Big Ten Roundtable: Purdue
1. What are some of the major position battles going on within your team heading into the fall?
Wide receiver is "wide" open. Purdue's 2008 season outlook will largely depend on how explosive the offense (particularly the no-huddle version) is.
Quarterback Curtis Painter, fresh off a 546-yard MVP performance in the Motor City Bowl, returns for his senior season, but it remains to be seen to whom he will be throwing the ball.
Greg Orton is the only proven wideout (67 catches a year ago), and relative unknowns like Desmond Tardy, Brandon Whittington, Roberto McBean, Joe Whitest, and Aaron Valentin will have the opportunity to become playmakers in Purdue's usual three- and four-wide receiver sets.
2. Who are some players on each side of the ball that you see emerging as stars this year?
The obvious answer here is Painter, and the Boilermakers will go as far as his arm takes them.
However, look for greatly improved play from the defensive line, especially returners Keyon Brown, Ryan Kerrigan, Ryan Baker, and Alex Magee. Under coach Joe Tiller, the Boilermakers have been known for developing star defensive ends (Colvin, Ayodele, Phillips, etc.), and the next great D-lineman could break out this year from the above-mentioned foursome.
3. Are there any significant injuries your team is worrying about?
If you were to sum up the Purdue football team's offseason in a word, it would be "injuries." Every position group seemed to be decimated by bruises, surgeries, and other physical difficulties. The offensive line, for example, returns three starters: Sean Sester, Zach Reckman, and Zach Jones. All three are recovering from surgery.
Assuming all the banged-up players get healthy in the next few months (which the coaching staff is banking on), the Boilermaker squad that opens the season against Northern Colorado in September will look significantly different from the unit that competed in the spring game.
4. What do you think your team's major strengths and weaknesses will be?
Quarterback and running back. Curtis Painter has delivered eye-popping numbers through his first three seasons behind center. If he can continue to have a good TD/INT ratio and finally step up to beat some big-time programs, Purdue could surprise.
RBs Jaycen Taylor and Kory Sheets combined for over 1,400 yards on the ground in 2007 and both return for their senior seasons.
Defensive depth at linebacker and cornerback. Terrell Vinson, a pleasant surprise at corner a year ago with five interceptions, has graduated. Outside of his play, the back seven struggled last year.
When three different schools from the same state (Michigan, Michigan State, and Central Michigan) score 48 points apiece against your defense, improvement is desperately needed.
Yes, I said CENTRAL MICHIGAN scored 48 points against Purdue. LB Anthony Heygood will have to turn in a monster year for the defense to improve in 2008.
5. What games are you most looking forward to watching this year?
If I answered the Northern Colorado opener because it's one of the few guaranteed wins on the 2008 schedule, that would be cheating, right?
Seriously, though, most Boilermaker fans are looking forward to a home date with Oregon in Week Two. Outside of the traditional rivalry with Notre Dame, Purdue's non-conference schedule has been weak in the last decade. As a result, Tiller's teams are known for fast starts and "late-season collapses."
I don't really think this is as much a result of collapsing down the stretch as it is poor early-season competition. If you look at Purdue over the last few years, they've beaten the bad teams and lost to the good ones with very few exceptions. And usually, the bad teams are early on in the schedule.
For the most part, the Boiler faithful have grown impatient with lower-tier bowls and average records, leading to a quickly-devised succession plan that brought Danny Hope back to West Lafayette as coach-in-waiting.
However, when you divide the last 22 years (most of my life) into the 11 years before Tiller and the 11 years since, 8-5 or so every season doesn't sound too bad.
Purdue, 1986-1996: no winning seasons, no bowl appearances
Purdue, 1997-2007: nine winning seasons, 10 bowl appearances
I realize that's getting a little off-topic, but this year's schedule will challenge the men in gold and black, and it will be interesting to see how an unproven team with a talented senior quarterback fares against such marquee teams as Oregon, Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan.
6. What record do you think your team will end the regular season with (Best-case scenario/Worst-case scenario)?
This is a tough one. Purdue's health was so bad in spring ball that everyone from me to coach Tiller is really curious to see what kind of team the Boilermakers will put on the field in September.
Painter falls in love with the no-huddle offense, jumps out to a Kyle Orton/2004-type start and an early upset win over Oregon springboards Purdue to a 10-2 season, only marred in the middle by an ugly blowout loss in Columbus.
Coach Tiller gets the victory lap and fond memories he deserves for turning around Purdue football.
Painter is turnover-prone and still can't win big games, special teams haunts Purdue as it does almost every year, the wide receivers are average in a system that is known for featuring them, the defense doesn't improve, and Purdue slides to the bottom of the Big 10 standings.
Wins over FCS opponent Northern Colorado and perhaps a couple other home games barely make Tiller the winningest coach in Purdue history, and his "victory lap" comes in at 3-9 or 4-8, resembling Gene Keady's final 7-21 basketball season.
10-2? 3-9? Anything's possible...that's why they play the games. Hopefully Purdue gets healthy and Tiller goes out on top. This writer (and biased Boilermaker fan) thinks he deserves nothing less for making Purdue football relevant again.
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