you can see, this is an experience unit with a ton of seniors at the key positions. Much of their offensive line is listed above 290 pounds, so they are Big Ten sized. The is a team that should be able to establish itself and not get pushed around by our defensive front.
Eastern Kentucky Defense:
Kevin Hamlin, a transfer from Iowa State, picked off four passes last season and had 120 yards worth of returns at linebacker. One of those picks was taken back for a touchdown, and he added 71 tackles and two fumble recoveries to his ledger. Since he comes from a BCS conference there is little question that he can play at the same level as Purdue.
Shawn Shupperd, a 6'6" 244 pound defensive lineman led them in sacks with 4.5, while Robert Knowles also got to the quarterback four times. Overall, the defensive statistics were pretty pedestrian. Since a depth chart cannot be found it is hard to gauge who goes where, but as a team EKU had 20 sacks while giving up 30, was solid at 35% on third downs defensively, and gave up only 23 points per game. They were neither good nor bad against the run or the pass. Indeed, 2031 yards rushing given up in 13 games trends toward the bad side.
Eastern Kentucky Special Teams:
Jeremy Caldwell was a weapon on special teams that graduated after averaging 23.7 yards per return with an 88 yard score. He also handled punt return duties.
EKU must find a new punter after the graduation of Jordan Berry, but Luke Pray returns after kicking 10 field goals a year ago.
This is the point where I get exacting. I know it happens every year and the Big Ten has embarrassed itself on multiple occasions, but there is absolutely no excuse for a Big ten team to ever lose to a 1-AA school. The imbalance between scholarships, facilities, and talent is so overwhelmingly in our favor that any coach who loses to a 1-AA school should be fired on the spot.
That said, we should be concerned. Wisconsin has been taken to overtime by a 1-AA school. Michigan, Northwestern, and Indiana have each lost games to them. Then there is Minnesota, who should never play a school from the Dakotas again, especially North Dakota State. Eastern Kentucky is a legitimate good team with no fear, as they even took on Kansas State with backup QB Jared McClain running the show. Kansas State was much better than Purdue last year.
EKU is fairly one-dimensional even with Goard as the big receiver that normally gives us fits. If we slow down the running game we can grind them to a virtual halt. Ryan Russell, Bruce Gaston, and Kawann Short need to have big days controlling the line of scrimmage and not allowing any holes between the tackles.
Offensively, we should wear them down with the Akeems (Hunt and Shavers) while we play quarterback derby. I expect Robert Marve, Rob Henry, and Caleb tarbush will all take snaps under center, but I hope it is the only game like that. Purdue 38, Eastern Kentucky 10