by Max - 09/20/2005
The Big Ten Conference finished up its last week of non-conference play in style as ten teams came away with victories. Unfortunately the lone loss was Illinois and they played pretty well against California and thus covered the 21-point spread giving us a loss in our Top Game of the Week. The rest of the conference cruised to victory highlighted by Michigan State's three-point overtime victory against the Fighting Irish. The following will recap the highlights of last week's action and preview week one of the conference season.
In a game few saw, Purdue traveled to the desert and came away with a seven-point victory against Arizona. The Boilermakers were ahead throughout this contest but could not put the Wildcats away. They did it in a style we are not accustomed to seeing. Purdue ran the ball 37 times for 239 yards. Yes, this is the same Purdue team that has made a living under Coach Joe Tiller by throwing the football. Arizona played well on defense but, like last year, could not muster enough offense to win the game. They rushed for only nine yards and that will not get the job done once PAC-10 play opens up.
This game was decided in the third quarter when the Wildcats had a breakdown on special teams. A muffed punt and a failed fake punt led Purdue to ten points and a 31-17 lead. Cat QB Richard Kovalcheck threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns. He had the team marching with a chance to tie before he threw an interception to Brian Hickman with 33 seconds left to end the game.
Purdue is now 2-0 and riding high after this big win. They showed that they could beat teams in a variety of ways and have a very strong defense that returns all 11 starters from last season. Brandon Kirsch has filled in for Kyle Orton and not missed a beat. Next up for the Boilers is a road game in Minneapolis. They come in as a field goal underdog and you will be hearing from us later in the week about this game.
The Fighting Illini saw their perfect season come to an end with a trip to Berkeley. The Golden Bears were without their star tailback in Marshawn Lynch and came out flat to start the game. The Illini controlled much of the first half and went into the locker room with a shocking 17-7 lead.
Cal finally got it together in the second half via Justin Forsett, who had 187 on 16 carries. He scored two touchdowns and had a breakaway run of 45 yards. The Bears outscored the Illini 28-3 in the second half but unfortunately for us their first half performance cost them any chance of covering the 21-point spread.
A cause for concern was the play of Cal QB Joseph Ayoob. Two weeks ago he went 0-for-10 in pass completions in his collegiate debut. He was only 1-for-9 in the first half of this affair, again missing open receivers and making poor decisions. If Cal is going to compete for a PAC-10 title he must play better. The Bears should move to 5-0 before they travel south to Pasadena to take on the Bruins. This is a very intriguing match-up on Oct. 8, and as it stands now I would have to favor the home team.
Illinois will welcome in Michigan State next week to kick off the Big Ten season and the early tout has them as a 10-point dog. Sparty has been known to lie down against lesser compition so it would not surprise me if they keep this game close. On paper, MSU is clearly the better team.
Speaking of Michigan State, they played the feature game in the conference last week as they went into South Bend and came away with a 44-41 overtime victory. This game reminded me a lot of the MSU/Michigan game last year, when State dominated the first three quarters to amass a three score lead only to see it all come apart in the fourth quarter. Both teams showed that they could move the football as 41 points were scored in the first half. Brady Quinn connected on two touchdowns to Jeff Samardzija to give the Irish a 17-14. After that it was all MSU as they rattled off 24 unanswered points to take a 38-17 lead. The highlight came on a Sir Darean Adams 30-yard interception return for a touchdown on the second play of the third quarter. The Irish made a major mistake on the 1-yard line as Asaph Schwapp fumbled on the one-inch line trying to stretch the ball over the endzone. The play was typical of how the day had gone for ND through three quarters.
But then Brady Quinn caught fire through the air and hit Darius Walker on a 6-yard dump off for a touchdown. The Spartans went conservative on offense and ND would score on two of their next three positions to tie up the score at 38. State then turned the ball over at midfield and the Irish appeared poised to drive to set up a game winning field goal. However, the offense stalled and the game went into overtime.
The Spartans won the toss and choose to go on defense. ND could not muster anything in the extra session and had to settle for a D.J. Fitzpatrick field goal. State did not take long to end the game as their second play featured a 19-yard option run by Jason Teague who went untouched into the endzone for the score. Unlike last year in Ann Arbor, the Spartans were able to hang on for a victory in this game after blowing a double-digit lead. The Irish played hard but just ran out of gas after fighting to get back into the game. Notre Dame is for real this year and I feel they will only lose two more times this season.
As for MSU, they will host Michigan in two weeks with a 4-0 record and they will have revenge on their mind. A win here, will have them talking BCS, but a brutal schedule will put them back in their place as road trips to Columbus, West Lafayette, and Minneapolis still await.
Next week's slate looks very promising as conference play opens up. The feature game will take place Saturday night when the Badgers welcome the Wolvernines. Michigan comes in as a three-point favorite and I feel the difference in the game will come down to which quarterback can make plays. Both defenses have flaws and I expect this game to go right down to the wire.
The other intriguing game in the conference is Iowa coming into Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. Both teams have suffered surprising early season losses and because of Iowa's poor play they enter this game as a seven-point dog. Iowa overachieved last season and that may be catching up with them despite having a more talented team in 2005.
An early season match-up of undefeated teams takes place Saturday morning in Minneapolis as Purdue is set to invade the dome. If Purdue can get by this test, they may be in line for a BCS bid as we predicted in our 2005 Big Ten Preview. However, the Gophers have been a tough team to beat early in the season and come in as a three-point favorite. You will be hearing from us later in the week on this tilt.
These are just three of the outstanding match-ups next week in the Big Ten. This week Doc's is set to release their Big Three, which will include three selections, one from the Big Ten, one from the NFL, and one surprise selection.
Final Thoughts from Around College Football
1) Florida State is coming to life on offense and I believe they will capture the ACC Title. After looking forward when I see who is in the ACC Atlantic Division (FSU, Clemson, Wake Forest, Boston College and Maryland) why not just insert them into the title game every year.
2) The books were cleaned out last week as the majority of big time favorites covered. Vegas will be happy when conference play starts and the point spread will come down.
3) Texas A & M is starting to hit their stride and I feel they will knock off either Texas or Oklahoma to end the regular season. Although beating OU might not be that big of an accomplishment.
Needless to say the free pick went down in a big way last week as North Texas did not even show up. This week we look to the South to find a pick'em winner. Take Tulsa over Memphis (9-3-2 record the L2Y).