2012 record: 6-7 (4-4 Big Ten); lost Heart of Dallas Bowl 58-14 to Oklahoma State
Returning offensive starters (6): WR Gary Bush, TE Gabe Holmes, G/T Justin Kitchens, T Trevor Foy, T Kevin Pamphile, G/C Robert Kugler
Projected starting offense: QB Rob Henry, sr., 6-2, 200; RB Akeem Hunt, jr., 5-9, 185; FB/TE Brandon Cottom, jr., 6-4, 260; WR Dolapo Macarthy, jr., 6-5, 220; WR Gary Bush, sr., 6-0, 185; TE Gabe Holmes, sr., 6-5, 250; T Kevin Pamphile, sr., 6-5, 300; T Trevor Foy, sr., 6-7, 300; G Justin Kitchens, sr., 6-4, 295; C Robert Kugler, so., 6-3, 280
Returning defensive starters (9): DE Ryan Russell, DE Ryan Isaac, DT Bruce Gaston, LB Joe Gilliam, LB Will Lucas, LB Sean Robinson, CB Ricardo Allen, S Landon Feichter, S Taylor Richards
Projected starting defense: DE Ryan Russell, jr., 6-5, 275; DT Bruce Gaston, sr., 6-2, 300; DT Brandon Taylor, sr., 6-1, 295; DE Jalani Phillips, jr., 6-4, 260; LB Will Lucas, sr., 6-0, 230; LB Joe Gilliam, jr., 6-1, 227; LB Sean Robinson, sr., 6-3, 240; CB Ricardo Allen, sr., 5-9, 190; CB Frankie Williams, so, 5-9 196; S Landon Feichter, jr., 6-0, 190 S Taylor Richards, jr., 5-10, 192
Return specialists: (3): K Paul Griggs, so., 6-1, 200; K Sam McCartney, so., 6-4, 215; P Cody Webster, sr., 6-1, 210
Key losses: DT Kawann Short, LB Robert Maci, CB Josh Johnson; QB Robert Marve, QB Caleb Terbush, WR Antavian Edison, WR O.J. Ross, RB Akeem Shavers
Key additions: QB Danny Etling, 6-3; 218; TE Matt Burke, 6-6, 220; TB Keyante Green, 5-9, 205; WR Dan Montersoso, 6-3, 185; TB Dalyn Dawkins, 5-9, 175
2012 review: With nine starters returning on both sides of the ball, Purdue had the perfect opportunity last year to elevate the program’s profile. Instead, the Boilermakers fizzled in its most important games. If their season was a movie, it was a football version of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
The ugly portion came against top-notch teams. The Boilermakers lost on a last-second field goal to national runner-up Notre Dame early in the season. In mid-October, Purdue boasted a 22-14 lead with 47 seconds left, then allowed unbeaten Ohio State to go the length of the field to score a touchdown, tie the game on a 2-point conversion and lose in overtime. Both games were on the road.
Purdue showed its bad side against Michigan (44-13) and Wisconsin (38-14), allowing a combined 771 rushing yards in those two losses. The Boilermakers gave up nearly 400 rushing yards combined in losses to Minnesota (44-28) and Penn State (34-9), all but sealing Danny Hope’s coaching fate.
But the good rallied late for Purdue, which beat the Big Ten’s three worst teams. Purdue knocked off Iowa 27-24 on the game’s final play, and stopped Big Ten-winless Illinois 20-17. The Boilermakers retained the Old Oaken Bucket and clinched a bowl berth in a 56-35 win against Indiana.
But the bad and ugly both returned for the bowl game against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys crushed Purdue in every way possible (524 yards) as part of a 58-14 beatdown. It was the biggest mismatch of the bowl season.
Despite a three-game winning streak, Hope was fired shortly after the regular season. Former Ohio State assistant and Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell takes over for Hope.
2013 schedule: A31 at Cincinnati; S7 Indiana State; S14 Notre Dame; S21 at Wisconsin; S28 Northern Illinois; O12 Nebraska; O19 at Michigan State; N2 at Ohio State; N9 Iowa; N16 at Penn State; N23 Illinois; N30 Indiana
Key stretch: It’s a cop-out, but I’ll say everything. Purdue loses significant players from last year’s team and faces one of the Big Ten’s toughest schedules. In non-conference play, Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Northern Illinois were a combined 34-6 last year. The cross-divisional slate wasn’t exactly a gift with Nebraska and Michigan State, and Iowa beat the Boilermakers by double digits in West Lafayette two years ago.
Trap game: Illinois. Purdue won’t be able to take any game from granted, but the Illini’s recent woes coupled with Purdue’s back-to-back series wins could give the Boilermakers room to pause. It’s the week before Purdue’s annual encounter with Indiana, and it’s senior day. It’s possible Illinois could have a 20-game Big Ten losing streak, and the prospects of finally winning a league game plus a trophy could give the Fighting Illini a lift in their 90-minute bus ride to Lafayette.
Glass half-full: Purdue has a chance at a good defense. The Boilermakers return nine starters, and a few rank among the league’s best. Defensive tackle Bruce Gaston had 5.5 tackles for loss last year. Cornerback Ricardo Allen has four career pick-6s, a Purdue record. Both Allen and Josh Johnson were named second-team all-Big Ten last year. Safety Landon Feichter was the team’s leading tackler and picked off four passes a year ago. Linebacker Will Lucas was second in tackles and added 6.5 tackles for loss. The defense will be needed to compensate for a new and inexperienced offense, especially early on against Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.
Glass half-empty: Purdue has featured plenty of quarterbacks in recent years, but none of them developed into solid and consistent starters. Rob Henry will get another shot, two years after tearing an ACL that negated his first-team status. New coach Darrell Hazell has an open mind about quarterback, which could help Henry. Or it could hurt him, if freshman Danny Etling shows even a modicum more potential in training camp. Unlike Hope, who rotated quarterbacks like baseball managers shift pitchers, Hazell plans to stay with one QB.
If the quarterback position fails to stabilize, Purdue won’t be able to fall back on veteran skill position players like in the past. With a difficult schedule, the season could fall apart very quickly for Hazell and Purdue.
The Iowa angle: In the three-year football experiment known as Legends and Leaders, Iowa and Purdue were forced together like the final two partners at a middle school dance. Every other preserved cross-divisional series was either high profile or had a rivalry element to it. Iowa-Purdue did not. It’s mostly a numb existence between the programs. If the Big Ten ever broke up and the schools went their separate ways, neither program likely would shed a tear to lose the other. That was proven in 2011 when Iowa politely declined Purdue’s offer to add a traveling trophy to their football series.
But there is some history between the programs. In 1930, when Iowa was evicted from the Big Ten for one month after an illegal athlete slush fund was discovered, Purdue was the only Big Ten program to schedule the Hawkeyes. This year’s game will be the 84th meeting, the third-most played series for the Hawkeyes. And they will be in the same division beginning in 2014, the West.
This year’s game could have a major bearing on the teams’ bowl chances. Iowa virtually lost its chance last year when the Boilermakers went 37 yards in three plays and kick a game-winning 46-yard field goal at Kinnick Stadium. Purdue’s meat-grinder schedule leaves little room for slip-ups if it wants a third straight bowl bid.
Quotable: “I really like the direction that we’re heading. I think we’re working hard, and we’re understanding how to compete in some tough situations. Obviously there’s a lot of work to be done before we the open up the season against Cincinnati, but the mindsets of our guys, I think we’re starting to understand what it takes to be a better football team.” — Purdue Coach Darrell Hazell
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