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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 73: Purdue

Last season’s bowl berth, Purdue’s first since 2007, was a just reward for a year pocked with would-be roadblocks: injuries, most notably, but also the sort of ineffective play that has plagued the program over the last half-decade. For overcoming those wounds — those out of his control and those self-inflicted — Danny Hope was rewarded with a two-year contract extension that runs through the 2016 season. The extension solidifies the future of the program; it’s not a mere token gesture, as adding two years to Hope’s contract sends along the message that he remains in the good graces of the university and its athletic department. But the new deal also comes with a mandate: improve. Sink or swim, as no amount of added years or extra zeroes will withstand further mediocrity, let alone a step back to a bowl-free existence in 2012 and beyond. But that sort of responsibility comes with the territory.

Conference
Big Ten, Leaders

Location
West Lafayette, Ind.

Nickname
Boilermakers

Returning starters
15 (8 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 76

2011 record
(7-6, 4-4)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 61

2012 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    Eastern Kentucky
  • Sept. 8
    at Notre Dame
  • Sept. 15
    Eastern Mich.
  • Sept. 29
    Marshall
  • Oct. 6
    Michigan
  • Oct. 13
    Wisconsin
  • Oct. 20
    at Ohio St.
  • Oct. 27
    at Minnesota
  • Nov. 3
    Penn St.
  • Nov. 10
    at Iowa
  • Nov. 17
    at Illinois
  • Nov. 24
    Indiana

Last year’s prediction

Purdue’s going to win between five and seven games in 2011. The lower number is barring injuries: if the Boilermakers suffer a slew of lost starters once again, all bets are off. The higher number is really as good as it’s going to get, in my opinion, which is why Purdue falls here, not 10 or 15 spots higher. In order for Purdue to go 7-5, you’d have to see major improvement – and far more consistency – from an offense that is still findings its way. This isn’t a terrible team, and it could be a team that surprises some teams if things come together. Still, Purdue has some work to do in order to climb out of the bottom third of the Big Ten.

2011 recap

In a nutshell This wasn’t a good team by any stretch, and that the Boilermakers reached bowl play, though a meaningful milestone, does nothing to offset that fact. One win came over Southeast Missouri State. Another came over Minnesota, another over Indiana and a third over Middle Tennessee State — six combined victories from the threesome. The Boilermakers beat only one B.C.S. conference team that ended the year with a winning record, Illinois, and beat only one team, Western Michigan, that ended the regular season with a winning record. In between, there was a dreadful loss to Rice, an ugly loss to Notre Dame and a record-setting defeat at Wisconsin. There’s a lot of work left to be done.

High point A 26-23 overtime win over Ohio State in November, one that was pushed to overtime after Purdue blocked an extra-point try with less than a minute left. The Boilermakers have now won two straight and three of four over the Buckeyes in West Lafayette.

Low point The worst loss was Rice; Purdue should never, ever lose to a program like Rice. But a 62-17 loss to Wisconsin was the low point, seeing that the defense played the worst 60 minutes in school history.

Tidbit Purdue joins Indiana as the only two Big Ten programs to have allowed at least 25.0 points per game in each of the last seven seasons. The Boilermakers’ high-water mark came in 2008, the program’s last season under Joe Tiller, when the defense allowed 25.1 points per game. Overall, Purdue has allowed an average of 27.2 points per game since the start of the 2005 season — a span of seven years and 87 games.

Tidbit (200-yard edition) Purdue is 11-1 under Hope when rushing for 200 or more yards. The lone blemish came in 2010, when the Boilermakers rushed for 220 yards against Toledo but still lost, 31-20. Purdue was 5-0 in such games last fall, beating Middle Tennessee State, Southeast Missouri State, Minnesota, Indiana and Western Michigan.

Former players in the N.F.L.

28 WR Royce Adams (New York Jets), TE Kyle Adams (Chicago), DE Cliff Avril (Detroit), DE Ryan Baker (Miami), QB Drew Brees (New Orleans), RB Jared Crank (Arizona), DE Ray Edwards (Atlanta), C Nick Hardwick (San Diego), LB Joe Holland (San Francisco), TE Dustin Keller (New York Jets), OT Dennis Kelly (Philadelphia), LB Ryan Kerrigan (Washington), CB Brandon King (Indianapolis), LB Niko Koutovides (New England), OT Nick Mondek (Houston), DE Mike Neal (Green Bay), LB Rob Ninkovich (New England), OG Uche Nwaneri (Jacksonville), WR Greg Orton (Denver), QB Kyle Orton (Dallas), OT Michael Otto (Tennessee), QB Curtis Painter (Baltimore), LB Shaun Phillips (San Diego), S Bernard Pollard (Baltimore), CB Jacques Reeves (Kansas City), LB Anthony Spencer (Dallas), K Carson Wiggs (Seattle), S Torri Williams (Houston).

