By CLIFF BRUNT
I sure hope Purdue doesn’t overlook Michigan on Saturday.
Did I get you with that statement? I know, right? Since when does Purdue have to worry about overlooking the Wolverines?
Since ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit declared the Boilermakers the favorites to win the Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl.
Since most of the conference fell apart during non-conference play, leaving Purdue as one of the only teams in the league reaching expectations.
So now Purdue, a school so used to bad luck that the expectation of misfortune is a major part of the fan culture, is in the odd role of favorite. Purdue entered the season as a darkhorse candidate to make noise, possibly go to a nice bowl game and maybe, just maybe, get to the Big Ten title game.
Now, everything has changed.
The close call at Notre Dame, a performance that looks oh-so-much better now that the leaves are falling, got some attention. And now that the rest of the Big Ten is struggling, Purdue is the new pick to get to Pasadena.
This, folks, before the Boilermakers have played a down of Big Ten football.
This is nearly unprecedented. Even when the Boilermakers were at their best under Joe Tiller, Purdue was David (Drew) against Goliath in matchups with the Michigans and Ohio States of the world.
Purdue fans, have some fun standing in the unfamiliar shoes of Michigan State and Wisconsin fans. Breathe in the air of high expectations. Glow in the warmth of the national spotlight. Youaregettingverysleepy.
Now that you’re hypnotized by high hopes, I’m here to snap my finger. Here are a few things to worry about in this strange season of positive vibes in Boiler Country.
Purdue is officially a target.
No more sneaking up on people. The big dogs will play their best against the Boilermakers, and Purdue isn’t used to that.
There’s a risk in listening to people tell you how great you are before you’ve done anything. Instead of focusing on Michigan, Purdue’s players might be thinking about floats and flowers as Denard Robinson creates a maize and blue blur down the sideline.
Purdue coach Danny Hope is trying to keep the Boilermakers in the now.
It’s a fantastic opportunity for our football team, our program, all of the Boilermaker nation, Hope said on Tuesday. It’s not necessarily a do-or-die situation. There’s still a lot of good football to be played, and obviously there seems to be a lot of parity in the league. We’re in a different division, but this one certainly counts. But it would be huge for our football team to get another win in Ross-Ade Stadium and continue to be undefeated in Ross-Ade Stadium, and a win over a quality opponent like Michigan would be just fantastic for our team and our program. It’s a big game, and obviously the only one we can focus on at this point in time.
This game will tell us a lot about what kind of players Purdue has. Can they focus when surrounded by unexpected hoopla? Can they deal when a traditional power fighting to retain its national respect hits them between the eyes with its best shot?
Purdue isn’t necessarily more talented than the other teams in the Leaders Division.
Purdue is not the favorite in the Leaders Division because of a prohibitive talent advantage. The Boilermakers are favored because Wisconsin is down and Ohio State can’t play in the title game because of NCAA violations. Purdue has better talent than in recent years, but not enough to coast. It will still come down to making plays. Purdue still makes more mistakes than a Top 25 team should. If the Boilermakers don’t clean things up, they aren’t good enough to win, even against a down Michigan team.
Purdue could lose its next two games.
Robinson is one of the best running quarterbacks in the history of the sport. (Story on Robinson’s place among great running QBs). He’s a gamebreaker unlike any Purdue will play the rest of the season. Two or three mistakes and the Boilers will look like the same old Boilers, and many of you will hate Hope all over again.
Hope said the Boilermakers will have to be disciplined to handle him.
You have to be smart with your rush lanes, he said. If you get out of your rush lanes and he sees a big opening, he sees the seas part, then he’s going to take off with the ball and then he’s really hard to catch. He adds a whole new dimension to the ballgame.
Wisconsin is still Wisconsin. They aren’t as good – who knew Russell Wilson was that much of a difference maker, or that he would be starting in the NFL -but this is a program that expects to win. The Badgers got a big lead in Lincoln against Nebraska, no small feat against the team I think will come out of the Legends Division. Yes, they blew it, but the fact that they got the lead in a hostile environment is noteworthy.
So this will not be a cakewalk. Purdue will need to be at its best the next two games.
Purdue’s quarterbacks will have to make plays.
Caleb TerBush is getting better. He threw four touchdown passes last Saturday against Marshall, answering the call to be more of a playmaker and for Purdue to put more on his shoulders to see what he could handle (See call for TerBush to step up here). He will need to make things happen. Purdue is not good enough to merely manage the game and beat either Michigan or Wisconsin. TerBush will need to make three or four plays here and there to get the Boilermakers over. The jury is still out. Can he do it?
Robert Marve may play as well. Hope said he will be available this week. He will be a different player with an injured knee. He will need to recognize that his movement will be limited. He also will need to avoid forcing things that aren’t there and will have to be wiser about getting rid of the ball. He showed improvement in both areas before he got hurt.
Hope also declared No. 3 quarterback Rob Henry 100 percent healthy. All three could play a role Saturday.
Robert Marve is a fantastic talent, and if for some reason Caleb isn’t hitting on all cylinders or something happened that we’d have to — we need Robert to play in the game, we won’t hesitate.There’s obviously a plan to get Rob Henry involved in the game, as well.
So, there’s the reality check, the snap of the finger, the splash of cold water. Be excited, Purdue fans. Enjoy this ride. But there’s an awful lot of football to be played before you buy your tickets to California.