CHICAGO — Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short has some lofty expectations, and this year they might have some merit.
The Boilermakers long have been a Big Ten also-ran, capable of upsetting a high-caliber Big Ten foe (Ohio State, twice in three years) but equally capable of losing to a low-major, non-conference opponent (each of last three years). But the bad luck/good luck pendulum might actually swing toward Purdue’s way this year.
Purdue is one of just four teams eligible for the Big Ten’s Leaders Division title with league titans Ohio State and Penn State banned from the postseason. Purdue also returns nine players with starting experience on both sides of the ball, including several playmakers. Three different Purdue quarterbacks have started games in the last two years and all are competing for the starting spot.
“I feel like this is one of the best chances we’ve had since I’ve been here, out of the four years I’ve been here,” said Short, a senior first-team all-league selection last year. “We didn’t have this many stars and returners back like this and healthier guys. I just feel like if we all stay healthy, we’ll be a team to beat this year.”
Last season the Boilermakers earned their first bowl win since 2007 and the 7-6 finish propelled the team into a confident mindset. Purdue plays host to Wisconsin on Oct. 13, which could decide the divisional representative to the Big Ten title game. The game is staged in Indianapolis, about 90 miles from Purdue’s campus.
“Me personally, going from the bowl win and offseason workouts, we’ve got a great chance to reach the championship,” Short said. “Even though those two teams are out, you still have to win and still have to play those guys.”
Senior Caleb TerBush started at quarterback in all 13 Purdue games last year, throwing for 13 TDs and six INTs. TerBush didn’t throw an interception in Purdue’s final four games and he completed nearly 62 percent of his passes. He’s favored to win the position this year, but he’ll be challenged by former starters Robert Marve (a senior who played in 10 games last year) and junior Rob Henry, who didn’t play last season after suffering an ACL tear. Henry started seven games in 2010 and Marve started four before an ACL tear ended his season prematurely.
Purdue Coach Danny Hope said TerBush is his No. 1 quarterback going into the fall, but he’ll use Marve and Henry in specific situations.
“There is a competition at the quarterback position but we have a plan to utilize all three of those guys throughout the course of the season in different facets of our offense,” Hope said.
Purdue also returns its top three rushers from a year ago and three of its top four wide receivers. Ricardo Allen was a second-team all-Big Ten cornerback last year and four different defensive linemen with starting experience come back. Short, who had 6.5 sacks last year, ranks among the Big Ten’s top returnees.
Short is stout at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds. He’s surprisingly agile, too. Short competed on a state title high school basketball team with former Boilermaker basketball star E’Twaun Moore, and Short said basketball helped him with hip movement. When it comes to improvement, Short first mentions more diligent offseason workouts and “I’ve got to have that motor that Ryan Kerrigan has.” Kerrigan, a former Purdue teammate, was a first-round pick of the Washington Redskins.
In the end, it all comes back to the team for Short.
“My individual goals are in line with the team goals,” Short said. “That’s me working hard and being consistent. That’s the No. 1 thing on my list right now, be consistent. That goes to the whole team, feeding off that energy and capable of doing what we need to do and being that team that a lot of people want to talk about.”
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