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SPORTS

These football dreams give way to football reality

September 1, 2008

SPORTS These football dreams give way to football reality How about this? The Indianapolis Colts inaugurate Lucas Oil Stadium with another Super Bowlwinning season. Indiana and Purdue meet in the Old Oaken Bucket game for a Rose Bowl berth. Notre Dame authors the greatest turnaround in school history and plays in the BCS national championship game.

Ball State's Nate Davis makes a run for the Heisman Trophy.

Well, a guy can dream, can't he?

Truth is, all I'm hoping for at this juncture is that Peyton Manning is healthy for the season opener, Indiana (never look beyond the next play) gets past Western Kentucky, Purdue sends Joe Tiller into retirement on a winning note, Notre Dame rises above national scorn, and Davis becomes known outside the Midwest.

In any case, I am definitely ready for some football.

We're in a season that will feature extraordinary quarterbacking within our borders. Can any other state offer up a pro-college combination that compares with Manning, Purdue's Curtis Painter, Indiana's Kellen Lewis and Ball State's aforementioned Davis? Even Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen has an opportunity to become an elite passer, provided he's running the Irish offense and not for his life on most possessions.

As for Manning, even among the incessant speculation about the health of his knee, I believed he would be ready for Sept. 7's prime-time NFL opener against Chicago. Should we be concerned that his first competitive snap won't come until then? Absolutely. But is there any better quarterback to have in that situation? I think not.

Still, I have an uneasy feeling about the Colts this year and their ability to get off to the kind of jump-start that has carried them to five successive AFC South titles. There's no question in my mind the Colts play in the toughest division in the NFL and, yes, that includes the NFC East. Jacksonville has been closing the gap and the Colts' only edge on the Jags is now mental, not physical. Tennessee is right there and the Houston Texans are no longer groping for direction.

Prediction: 11-5, AFC South co-champs with the Jags. But no Super Bowl.

So I'm looking at IU's schedule and thinking, well, why can't the Hoosiers be 6-0 going into their Oct. 18 game at Illinois? The first four games and five of the first six are at home. The road game is at Minnesota. Then again, will that defense ever be a real, difference-making defense? Will Ball State and Mr. Davis come a spoilin' into Bloomington on Sept. 20?

This is a huge year for the Hoosiers, especially in erasing the doubts about head coach Bill Lynch (concerns I do not share). The schedule is charitable. Good, young players are on the roster. They have the impetus of reaching their first bowl game in 13 years. But all the national publications have IU among the Big Ten's bottom two or three teams. What do they know that I don't ... or refuse to believe?

Prediction: 7-4 going into the Bucket game at Purdue.

National forecasters haven't been much kinder to Purdue, even though Painter looks to close out his remarkable career as the Big Ten's all-time leader passer. The Boilermakers, transitioning from Tiller to head-coach-in-waiting Danny Hope, will be measured early: home games with Oregon and Mid-American Conference power Central Michigan, followed by the trip to Notre Dame. Purdue has no bye week, which could take its toll down the stretch.

Prediction: Like IU, 7-4 going into the Bucket game, Tiller's last in Ross-Ade.

Notre Dame? Well, the anti-Fighting Irish crowds-which would be pretty much everyone except the Domers themselves-enjoyed a season-long Charlie Weis belly laugh during last year's 3-9 debacle. And can you fathom that this program, with all its built-in advantages, hasn't won a bowl game since 1994?

But this year, the schedule is favorable, although the season could turn on how the Irish fare in the three-week Michigan, at Michigan State, Purdue stretch in September. Survive that and the echoes might awaken enough to keep new Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick from making a tough call in November.

Prediction: 8-4, and they finally win a bowl.

Ball State? I really like this team and the program Brady Hoke has established. It could be a great season, but it will turn on back-to-back November road games to Miami and Central Michigan.

Prediction: 9-3, and another bowl game is in the Cards.
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Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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