A 5-7 campaign and a .500 mark in the Big Ten was a successful season for Purdue, especially when one considers that all seven losses were to bowl eligible teams, including a 38-36 setback to Rose Bowl bound Oregon, but the last six weeks showed that ‘hope' is on the horizon.
Purdue rallied to win four of its final six games, falling a victory short of bowl eligibility, but that run was started by a 26-18 win over Ohio State, giving Purdue its first victory since 2004 over a team from a BCS conference that finished with a winning record. It didn't matter that the victory was Purdue's only victory over a team that went to a bowl game. Combine that win with the fact the Boilers won at Michigan for the first time since 1966 and some confidence has come back to a program looking to restore some tradition.
Although both sides of the ball have some gaps that need to be filled, the offense and the defense both have solid athletes to build around. Offensively, Purdue will lean on transfer quarterback Robert Marve to lead the offense. Marve, who transferred from Miami (Ohio) and needed the year to recover from an ACL injury, has excited his coaches and his teammates with his abilities.
"I think, the most talented quarterback I've been around from a total package standpoint," Hope said at Media Day. "He runs fast and has outstanding arm strength. He has the ability to beat you with his arm or beat you with his legs, which can allow him to do some damage outside the pocket."
It Marve doesn't want to do damage with his legs, he can unleash a throw to senior wide receiver Keith Smith. Catching 91 passes for 1,100 yards and six touchdowns, Smith will be one of the top wide receivers in the Big Ten next season. The Boilermakers will need it, too, seeing as their run game is in a state of disarray.
Running back Ralph Bolden ran for 935 yards last season and averaged 4.7 yards per carry his sophomore season, but he tore the ACL in his right knee in March. Having just had surgery in May, his availability for the beginning of the season is up in the air. Sophomore RB Al-Terek McBurse, a talented prospect, is expected to start behind an offensive line that returns left tackle Dennis Kelly and right guard Ken Plue, but has three new starters to break in.
The defense returns six of its front seven starters, and none is more important than senior defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. Signaled by his peers as one of the top returning lineman in the conference next to Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, Kerrigan finished the season with 66 tackles, including a mind-blowing 13 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. Combine that with linebackers Joe Holland (top returning tackler with 81) and Jason Werner (14.5 TFLs), Purdue will be a hard team to run on.
The defense's problem right now is the secondary, which needs to replace all four starters from a unit that struggled to generate turnovers. The Boilermakers finished minus-5 in turnover ratio (89th nationally) and need to get a group that can compliment their front seven.
Purdue won't challenge for the conference title this year, especially with the Boilermakers heading to Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State. The Boilermakers do dodge Iowa and Penn State this season and have winnable home games against Western Michigan, Ball State and Toledo. Purdue has the tools to be bowl eligible this season, but last year's game at Wisconsin showed that more work needs to be done.
If you go
Date/Time - Saturday, November 6 at TBA
Arena – Ross Aide Stadium, West Lafayette
Series – Wisconsin leads 39-29-8
Last Meeting – Wisconsin beat Purdue, 37-0, October 31, 2009 in Madison
Early Prediction - Wisconsin 35, Purdue 24