By Adam Hoge-
While Big Ten training camps are underway, Adam Hoge will devote an entire day to each of the 12 teams in the conference. He will include a preview on each team, plus news, notes and analysis on Twitter. He will also take your questions on Twitter and 670TheScore.com. Follow him at @AdamHogeCBS.
(CBS) Danny Hope’s first couple of seasons after taking over for Joe Tiller didn’t go so well. With a combined 9-15 record, Hope entered 2011 on the hot seat and his team responded by making a bowl game for the first time since 2007.
Some of the blame for Purdue’s recent struggles should be placed on Hope, but he’s also had a ton of bad luck. Torn ACLs have spread around Purdue University like the common cold — and not just in football (see: Robbie Hummel) — and it has had a devastating impact on the football team.
Hope finally has a healthy team (knock on wood) and the Boilermakers appear poised to have their most successful season since 2007 when they won eight games.
Here’s a look at their chances:
1. DT Kawann Short (Sr.) – Arguably the best defensive tackle in the Big Ten, Short had 6.5 sacks and 10.5 TFLs last year.
2. CB Ricardo Allen (Jr.) – Allen is among the best corners in the country and had three interceptions in 2011.
3. WR Antavian Edison (Sr.) – In a conference void of elite wide receivers, Edison could emerge as a first-team All-Big Ten performer.
4. LB Dwayne Beckford (Sr.) – Beckford is the rock in a solid linebacking group.
5. LB Will Lucas (Jr.) – Lucas is a playmaker behind the defensive line. Had nine TFLs last season.
Is there enough depth at running back?
A big reason why I think the Boilermakers will surprise people this season is because most of their well-known skill players don’t even show up on my top returnees list. Running back Ralph Bolden is a good player, but he’s coming off his third ACL tear and may not factor into the equation right away. Purdue lost a lot of depth at running back with transfers and dismissals, but Akeem Shavers should be able to hold down the fort until Bolden is fully ready to go. The backfield is a concern, but I still think there is enough to get by because Purdue’s offensive line is pretty good.
Who will start at quarterback?
After devastating injuries at quarterback the last two seasons, Purdue finally has Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry all healthy at the same time. They all have a good amount of experience and will be able to get the ball to a talented group of wide receivers and tight end.
It appears TerBush is the leader in the clubhouse to start, but Marve probably has the best arm. The mobile Henry will likely be used in a way to alleviate some of the running back concerns. Between the three of them, quarterback finally appears to be a strength at Purdue again.
Where does Purdue’s defense stack up in the Big Ten?
If you’ve been reading this series, you’re probably starting to notice a common theme: good defenses. Five of the six teams in the Leaders Division have really good defenses and four of them (Illinois, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue) have outstanding defensive lines.
The Boilermakers have one of larger groups of playmakers though. Short, Beckford, Allen and Lucas are all capable of making game-changing plays, as is cornerback Josh Johnson and defensive tackle Bruce Gaston. Purdue’s problem on defense, however, is putting it all together and playing as a consistent unit that doesn’t make mistakes and give up big plays. The Boilers will be replacing both starting safeties, but overall, this is a veteran unit that should perform better in 2012.
Purdue has a favorable schedule overall, but it starts with three really tough games in the Big Ten season (vs Michigan, vs Wisconsin, at Ohio State). The Boilermakers miss Michigan State and Nebraska again, while road trips to Notre Dame, Iowa and Illinois won’t be easy, but winnable.
The quarterbacks stay healthy, Bolden proves he’s still healthy enough to run effectively and a defensive group of playmakers comes together and takes a huge step forward. Purdue plays particularly well at home and pulls off a huge upset against Michigan to start the Big Ten season. More importantly, it wins the most important game on its schedule: Wisconsin, Oct. 13. The Boilermakers are flying high after a 2-1 Big Ten start and go 4-1 the rest of the way. With a 6-2 conference record, Purdue makes it to the Big Ten Championship Game because they hold the tiebreaker over the Badgers.
Without a reliable running game, Purdue’s offense becomes one-dimensional and the quarterbacks start making mistakes in a conference full of good defensive lines. The Boilermakers get off to a 0-3 start in conference play and even though the schedule softens up the rest of the way, it’s too much to overcome. Purdue finishes with a 5-7 record and must decide whether or not to fire Danny Hope.
Check out Adam’s final verdict on the Boilermakers when his Big Ten preview concludes later this month. Up next in the series are the Wisconsin Badgers. Tweet your questions to Adam at @AdamHogeCBS.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.