As time draws closer to the beginning of the college football season, it is time to look at the Purdue Boilermakers' non-conference schedule.
Purdue is coming into 2009 with a new head coach and new offensive and defensive coordinators. The offense is in rebuilding mode, while the defense is experienced.
Game 1: Home game versus Toledo on Sept. 5
The Toledo Rockets enter 2009 in similar circumstances as the Boilermakers. Tim Beckman is in his first year as Toledo's coach and the team is coming off of a disheartening 3-9 season.
For Purdue to have an opportunity of success this upcoming season, the Boilermakers have to improve their run defense. The Rockets' running game will provide an early indication of how well Purdue's defense will play this season.
Toledo sophomore Morgan Williams ran for 330 yards versus Miami (OH) last season and a total of 1,010 for the season. Senior DaJuane Collins averaged 5.5 yards per carry while gaining 700 yards in 2008. The offensive line returns with players that have a total of 97 career starts.
With Matt Campbell as the offensive coordinator, the Rockets will run a lot of four-wide receiver sets. The receiving core is young, but senior Stephen Williams has caught 144 balls and 15 touchdowns in the past two seasons.
Senior Aaron Opelt returns as the starting quarterback for the Rockets. Last season, Opelt completed almost 60 percent of his passes for 2,176 yards and 12 touchdowns.
In 2008, the Toledo defense was a disaster. The defense allowed 31.4 points and 381 yards per game. To make matters worse, the Rockets recorded only 10 sacks for the entire season. Tim Beckham comes from a defensive background, so the unit should show improvement.
Safety Barry Church is one of the best defensive players in the Mid-American Conference. If the Purdue receivers don't keep their heads on a swivel, Church will knock some helmets off.
Toledo represents the perfect opponent for Purdue. Going against a poor defense will give the Boilermakers the opportunity to work out some of their offensive kinks. Purdue senior Joey Elliott has zero career starts and will be throwing to quite a few inexperienced wide receivers.
With 89 percent of their lettermen returning, Toledo will be improved. However, Purdue should be able to take advantage of Toledo's shaky defensive front.
If Purdue contains Toledo's running attack, the Rockets will be forced to attack the strength of the Boilermakers' defense with only one established weapon to throw to.
Toledo has lost the last four times it has opened the season on the road. Purdue is 11-1 in its last twelve West Lafayette openers. My prediction is that the Boilermakers prevail, 24-10.
Game 2: Road game versus Oregon on Sept. 12
With Mike Bellotti taking over as Oregon's athletic director, the Ducks have a new coach in Chip Kelly. Kelly does take over a program that won 10 games last season.
Jeremiah Masoli started last fall as the fifth-string quarterback, but enters 2009 as the starter after tossing 13 touchdowns and rushing for 10 more.
Oregon also returns LeGarrete Blount, the human bowling ball. Blount gained 1,002 yards and ran for 17 touchdowns—a single-season record—last season.
Ed Dickson is one of the better receiving tight ends in the country. The Ducks were not strong at wide receiver last season, but USC transfer Jamere Holland comes in and will scare defensive backs with his blazing speed.
The Ducks return only five starters on defense, but all five rate from above-average to exceptional.
Senior Defensive end Will Tukuafu was fifth in the PAC-10 last season with 17.5 tackles for loss. Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews are returning linebackers that accounted for a combined 162 tackles and four sacks.
Walter Thurmond III is one the best cornerbacks in college football, and safety T.J. Ward makes wide receivers wish they were on the track team instead of the football team.
Last season, Purdue led Oregon 20-6 at the half before falling 32-26 in double overtime. The Boilermakers will surprise many by keeping the game close this time around.
Jaycen Taylor, Ralph Bolden, and perhaps Al-Terek McBurse will have to run the ball exceptionally well to keep the Oregon offense off the field. If Purdue struggles to stop Toledo from running the ball, don't expect them to stop Oregon's rushing attack.
In 2008, the Boilermakers gave up 306 rushing yards to the Ducks and lost in overtime. Purdue will get clobbered this time around if this occurs again.
My guess is that Purdue will lose 42-21.
Game 3: Home game versus Northern Illinois on Sept. 19
The Northern Illinois Huskies finished last season at 6-7, but this team from the MAC made it to the Independence Bowl.
Sophomore quarterback Chandler Harnish completed 55.9 percent of his passes for 1,528 yards and eight touchdowns. Harnish was also the leading rusher for NIU with 539 yards.
Sophomore Me'co Brown opened up some eyes in the spring but has to improve upon his 510 rushing yards from 2008. As NIU recovers from losing five senior wideouts, their running game will have to strive early.
First-round draft pick Larry English led a strong defense last year. However, only three starters return to the defense. Senior defensive end Brandon Bice will try to duplicate English's success after recording 6.5 sacks last year in a reserve roll.
Kicker Mike Salerno returns as the starting kicker and will probably take on the punting duties as well this year.
This is the first time Purdue and Northern Illinois have ever played each other. On paper, this game looks like an easy victory for Purdue. The Boilermakers should be able to do what they want on offense. A strong pass rush led by Ryan Kerrigan and Gerald Gooden will neutralize the Huskies' offense.
My prediction is that Purdue will prevail 35-6.
Game 4: Home game versus Notre Dame on Sept. 26
Charlie Weiss and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish look to improve upon last year's 7-6 season.
Hot-shot recruit Jimmy Clausen enters his junior year still waiting for his breakout season. Clausen started off strong, but was throwing too many interceptions as the year progressed.
Junior Armando Allen returns after rushing for 585 yards and three touchdowns. The offensive line returns four starters after protecting Clausen much better. On the other hand, the unit still needs to improve its run blocking.
The appropriately named Golden Tate leads what many consider to be one of the best receiving units in the nation. Tate scored 10 touchdowns in 2008, but a defense cannot forget about fellow wideouts Michael Floyd, John Goodman, Deion Walker, and Shaquelle Evans.
Kyle Rudolph is one of the pass-catching tight ends in college and is just another part of the passing arsenal.
Jon Tenuta, Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, is known as one of the best blitz-callers in the country. That expertise will probably come in handy as the Irish rebuild its defensive line.
Junior linebacker Brian Smith is the spiritual leader of the Irish defense. Freshman Manti Te'o is a future star at the linebacker position.
A strong secondary returns cornerback Raeshon McNeil, and safties Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith.
The Boilermakers appear to be overmatched in this game versus Notre Dame. Although the home team has won 10 of the last 13 match-ups, it doesn't look for the Boilermakers this time around.
Purdue's defense has to keep score down. There is no way Purdue's rebuilt offense can keep up with Notre Dame in a shootout.
My guess is that the Boilermakers will fall to the Irish 45-20.
It is a good thing that Purdue plays two games against the Mid-American Conference. It appears that the non-conference wins will come against Toledo and Northern Illinois.
Purdue has not fared well recently against ranked teams. Unfortunately, Oregon and Notre Dame will probably be ranked when they face Purdue.
Purdue needs to enter conference play with some momentum. An opening loss to Toledo would kill that possible impetus and could lead to a disastrous season.