Arbitrary top five list

N.F.L. quarterbacks born in Indiana
1. Bob Griese.
2. Jay Cutler.
3. Jeff George.
4. Mike Phipps.
5. Rick Mirer.

Coaching

Danny Hope (Eastern Kentucky ’81), 16-21 after three seasons with Purdue. Hope served a one-year stint as the coach-in-waiting prior to taking over for Joe Tiller prior to the 2009 season. In 2008, while serving his one-year apprenticeship, Hope served as the team’s offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. This is Hope’s second stint with the Boilermakers: he spent five seasons as Tiller’s first offensive line coach (1997-2001), a period that saw Purdue feature its first all-American offensive lineman since 1965 and its first all-conference lineman since 1979. He followed Tiller to Purdue from Wyoming after serving in the same capacity with the Cowboys in 1996. Hope moved to Louisville in 2002 — where he also spent 1985-1994 as an assistant — for a one-year spell as the assistant head coach before being named the head coach at Eastern Kentucky. He spent five years at his alma mater, compiling an impressive 35-22 mark and four top-two finishes in the Ohio Valley Conference. E.K.U.’s best season under Hope was his last, when the team finished 9-3 and atop the conference. The nine wins were the program’s most since 1995, while the conference title was its first since 1997. Hope was named the O.V.C. Coach of the Year for his team’s performance. His head coach experience, when added to his familiarity with the Purdue program, made Hope a solid choice to take over from Tiller. Momentum has stalled a bit, thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, but last winter’s contract extension gave Hope some much-needed job security.

Tidbit (coaching edition) After three years of middling results, Hope made three major changes to his defensive staff. Gone are defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Gary Emanuel, linebackers coach Phil Elmassian – the ultimate coaching vagabond of this generation – and defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo. Emanuel’s replacement at coordinator is Tim Tibesar, who once held the same position at Kansas State before the spending last three years in the C.F.L. with the Montreal Alouettes. In addition to that title, Tibesar will also coach Purdue’s linebackers, with help from holdover Donn Landholm. The new secondary coach is former Arizona State cornerbacks coach Greg Burns, who worked alongside Tibesar in Manhattan in 2007 and was Pete Carroll’s secondary coach at U.S.C. from 2001-5. New defensive line coach Kevin Wolthausen has been around the block: U.S.C., Arizona State, Louisville and Oklahoma, for starters. He spent the last three years as the defensive line coach for the United Football League’s Las Vegas Locomotives.

Players to watch

Paging Dr. Frankenstein. If the technology was available – and this fell under N.C.A.A. regulations, and I’m not sure if it would – Purdue could build an all-Big Ten quarterback out of Robert Marve’s arm, Caleb TerBush’s decision-making and Rob Henry’s legs. As is, the Boilermakers have three potential starting quarterbacks with one strength and more than one weakness. Marve, with his undying faith in every throw both an asset and a liability, remains one of the most enigmatic quarterbacks in college football. TerBush has nice starting experience but is not quite strong enough as a thrower for this offense to run at full capacity. Henry is a run-first threat with a knee issue and huge room for improvement in the passing game.

All signs point to Purdue again going with a rotation at quarterback. But will it be a two-man rotation or will all three quarterbacks earn snaps in this offense? The Boilermakers would be wise to stick with two – but wiser to go with one full-time starter. One reason why the options should be Marve and TerBush: Henry is the only one of the three who can make an impact in other ways. With not much separating the three, Purdue could shift Henry out to receiver and get him in space, perhaps bringing him into shotgun in certain packages. If fully recovered from last year’s knee injury, the former starter can be a difference-maker if used correctly.

