This is a big season for Purdue football. The Boilermakers have hired a new coach, Darrell Hazell, and are trying to reassert themselves as serious threats in the Big 10 conference.
In short, they are looking at a complete makeover for the 2013 season.
Here are five storylines (and a few that just missed the cut) to follow as Purdue makes that journey.
Akeem Hunt looks to be one of the biggest benefactors of Darrell Hazell's arrival at Purdue.
How good will Ricardo Allen be?
Senior cornerback Ricardo Allen has been saying he is one of the nation’s best at his position for the past couple of years. He’s been a good cornerback, but can he back up his words by becoming elite this year?
Can they reach another bowl game?
Purdue reached back-to-back bowl games for the first time in five years. Will the Boilermakers make it back-to-back-to-back this season, or will they take a step backwards?
How will Akeem Hunt fare this season?
At Kent State last year, Hazell had two running backs break the 1,000-yard mark. Purdue didn’t have one. Junior running back Akeem Hunt will try to change that when he takes over as the lead back this season.
Darrell Hazell wants Purdue to become "one of the big guys."
The Purdue Boilermakers have only been to the Rose Bowl twice in their existence and haven’t sniffed the roses since 2001, when Drew Brees was still under center.
Thirteen years is a long time to wait, and Hazell is looking to bring Purdue football to the top.
And he believes that starts with bringing an entirely different state of mind to the program.
“Winning is expected—you have to cultivate that culture,” Hazell said according to JCOnline.com.
To him, that culture wasn’t here when he was hired last year because Purdue football had been in the middle for so long.
"I think the biggest thing is Purdue's always been a team that's been perceived in the middle,” Hazell said on SiriusXM College Sports Nation (via CoachingSearch.com). “That's what I want those guys to understand, how people perceive you on the outside world. We've got to do a lot of work to climb out of the middle. That's our No. 1 goal.”
It’ll be interesting to see if the Purdue players will grasp onto this mindset this coming year or if it will take longer to change the perception of Purdue football.
Gary Bush is the Boilermakers' top returning receiver this season.
O.J. Ross was expected to be a major factor this year, his would-have-been senior season. That dream’s long gone after getting suspended in February and entering July’s NFL supplemental draft (where he went undrafted).
That left Gary Bush as the top wideout on the roster, who had 360 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2012.
The real question, though, is who will step up after Bush?
Raheem Mostert, a speedster who led the nation in kickoff return average (33.5) in 2011, was an obvious choice, but he has officially moved into the backfield.
Junior Dolapo Macarthy has impressed offensive coordinator John Shoop and looks to be in line to make a big impact this season.
“There’s a guy that, anytime you walk in that office in the summer, he was in there studying,” Shoop said, according to Jackson Brunner of the Purdue Exponent. “It’s going to pay dividends for him.”
Several other receivers are in the hunt for playing time, including redshirt freshman Cameron Posey, but experience is severely lacking with this group.
It's hard to tell at this point whether receiver will be a strength or weakness for the Boilermakers.
Ohio State is only one of many tough matchups that Purdue will have this season.
Purdue has the fourth-toughest strength of schedule, according to Phil Steele of the Orlando Sentinel.
And it’s easy to see why.
The Boilermakers play three 2012 BCS teams (Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois), an undefeated team in Ohio State that would have been a BCS team had it been eligible, and both Nebraska and Cincinnati, teams that were a combined 21-6 last year.
There is good news about their schedule, however.
They get Notre Dame, Northern Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State at home. Purdue can also take comfort in the fact that it nearly escaped with wins against Notre Dame and Ohio State last year, showing that it can compete with the big boys.
This softens the blow a bit, but it doesn’t change the reality of the situation. Purdue is going to have it rough this season.
Senior Rob Henry seems to have the best shot at the starting quarterback job, but the battle is still wide open.
Purdue is known as “The Cradle of Quarterbacks” because of the great quarterbacks it has produced in the past. From Bob Griese to Drew Brees, the Boilermakers have been consistent in bringing in and developing top-notch quarterbacks.
This has changed in recent years, though.
Former coach Danny Hope was notorious for switching quarterbacks—depending on the situation—over the past few years. Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry all battled each other during the last part of Hope’s tenure, and none of them grabbed a tight grip on the position.
With Hazell in tow, it seems to be up to the players now to perform and buck this trend.
Senior Rob Henry, redshirt freshman Austin Appleby and true freshman Danny Etling are all battling for the starting position.
Appleby seemed to be on the outside looking in from the beginning, but Hazell still hasn’t made that distinction. Henry has gotten the most first-team snaps, but Appleby has been working with both the first and second teams, while Etling has been working primarily with the third team.
Henry seems to be leading the other two, but the battle is far from over.
And even when the preseason battle has come to an end, how much leeway will the starting quarterback have if he struggles?
This will be an interesting situation to keep an eye on throughout the season.
In 2012, Darrell Hazell took Kent State to its first bowl game in almost 40 years.
Darrell Hazell, the 2012 MAC Coach of the Year, is the 35th head coach in Purdue history, and he’s looking to be the coach of the most successful Purdue teams in history.
He has the resume to make it happen, too.
He helped Kent State reach its first bowl game since 1972 and had it ranked for the first time in the BCS era in 2012, finishing the season at 11-3.
He also has experience in the Big Ten after serving as an assistant under Jim Tressel from 2004 to 2010.
That experience will be helpful as Hazell replaces Hope, who—despite some turmoil at Purdue—did lead the Boilermakers to back-to-back bowl game appearances for the first time since 2006-07.
As mentioned previously, though, Hazell is aspiring to being more than bowl-eligible. He wants to lead Purdue to the top.
And that’s why the beginning of Hazell’s reign as Purdue’s head coach is the most exciting storyline to follow this season.