Tate: Don't count out Purdue
When will Illinoisans give proper emphasis to Purdue?
You hear the scuttlebutt: If Tim Beckman's Illini could somehow upset Wisconsin in Camp Randall on Oct. 6 — a huge undertaking — they'd be in position to advance out of the Leaders Division now that Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible.
Tell me, isn't Purdue in a similar position? And isn't there an advantage in hosting Wisconsin (Oct. 13)? Are we overlooking a team that has dominated Illinois for years?
"For the first time since I've been at Purdue," coach Danny Hope said this week, "we potentially have a very good football team."
Hope cited experience, maturity and team speed on both sides of the ball, and three accomplished quarterbacks in starter Caleb TerBush and injury-recovered Robert Marve and Rob Henry.
The Boilermakers, who flexed their muscles in upending Ohio State last season, have beaten Illinois in six of the last seven meetings and nine of the last 12. Purdue's gridders are almost as big a pain in the UI's backside as the Boilermaker basketball team, which has won seven straight and 10 of 13.
In my time here, this marks the third major basketball win streak by Purdue vs. Illinois. Purdue won nine straight during Brian Cardinal's time there and ran off 13 in a row beginning in 1967. Perhaps the Illini in both sports need to pretend our nearest Big Ten rivals are wearing Buckeye uniforms.
For the record, Illinois has engaged Purdue in the two major sports 45 times since the fall of 1996 and has won 15 (four of those in overtime). And yet you wouldn't find many folks this side of Danville who don't expect Illinois to prevail here Nov. 17. Such are the validity of expectations.
Biggest eye-opener at the Big Ten meetings in Chicago was not Urban Meyer (the new Ohio State coach was almost overlooked), nor the rapid recovery of Michigan in the post-Rodriguez period.
Watch Michigan State. Illini athletic director Mike Thomas knew he had something at Cincinnati before Mark Dantonio left, and Dantonio is demonstrating it at MSU. He has produced consecutive 11-win seasons and, if he can fill the hole left by Kirk Cousins at QB, sees the Spartans "on the cusp ... we have talent across the board."
Dantonio has 46 lettermen, returns 18 of the top 22 players on defense, including star end Will Gholston (6-7, 285) and all the linebackers, and was able to redshirt all but one of last year's freshmen. Staff continuity is a positive with defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, the conference's "most likely to get a head coaching job" next season. The offensive line features six who have started.
The Spartan battle cry is to reach the Rose Bowl, last accomplished in 1988 as their only excursion to Pasadena since 1966. These Spartans got a fast start on the Rose Bowl in 1954 when, new to the conference, they got the vote over Illinois when those teams tied for the 1953 Big Ten championship. Later, one of the UI's greatest triumphs was a 13-0 shutout in a title showdown delayed by the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. The Illini should be relieved that MSU is not on the schedule this season.
We'll learn early about the Spartans in September when they tangle with Boise State, Notre Dame and Ohio State, all at home.
Delany able to intervene
There are those who believe Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, through his intellect and accomplishments, is the most powerful man in American amateur athletics. But he readily acknowledged that Big Ten presidents overruled him in allowing conference football coaches to recruit Penn State players without penalty.
Delany did, however, inaugurate one change in an effort to diffuse feelings of distrust between PSU coach Bill O'Brien and those poaching his athletes.
"I wanted it to happen from athletic director to athletic director, not compliance director to compliance director," said Delany. "I told our coaches, 'I get it.' This is where the rules are."
The UI's Thomas said he followed protocol by informing Penn State's Dave Joyner in advance of Illinois' intended meetings with several athletes who expressed interest in the UI. One of those, redshirt offensive tackle Ryan Nowicki of Glendale, Ariz., is reported seriously considering Illinois.
This rule allows Nittany Lions players to transfer without penalty through next summer, which means that any athlete unhappy with his circumstances can leave and be eligible elsewhere at any time prior to the 2013 season. Just another impediment in O'Brien's path.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.