Athlon Top-25: #19 Purdue

The top two receivers in the Big Ten last season were Taylor Stubblefield and John Standeford — they combined to catch 152 passes for over 2,000 yards — and both return to action for Purdue this season. Kyle Orton, a prolific passer, and Brandon Kirsch, who averaged a team-high 5.9 yards per carry while also completing 59 percent of his passes, both return at quarterback.

Running backs Joey Harris and Brandon Jones do more than just take pressure off the passing game — they are dangerous weapons in their own right.

The offensive line needs three new starters, but the defensive front four returns intact. The Boilers' top three tacklers — linebackers Niko Koutouvides and Landon Johnson and free safety Stuart Schweigert — and top two pass thieves — Koutouvides and cornerback Jacques Reeves — are all back.

Best of both: Purdue led the Big Ten in both total offense and total defense last season.

2K: The 2002 Boilermakers had a 1,000-yard rusher (Joey Harris) and a 1,000 yard receiver (John Standeford) in the same season for the first time in school history.

Postseason fixtures: Purdue joins Michigan as the only schools in the Big Ten to go to bowl games each of the last six seasons.

2002 results: 7–6 (4–4 Big Ten)

Bowl Game: Beat Washington 34-24 in the Sun Bowl

Returning Starters: 8 offense, 9 defense, both kickers

2003 Schedule:

S. 6 Bowling Green
S. 13 at Wake Forest
S. 20 Arizona
S. 27 Notre Dame
O. 4 Illinois
O. 11 Penn State
O. 18 at Wisconsin
O. 25 at Michigan
N. 1 Northwestern
N. 8 Iowa
N. 15 at Ohio State
N. 22 at Indiana

Schedule Analysis: Purdue should win its first three games relatively easily, paying Wake Forest back for last year's loss. The last five ND-Purdue games have been decided by seven points or less, and it appears this year's game will be, too. In the Big Ten part of the slate, Purdue could run the table at home but will have a difficult time winning more than two on the road since it travels to Ann Arbor and Columbus.

Final Word: If Purdue can cut down on their turnovers (a league-high 34 last year), the Boilers can make a serious run at the Big Ten championship. Purdue has a lot of experience on defense and Joe Tiller's offenses are always explosive. Quarterback Kyle Orton has his top two receivers back, so if his rebuilt line can give him time, look for Purdue to move the football and score some points. The close games that went against Purdue will have to fall the right way in '03 for Purdue to head to the BCS.

To pre-order the 2003 Athlon Sports Big Ten edition, click on the magazine icon below. The Big Ten and National editions are set to hit newsstands June 6.

#19 Purdue

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