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SPORTS: Predictions-and wishes-for sports in 2007

January 8, 2007

Last week, I reviewed the ups and downs of Indy sports in 2006.

Here's a look at what might transpire this year.

I hope the Indianapolis Colts make it to the Super Bowl. I want to see this not so much for the city and Colts fans-although it would be great for both-but because I want to see Colts coach Tony Dungy recognized for the fine man he is without that "can't win the big one" asterisk (same goes for quarterback Peyton Manning, of course). But the reality will be an AFC playoff defeat and another loss of all perspective that the Colts are one of the league's most successful franchises, not one of its biggest failures.

In April, Bill Polian will use the Colts' first pick to draft a wide receiver.

Indianapolis will bid for and be rewarded with the 2011 Super Bowl. Indy will be chosen over Dallas for the simple reason that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has succeeded in ticking off so many of the smaller-market owners with his repeated calls to limit revenue sharing.

And while I'm on the Super Bowl subject, it boils my behind when I see someone complaining about the misplaced priorities of the business leaders who will come up with the $20 million to secure the bid. I think-I know --that those people are far and away among the most charitable persons in Indianapolis, giving millions to support the needs of the poor and underserved in our community. But they also see a $20 million investment that can net a $300 million return for Indianapolis.

The Indiana Pacers will continue to be much what we've seen so far this season: a fair to middlin' team with little chance of advancing deep into the NBA playoffs. Look for Donnie Walsh to retire-not something I'm hoping for-and for Rick Carlisle to move into the front office as Larry Bird's Number Two. Who, then, succeeds Carlisle? Perhaps current assistant and ex-Pacer Johnny Davis, or former Pacer and current Timberwolves assistant Randy Wittman. At some point, Bird will be forced to deal Stephen Jackson because, as long as Jackson is here, the Pacers cannot erase the stains from the Motown Throwdown or the Club Rio fiasco.

Purdue University football coach Joe Tiller, who once told me he believed he had won enough at Purdue to determine his own exit strategy, might have that theory challenged. With the University of Michigan and Ohio State University back, the Boilermakers will be unable to hide behind a soft schedule. Once upon a time, I was sure defensive coordinator Brock Spack would be Tiller's successor. But unless Purdue's young defense grows up in a hurry, both Spack and Tiller may be jobhunting at season's end.

Down at Indiana University, the opposite is true. Michigan and Ohio State are off the schedule and the Hoosiers should end their bowless ways by winning at least eight games ... provided, God willing, coach Terry Hoeppner can stay away from surgeons.

Butler University will become this year's NCAA feel-good Cinderella story, advancing to the Elite Eight for the simple reason that it has one of the best backcourt tandems in the nation and a cohesiveness that makes the Bulldogs tough to play against. And Todd Lickliter won't take the money and run off to a bigger-name school, a la Thad Matta, who first professed his undying love for Butler the week before he went to Xavier, then professed his undying love for Xavier University the week before he went to Ohio State.

Speaking of Matta and Ohio State, the Thad Five will neither win the Big Ten (Wisconsin will) nor make it to the Final Four. And those frustrations will cause Greg Oden to bypass the lure of millions and stay with the Buckeyes one more year.

Neither Indiana nor Purdue will contend for the Big Ten championship, but both will make the NCAA tournament field with seeds in the six to eight range and perhaps win a game ... or two. But next November, both the Hoosiers and Boilermakers will be primed to return to national prominence.

Danica Patrick, now with Andretti-Green Racing, will finally win her first race, but it won't be Indy. Instead, the newest face on the Borg-Warner Trophy will be that of Vitor Meira from Panther Racing.

Formula One and the Speedway will announce a long-term deal to keep the U.S. Grand Prix here.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will "get the call" and win the Brickyard 400.

One more thing. I was just kidding when I said Bill Polian will draft a wide receiver. He'll take a tight end, instead.



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.To comment on this column,go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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