Updated: November 23, 2012 6:20AM
What in the name of Ross-Ade Stadium is going on at West Lafayette?
Six weeks ago Purdue fans were entitled to puff up and feel chesty about a team with 19 returning starters from a 7-6 season.
Since Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible for post-season play Wisconsin seemed to present the only roadblock to Purdue representing the Leaders Division in the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 1.
That changed with crushing back-to-back losses at home to Michigan and the Badgers. The Boilers were reeling even before Ohio State polished them off in overtime Saturday in Columbus.
Attendance is sinking for the fourth consecutive year (44,476 average) with just 71.2 percent of the stadium filling up at home. Democrats would like to blame Governor Mitch Daniels for the desertion but I think not. True he played political football by appointing the 10 trustees who named him president, but I doubt whether that factors into Coach Danny Hope’s game plan.
More likely it’s a case of three quarterbacks being two too many. Usually, when a coach can’t make up his mind about who’s directing the offense, it translates into mediocrity, but Caleb TerBush, has settled the issue for the time being. Barring a dramatic second-half surge the disappointing Boilermakers are contemplating a Hope-less future. Leading off my Leaders Division mid-term report:
Purdue (3-4, 0-3)
Indiana (2-5, 0-3)
Second-half collapses remain the norm for the Harrying Hoosiers. Against Navy they continued the agonizing trend of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Fans who stick with this team risk cardiac arrest after four losses by a total of 10 points.
Quarterback Cameron Coffman deserves an ‘A’ for entertainment since the Hoosiers are racking up nearly 500 yards and 35 points a game, but their defense continues to flunk football. The excitement if not the result is spinning the turnstiles. The Hoosiers are averaging 46,231 at home, nearly 5,000 higher than the previous three years. Grade: D
Ohio State (8-0, 4-0)
Braxton Miller’s head injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. for the Bucks, who travel to Penn State and Wisconsin in the next three weeks. Fortunately, he was proclaimed symptom-free and didn’t need an overnight hospital stay. The Bucks didn’t seem to miss him with sub Ken Guiton directing a fourth-quarter rally, forcing overtime with a TD pass to Chris Fields with three seconds left, then passing for the two-point conversion. Before the close shave with Purdue, Miller had either passed or ran for 20 of OSU’s 35 touchdowns and figured in nearly 68 percent of its total offense. Grade: A-
Penn State (5-2, 3-0)
Impressive victories over Northwestern and Iowa give the Nittany Lions reason to hope they can knock off visiting Ohio State on Oct. 27. Quarterback Matt McGloin’s transformation under Coach Bill O’Brien after an opening loss to Ohio University has turned the Nittany Lions into the Big Ten’s biggest surprise story. The efficiency expert has completed 62.5 percent of his passes and clicked for 14 TDs. Saturday he completed 26 passes at Iowa, 11 of them to tight ends. Accelerating PSU has outscored its opponents 68-0 in the first quarter. Grade: B+
Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1)
Montee Ball took a backseat to James White in a 38-13 romp over Minnesota, but still boosted his growing numbers to 1,013 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. He’s the Big Ten all-time leader in six-pointers and is closing in one the NCAA record with 73 career TDs. White boosted his average to 6.9 yards per carry with 175 in 15 cracks. Make no mistake about it, the Badgers are grinding toward a repeat appearance in the Big Ten title game. Grade: B
Illinois (2-5, 0-3)
Getting a week off to prepare for Indiana, the defenseless Illini have white-flagged 163 points in their last four games. Quarterbacks Reilly O’Toole (74.7 percent completion ratio) and injured Nate Scheelhaase have become an endangered species thanks to a leaky offensive line giving up 23 sacks. A bye gives them two weeks to regroup for incoming Indiana. Grade: F
Iowa (4-3, 2-1)
Struggling to overcome a battered offensive line, the Hawkeyes have turned their anxious fans into nail nibblers with four games decided by a total of eight points. They’re averaging just 24 points. Grade: C
Michigan (5-2, 3-0)
Brendan Gibbons kicked four field goals in a 12-10 victory over Michigan State, including a 38-yard winner with five seconds left, but barely gets mentioned by the talking heads. Instead, they babble endlessly about quarterback Denard Robinson, who was bottled up by the rugged Spartans. Michigan’s visit to Nebraska Saturday should decide who represents the Legends on Dec. 1. The Wolverines ranked third nationally in pass defense, Grade: B
Michigan State (4-4, 1-3)
The Spartans have dropped three of their last four games in this intensely competitive league. Three Big Ten losses by a total of six points could be a morale crusher. Left tackle Dan France missed his 21st consecutive start because of a concussion, which forced the Spartans to field their sixth different offensive line combo in eight games. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell is taking the heat for an undernourished offense. Grade: C-
Minnesota (4-3, 0-3)
Coach Jerry Kill bounced back from being hospitalized by his second seizure on game day in as many seasons, but the Gophers gave up Paul Bunyan’s axe to Wisconsin for the ninth straight year. Quarterback injuries have chopped up the offense, but the Gophers need a victory over visiting Purdue to maintain their hopes of becoming bowl eligible. Grade: C-
Nebraska (5-2, 2-1)
In spite of a recurring knee injury to star running back Rex Burkhead, the Cornhuskers are grinding out 42 points a game. Credit it to Taylor Martinez. The surging quarterback rallied them from a 27-10 deficit against Wisconsin by rushing for 107 yards and a touchdown and passing for 181 and two TDs, then followed up NU’s first visit to Northwestern since 1931 by engineering scoring drives of 80 and 76 yards in the last 8:31. His three touchdown passes in an interception-free performance shocked the Cats, who blew a 28-16 lead. In Northwestern’s defense, Big Red fans filled nearly half of the sellout crowd at Ryan Field. Grade: B+
Northwestern (6-2, 2-2)
The Wildcats became the Big Ten’s first bowl-eligible team by sandwiching a victory over Minnesota between tough-to-take losses to Penn State and Nebraska. Their inability to protect double-digit leads in the second half have Coach Pat Fitzgerald wondering why the ‘Cats aren’t 8-0.
They possess the league’s most exciting player in Venric Mark, who is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing, averages 183 all-purpose yards and has scored 12 touchdowns, including two on punt returns. Quarterback/running back/receiver Kain Colter earns points for versatility with these numbers: 456 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, 56 of 80 passes for 437 yards and 16 receptions for 169 yards. Grade: B