That would leave Purdue with Marve, the former Miami (Fla.) transfer, and TerBush, last year’s starter. The pair shared time last fall following Henry’s injury, with TerBush starting every game but Marve serving in a productive role as a change-of-pace option off the bench; he played well against Ohio State and Western Michigan, both times helping lead the Boilermakers to victory. If Marve has recovered from his own past knee ailments and can tone down his aggressiveness to fit in this offense – Hope has been negative about Marve’s tendency to freelance – he might be Purdue’s best option. Both will play; the Boilermakers simply need to decide which of the two gives them the best chance at moving the ball during Big Ten action.

The receiver corps must replace only Justin Siller and Waynelle Gravesande, with Siller, a converted quarterback, the biggest loss. But I feel like Henry’s size and athletic ability could be a nice match for what Siller brought to the table, even if Henry would undergo a steep learning curve if Purdue does opt to shift him out to the position. Another reason why Henry’s a nice fit out wide is that while the Boilermakers have nice depth and experience at receiver, the team could use a bigger, sturdier option.

The top three are set in stone. One will be senior Antavian Edison (44 catches for 584 yards and 3 scores), last year’s leading receiver. A second is junior O.J. Ross (33 for 356), who is back on scholarship after dealing with some academic issues late last season and through the spring. The third starter is junior Gary Bush (29 for 310), who answered the bell during Purdue’s bowl win over Western Michigan. That’s a fairly strong top three; the numbers say otherwise, but Edison is one receiver who would rank among the most productive in the Big Ten if giving more opportunities. Depth comes from a few underclassmen, two of whom deserve a mention: Dolapo Macarthy and Raheem Mostert (108 rushing yards). Mostert is an under-the-radar name who could surprise the Big Ten with a breakout season.

I’m not sure if Purdue is in a position where it can rely on senior running back Ralph Bolden (674 yards), who suffered yet another A.C.L. tear in last November’s win over Indiana – and, it should be noted, was arrested this past April on charges of public intoxication. The good news: Akeem Shavers (519 yards, 6 touchdowns) played so well in Bolden’s stead during the bowl victory, rushing for 149 yards, as to make him the Boilermakers’ lead back regardless of his teammate’s availability.

But Purdue needs greater depth at running back, thereby making Bolden a key figure in the team’s running game. After losing Reggie Pegram over the winter and Doug Gentry earlier this month, Purdue is down to three viable options at the position: Shavers, Bolden and speedy sophomore Akeem Hunt (287 yards, 8.7 yards per carry). That’s enough quality backs to keep the running game afloat if all stay healthy, but that’s a dream scenario. More likely, Purdue is going to need Shavers and Hunt to increase their workload in the early going while Bolden rounds back into game form. As noted earlier, Purdue is a completely different team – a team that can hang with anyone in the Big Ten – when the running game clicks.

With all due respect to the other honorees, that senior nose guard Kawann Short (54 tackles, 17.5 for loss, 6.5 sacks) wasn’t a first-team all-Big Ten pick a year ago was a hair’s breadth away from being highway robbery. Unlike his conference rivals, Short wasn’t the lucky beneficiary of overwhelming support; Shot made plays on his own, by and large, and it’s nightmarish to consider how pitiful Purdue’s defense would have been without him making things happen in the middle of its line.

Short will be an all-American in 2012, which should help overcome for last year’s slight. Perfectly built for handling the load at nose guard, Short compliments his strength with tremendous athleticism – he even made a start at end last fall – and anticipation, helping him finish sixth in the Big Ten in tackles for loss despite receiving an undue amount of attention from opposing offensive linemen. That Short is the focus of attention does put his fellow linemen in the position to make plays, but by and large, the rest of the front four must do a better job taking advantage of these opportunities.

This includes the rest of Purdue’s interior: Bruce Gaston (30 tackles, 7.0 for loss), a returning starter, Brandon Taylor (19 tackles) and Ryan Isaac – all juniors. That all four of the Boilermakers’ top defensive tackles return is a very positive sign. Taylor’s value rises due to the fact that he can play end if called upon, though he’ll likely start at tackle due to Purdue’s depth on the outside. One clear starter, sophomore Ryan Russell (33 tackles, 4.5 for loss), is Purdue’s next star at end – though perhaps not until 2013. The Boilermakers are evaluating several options on the other side, such as senior Robert Maci, sophomore Jalani Phillips – who could also play linebacker – and JUCO transfer Greg Latta. Maci was on pace for a nice 2011 season before suffering a foot injury in early October.

