As recently as Thursday morning, end zone tickets for tomorrow's heavyweight tilt between Purdue and Illinois could be had for as little as $.95 per ticket. Note the decimal point -- that's 95 cents. Which puts it at the same popularity level as actual heavyweight fighting. Hey-yoo!
Purdue and Illinois get into a slap fight tomorrow at 3:30 on the Big Ten Network. Why 3:30? Who knows? I guess we should just be happy the BTN hasn't decided to record the game and show it at 3:30 AM on Tuesday morning.
After a win to sorta, kinda save what's left of their train wreck of the season, what happens this week for our Boilers? It's time to find out.
So put in a nice dip o' chaw, pull up a chair, and get some predicto.
SURGEON GENERAL WARNING: THIS FOOTBALL GAME MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH. DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY WHILE USING/WATCHING/LISTENING.
And unlike Purdue, Illinois is doing this with a new coach. Halfway through the 2011 season, Illinois was 6-0 and looking great ... but they dropped their next six and got Ron Zook fired. In a move that Morgan Burke would approve, the Illini hired Toledo coach Tim Beckman, even though Beckman had only three years of experience at Toledo, his only time as head coach, and had only four years of assistant experience at power-conference schools before that. The move was something of a gamble ... and so far, it has not paid off at all. By either standard stats or advanced metrics, this Illini team would struggle in the MAC, never mind the Big Ten. Their offense and special teams are better suited to a weak Sun Belt team; averaging less than 17 points per game, the Illini are 118th of 120 I-A teams, and of the four new to that level, three of those also outscore Illinois. (The fourth is UMass, a new MAC team with DII-caliber talent.)
The latest chapter of the Beckman Experience posted just 3 points against a rebuilding Minnesota squad; that performance has at least one writer calling for a new coach. (Beckman's comments in that article should sound familiar to Purdue fans.) I don't believe Illinois would cut a coach loose after just one season, but a bad performance in Champaign might turn up the heat. The September Purdue squad would induce that kind of Illini performance; the October team would pull Beckman out of the frying pan and drop Hope in the fire.
Which team do I think will show up? The November team that squeaked by - but still beat - OMHR in Iowa City.
Sure, why not? The Boilers -- after looking utterly hapless and finished -- go into a place they haven't won at in two decades and win. And they don't just win, they win despite losing the turnover battle, 3-0 and allowing one of those turnovers to be returned for a TD. How many bad teams win road games when those things happen? In all seriousness, not many. Does that mean Purdue actually is good, after all? No, it does not.
The Boilers have absolutely no excuse to not win this game in Champagne handily. They need the win to keep bowl hopes alive. They need it to keep their coach employed (if he has any chance at all). And they're a far superior team, which says a lot considering they're not very good. Does any of this give me confidence? Of course not. It's still a conference road game, too, and they're never gimmes (unless you're Wisconsin in West Lafayette).
In the end, though, I've been pretty correct this year going with my gut. It looks like Marve will continue to play the majority of the snaps and if the play calling is at all clever, Purdue should win this one without trouble.
We talked about this during the Handsome Hour: Illinois is not a good team...their stats show it, their record shows it...and if you're into that sort of thing, their body language shows it. Guys clad in orange and navy who have played well in previous seasons can't find production. The Zook magic left with him.
I kid, but what we know is it takes a season or two to implement a system. That's especially true when the predecessor is so different from the current coach.
Purdue should be motivated as the Seniors see the end of their careers within sight. Marve, Shavers, Short, Johnson and co. should all play like men possessed; I'm counting on it.
Boilers roll and keep their post-season hopes alive.