STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 15: Caleb TerBush #19 of the Purdue Boilermakers hands the ball off to Akeem Shavers #24 against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the game on October 15, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
During the lead up to 2011, I was very high on Purdue. Things didn't turn out quite as well as I expected, but the Boilers could be back for another round of "should" in 2012.
The visit to Happy Valley last season came down to very tangible mistakes by Purdue, mistakes that cost the game. In a five-point loss, Purdue missed one field goal and two extra points. There are your five points.
Purdue is one of those teams that could never reach that elite status, despite having some of the biggest names in Big Ten football. It's the reason the Boilermakers can have two completely opposite nicknames at the same time--"Spoilermakers," because they can beat almost any team on any given Saturday; and "Purdon't," because every time the prize is there to be won, the Boilers always seem to blow it.
Which nickname will fit this year's Purdue squad? Let's find out...The Past Few Seasons...
When Joe Tiller retired, Purdue was in search of not only a quality head coach, but a quality mustache. Hello, Danny Hope. The Hope tenure started off rocky. However, in his first season with Purdue, the Boilermakers shocked the Big Ten world by upsetting then No. 7 Ohio State in West Lafayette. Purdue was a lowly 1-5, but rose to the occasion, spoiling what could have ended as a special season for Ohio State. Hope's squad ended 2009 on a 4-2 run, nearly reaching bowl eligibility at 5-7.
The following two seasons went from bad to not so bad. 2010 was a season so mired in injuries, it made Iowa's AIRBHG look kind and gentle. Starters RB Ralph Bolden, QB Robert Marve, and WR Keith Smith were all lost at different times for the remainder of the year. After starting 4-2, Marve was the final one of the Big 3 to go down, and Purdue finished 0-6. Last year, Purdue never quite got into a rhythm, alternating wins and losses for nearly the entire season. Losses to Rice and Penn State were games the Boilermakers should have been able to pull out, while wins over Middle Tennessee and Ohio State were probably lucky ones for Purdue. But there was a bowl game at the end of the tunnel, as Purdue beat Western Michigan to finish 7-6.
I thought last year was supposed to be "the year" for Purdue, with nine returning on defense and enough on offense to make this team dangerous. It didn't quite end up being "the" anything except The Little Caesar's Bowl. Still, Ralph Bolden returns as the likely lead back, provided he can return to normal after two ACL tears. With him will be the bowl MVP, Akeem Shavers. Combine them with mobile QBs Marve, Rob Henry, and likely starter Caleb Ter'bush, and Purdue might break into the upper ranks of Big Ten rushing attacks. Running behind an experienced offensive line, led by guard Peters Dray, will help both the rushing game and what should be an improved passing game.
The defense doesn't return the same number of starters, and lacks some depth, but has the top-level talent in the starting lineup needed to help this team win on this side of the ball. Kawann Short turned down the NFL to return this year as leader of the defensive front, which also features Bruce Gaston and Ryan Russell. In the back seven, Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson anchor both sides of the pass defense. Purdue might actually win a game or two on the back of this year's defense.
Schedule-wise, Purdue has the opportunity to match last year's win total, but it could be tough. The early-season date with Notre Dame isn't getting any easier. And leading off the Big Ten slate with Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State won't make things easier. There's a chance, if the Boilers can make it through the first two thirds of the season, that the final stretch of Minnesota, Penn State, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana will get them to bowl eligibility.
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