Joe Holland’s worth to this defense went beyond the mere numbers, though he did lead the Boilermakers in tackles as a senior. With Holland gone, taking with him 48 career starts, Purdue is starting anew at outside linebacker. The second level will be rebuilt around senior Dwayne Beckford (91 tackles, 7.0 for loss), who will reclaim his starting role in August after a rocky offseason. He’ll be flanked on the weak side by junior Will Lucas (82 tackles, 10.0 for loss); Lucas is an all-conference candidate heading into 2012, though he’s one linebacker who could stand to get more pressure on the quarterback.

Where Purdue goes at the strong side linebacker spot remains unclear. Phillips is one alternative, though I’d like to see Purdue keep him at end, where he has a bright future. If Tibesar wants size on the strong side he could go with senior Anwton Higgs, a reserve linebacker over the last two years. Other possible contributors include sophomore Joe Gilliam, who started in last year’s game against Penn State, and redshirt freshman Armstead Williams.

Look for Purdue to spend a good amount of time with five defensive backs and two linebackers. This is a good move: Purdue has the depth to add a third cornerback into the mix, and a five-defensive back set would still allow this defense to keep its best two linebackers, Lucas and Beckford, on the field. The nickel package isn’t perfect, and it can be viewed as a liability against the Big Ten’s more run-heavy offenses – Wisconsin and the like. Nevertheless, being able to shift into a five-back package is certainly one way to combat opponents like Ohio State, Minnesota and Illinois, teams that run more wide-open systems.

The Boilermakers return a pair of battle-tested cornerbacks in junior Ricardo Allen (81 tackles, 3 interceptions) and senior Josh Johnson (64 tackles, 2 interceptions). Allen, a second-team all-conference pick as a freshman and sophomore, is the most decorated returning defensive back in the Big Ten. Depth comes from another pair of Florida products, junior Normondo Harris and redshirt freshman Frank Williams; each of Purdue’s top four at the position hail from the Sunshine State. There’s simply too much talent at cornerback for Purdue not to take a step forward against the pass – the key will be in the details, like playing with more consistency. This is doubly true for Allen, who has the ability to be an all-American.

Purdue lost a pair of starters at safety, but returning contributors like senior Max Charlot (41 tackles) and sophomore Landon Feichter (25 tackles) played enough to picture little drop off at the position. While Charlot ended last season as the backup at free safety, he did make three starts at strong safety for Logan Link; this makes him an easy pick as Link’s successor. Feitcher is one of a few options for Tibesar at free safety. The best choice would be sophomore Taylor Richards, who played very well during Purdue’s bowl win – his first real taste of action on the season. Another is Williams, who could be moved over from cornerback.

Mostert is a weapon in the return game. He led the nation in kickoff returns last fall, averaging 33.5 yards per return with one touchdown, and should again rank among the dangerous return men in college football. Purdue also brings back junior punter Cody Webster, who is likely the second-best at his position in the Big Ten, behind Nebraska’s Brett Maher. But the Boilermakers’ overall health on special teams will take huge hit without kicker Carson Wiggs, a major weapon throughout his career. Purdue will hand his tee over to incoming freshman Paul Griggs and hope for the best.

Position battle(s) to watch

Offensive line Unfortunately, springtime injuries hampered Purdue’s efforts at cementing a clear-cut starting five before fall camp. With senior left guard Peters Drey and junior tackle Justin Kitchens out, the Boilermakers’ front was quilted together using projected starters and a few key reserves – but on a positive note, that a few backups landed first-team snaps might have a nice impact on overall depth come September. Where the Boilermakers look weak heading into 2012 is at left tackle, where the offense must replace all-Big Ten pick Dennis Kelly, and at right guard, where Nick Mondek held down the fort as a junior and senior.

It’ll be interesting to see how Purdue fills the void on the blind side. One option would be to move junior Trevor Foy out from right tackle; the same can be said for Kitchens, once he returns to full health. Another option would be to keep Foy on the right side, where he’s close to turning a corner, and giving linemen like Kevin Pamphile and Jack De Boef a shot at filling Kelly’s shoes. In a perfect world, a promising lineman like De Boef or JUCO transfer Devin Smith can protect the blind side; this would allow Purdue to keep Foy at right tackle while Kitchens serves as a swing reserve on both sides.

