Purdue's future filled with uncertainty

The season is over, ending in a 56-36 loss to Indiana and the Old Oaken Bucket being handed to the Hoosiers. So how does Purdue rise up from rock bottom?

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Mercifully, it's over. The season from hell has finally come to an end.

One win. Eleven losses. So many questions.

Who shoulders the blame? How did the talent level drop so far? Can these coaches turn the program around? Arguably the worst season in Big Ten history will leave Darrell Hazell wondering how this happened.

"We'll look at everything and see exactly why," Hazell said after Purdue's 56-36 loss to rival Indiana. "I don't want to make a comment now."

Hazell hits the road at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning to begin recruiting in a two-week window. He'll have plenty of time to ponder where Purdue goes from here. Frankly, it can't fall any farther.

Everything needs to be evaluated with the Purdue program—the coaches, the players, the recruiting, the direction. A 1-11 season, one so brutal like this, should never happen.

The coaching staff came to West Lafayette with so much promise. Yet, could they have realized year one would be this bad? It's a long road to the top.

"We've got the right coaches here, I firmly believe that," said freshman quarterback Danny Etling, one of the Boilermakers' bright spots from Saturday.

Perhaps Etling's progress can be considered a small victory in this rebuilding season. His final game of the freshman campaign brought a 485-yard, four-touchdown performance. That debut against Northern Illinois seems like a long time ago, now. He's just one of several freshmen who made great improvements under adverse circumstances and a daunting task.

However, the overall product—top to bottom, all through the roster—regressed in a rebuilding season.

"We've got needs at every position," said Hazell.

So, let's go back to the key questions. Do the coaches deserve the blame for a lack of team growth, or did Danny Hope really leave Darrell Hazell with such little talent?

In the postgame press conference, the short-spoken Hazell extended his words when speaking of the Boilermakers' future. He defended the "great product" of Purdue football, all while suggesting he'll stick to the plan in place. Even through great struggles, Hazell's confidence never wavered.

"Absolutely not," he explained. "Not even a little bit."

The only thing stable about the Purdue program is its head coach's poise. He genuinely believes in himself and the future of his Boilermakers.

When Hazell travels the recruiting trails and visits with the potential future of Purdue, he has to sell a program that fell from a promising place to rock bottom. The prospective Boilermaker will want to know how this happened and why it will change.

Those questions are hard to answer after the season from hell.

EXTRA POINTS

-- Purdue showed plenty of fight in its final game, cutting a 40-point deficit in half. Danny Etling had his best performance yet, utilizing his slew of receivers. Freshman Deangelo Yancey finished with a game-high 11 catches, while Danny Anthrop posted a game-high 151 yards.

-- Indiana had two three rushers over 100 yards, led by quarterback Tre Roberson's 154 yards. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Purdue finished with just 31 yards.

-- Safety Landon Feichter was ejected for a targeting penalty, and will miss the first half of Purdue's 2014 season-opener against Western Michigan.

-- Junior tight end Justin Sinz, who added nine catches for 87 yards and a touchdown, vowed to be a part of a stronger work ethic this offseason. "There's absolutely no room for complacency," said Sinz. "If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. That should be our mindset."

-- What will Darrell Hazell offer to recruits: "Purdue is a great product," he said. "What makes it a great product are the people that have been here, the people that are here right now."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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