Darrell Hazell was hired as the new head coach, previously coaching Kent State to an undefeated season in their conference and 11-3 overall record in the Mid-American Conference after years of below average play. Coach Hazell has brought three coaches with him from Kent State: defensive backs Coach Jon Heacock, linebackers Coach Marcus Freeman, and running backs Coach Jafar Williams.
The Boilermakers have 48 previous letter winners returning and 22 leaving this season, 22 of the returners on offense, 21 on defense, and five on special teams. Of those letter winners, 14 returning started last year, while nine left. Quarterback Robert Marvre headlines the six offensive starters not returning to the team for the 2013 season, while they only lost three defensive players to graduation and the draft. They lost no special teams players from the previous year.
With Danny Hope, the Boilermakers employed a system in which they rotated quarterbacks. Coach Hazell and new offensive coordinator John Shoop do not plan on doing the same thing, which leaves four quarterbacks with a chance at the official starting spot. Senior Rob Henry started seven games during the 2012 season, but faces questions about the strength of his arm, especially playing in the Big Ten. He has been the starter so far during spring games and is more of a running QB.
Austin Appleby was a redshirt freshman last year and was seen by many as the top candidate for the position, but he floundered in the spring game, going 6-18 with two turnovers. Danny Etling and Bilal Marshall are the other two candidates for the position, Etling a freshman recruit this year and Marshall a 2012 recruit. Etling has impressed as a pocket QB during spring games and has as good a chance as Henry and Appleby of starting.
Junior running back Akeem Hunt figures to be the starter on the ground for the Boilermakers and they'll look to give him the ball quite a bit against the Bearcats, considering their quarterback situation. Brandon Cottom will probably get the second most looks. He is a big, imposing RB who will be looking for minutes after having to scrap for them under Coach Hope. He didn't play during the spring scrimmage. Dalyn Dawkins, Keyante Green, and David Yancey all have a chance to play quite a bit at running back as well.
The Boilermakers are in a bit of a conundrum when it comes to receivers with their leading WR of last year, Antavian Edison, having graduated and their next best guy still on the team, O.J. Ross, being suspended from the team. Gary Bush, who had 41 receptions last year, will thus be the only starter returning to play against Cincinnati along with a crop of young players who for the most part haven't caught a pass in an NCAA game yet. Senior tight end Gabe Holmes should help pick up some of the slack in Hazell's new system.
Bearcats fans should look forward to facing an experienced offensive line, with nine players in total returning from previous years, four of them returning starters. Whether they'll be any good is still in the air, considering the turnovers in their spring game.
They bring back three starting defensive linemen in Bruce Gaston, Ryan Isaac, and Ryan Russell. Losing Kawann Short is huge for Purdue and they may not be able to get the same type of production to match what the All-Big Ten tackle produced last year on the line. Their secondary is much healthier though, with Ricardo Allen, Landon Fiechter, and Frankie Williams returning to lead an experienced part of the team. New transfer cornerback from Indiana, Landau Lang led all defenders in the spring game with seven tackles.
In the Spring Game the black team won 14-0 against the Gold team, scoring both points in the first half. The game was lackluster offensively, with Etling and Henry splitting QB duties on the black team and Appleby having it all to himself on the gold. Offense was pretty lousy on both sides though, as kickers missed field goals, turnovers were a-plenty, and both teams had trouble putting points on the scoreboard. That could imply a much better defense as well. Their defensive line actually looks pretty fantastic, even without Short, and their linebackers played well. If the game is any indication, they'll look to make it a defensive battle against the bearcats as they struggle to score points.