When healthy – and Purdue is baking on him being available come August – Drey will resume his duties at left guard. He missed the final five games of last season with a back injury. With Drey at left guard and senior Rick Schmeig back at center, all the Boilermakers need to do is find a steady replacement for Mondek on the right side. While Smith has the frame to start on the blind side, he will get a look inside at guard, where he could be a mauler in the running game. One of the nice things about this relatively new-look front is the flexibility several linemen bring to the table. Like Smith, Pamphile could swing inside; Foy can play both tackle spots; and several redshirt freshmen and sophomores are young enough to be moved along the line to increase depth.

Game(s) to watch

Notre Dame isn’t a must-win, but consider the difference between 4-0 and 3-1 in September. The first leaves Purdue as a 100 percent lock for bowl play; the latter puts the Boilermakers on the fence, especially with another tough Big Ten slate ahead. This scenario assumes that Purdue will beat Marshall, and based on how this program has played against non-B.C.S. conference teams recently, that’s probably not a safe assumption. The two must-have games during Big Ten play are Minnesota and Indiana, as you’d expect, with any hopes of improving upon last season’s win total hinging on how Purdue fares in road games against Iowa and Illinois.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell The conference schedule will prevent Purdue from matching last season’s four-win total during Big Ten play. In addition to road games against Ohio State, Iowa and rejuvenated Illinois, the Boilermakers welcome Michigan and Wisconsin to West Lafayette – and, to a lesser degree, Penn State. It’s not a conference slate entirely conducive to a strong finish. On paper, this is one key factor stymieing Purdue’s hopes at building upon last season’s record. But there are other issues at play here, such as continued question marks surrounding the quarterback position and concerns regarding the overall welfare of a defense breaking in a new coordinator. As for the former issue: Purdue simply needs more explosiveness in the passing game. That’s one reason why Marve might be the better option under center, but can the former transfer unlearn all of his old tricks? Say one thing for TerBush: he did avoid turnovers. One thing that this offense cannot afford to do is turn the ball over at an increased rate; the offense needs to not only protect the football for its own sake but also for the sake of this defense, which might improve under Tibesar but cannot afford to be left hanging out to dry.

So what is Purdue, anyway? Is this a program that expects national rankings and a push for the Rose Bowl – old Purdue – or this a program that accepts and rewards a pedestrian level of success? This year’s team does not seem drastically improved upon last year’s version, unless you believe that the Boilermakers will get more at quarterback and from those members of the front seven other than Short; when you add in the idea that Purdue will encounter tougher sledding in the Big Ten you’re left wondering if this team can match last year’s mark, let alone take another step forward. This team just strikes me as decidedly average. Purdue should win three games during conference play, but two of those will come against Minnesota and Indiana – these are not wins to hang your hat on. Barring the unforeseeable, Purdue’s mediocrity will live on for another year.

Dream season The defense takes a substantial leap under Tibesar, helping the Boilermakers upset Notre Dame in September and knock off Michigan in early October. While Purdue falls short of a Leaders division title, it does finish in sole possession of second place and in a January bowl.

Nightmare season A 2-2 mark in non-conference play – Notre Dame and Marshall the losses – precedes a 1-7 Big Ten season, with the lone win coming in overtime against Indiana.

In case you were wondering

Where do Purdue fans congregate? For recruiting, fans meet at Gold & Black Illustrated and Boiler Sports Report. For blogs, check out Hammer and Rail and Boiled Sports. For another take, take a trip to Jumbo Heroes. Further coverage can be found at the Web site of the Lafayette Journal and Courier.

Purdue’s all-name nominee OT Jack De Boef.

Word Count

Through 52 teams 197,536.

Up Next

Who is No. 72? Past head coaches at tomorrow’s program share their last names with the following products or people: an agricultural corporation, a 1980s talk-show host, an indispensable component of your printer, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, a famed author of children’s books and an actress who won a Golden Globe in 1957.

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Comments

  1. Charlie says:

    Stanford?

    Super Bowl-winning quarterback: Elway (or Warner)
    Golden Globe-winning actress: Kerr

    #72 would seem like quite an early exit for Stanford, however.

  2. David says:

    Dole, Donahue, Toner, Knowles, Brady, Ingalls, Mansfield = Connecticut

  3. M Meyer says:

    I thought for sure that Purdue’s dream season would include a win over protected cross-divisional rival, Iowa.

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