Breaking Down the Big Ten, Part Four: the Purdue Boilermakers

David Fidler Correspondent IJune 30, 2010

Things appear to be looking up for Purdue.

Yes, in coach Danny Hope's first season at the helm his Boilermakers went 5-7, thereby leaving them home for the winter.

However, I, for one, didn't think they would win three games last season. I certainly didn't think they would be able to come within two points of beating eventual Pac-10 champ Oregon , in Eugene, or that they would beat the eventual Big Ten champion , the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Yet, that is exactly what they did.

In 2009, Purdue was competitive in every game they played, short of a 0-37 thrashing at the hands of Wisconsin.

They were within a field goal in three of their losses—the aforementioned Oregon game, as well as losses to Notre Dame and Michigan State—and in their last six games they went 4-2.

Nevertheless, as PU heads into 2010, a 5-7 record will no longer be considered a success.

In order to keep moving forward, Danny Hope has to get his team to a bowl, and he has to do it with a fair amount of question marks on defense and a slew of question marks on offense .


The biggest question mark on the Purdue offense is under center (actually, Purdue rarely plays "under center," preferring shotgun and pistol formations).

It would appear that the spot vacated by outgoing quarterback Joey Elliot will be headed up by Miami (Fla.) transfer Robert Marve.

Marve not only missed last season due to transfer requirements, but he also tore his ACL , missing what might have been notable practice time last season.

He was good to go for Purdue's spring game , though he didn't look terribly sharp. In fact, if one is to go strictly by numbers, it would appear he was outplayed by sophomore Caleb TerBush.

Nonetheless, I'd be surprised if Marve isn't starting on September 4.

Another big question mark didn't look like a question mark when Purdue finished its 2009 season. In fact, it looked like a very big positive for the Purdue offense.

True sophomore Ralph Bolden had a great season last year. In his first year starting, he ran for 935 yards,with a 4.68 YPC average, including nine scores. Heading into 2010, he was expected to carry much of the load for the Boilermakers.

Then he tore his ACL in spring practice. Theoretically, he might return late in the season , but it is a long shot, especially for a running back with a redshirt to burn.

That probably puts the ball in the hands of true sophomore Al-Terek McBurse—aka ATM. As it turns out, it's probably a good thing he didn't redshirt last year. Unfortunately, most of his experience in 2009 came in the return game, where he was very effective.

As a back, he only carried the ball four times for a total of zero yards. Moreover, there is virtually no depth behind him. The Boilers are making a lot of position changes to try to fill the spot, but generally, that is never a good sign.

As an Iowa fan, I am sympathetic to Purdue's plight, but they will simply have to find a way to field 11 players.

Further complicating Purdue's offensive woes is the fact that they will have to replace three offensive linemen

On the bright side, they do have a senior heavy group of wide receivers, most notable of whom is Keith Smith , who led the Big Ten in 2009 with both 91 receptions and 1,100 yards.

He will be a huge target for whomever is at quarterback.

Purdue was sixth in total offense in the Big Ten last year. I don't think they will be able to maintain that this season, but if they do, it will be very much in the hands of their new signal caller.


Purdue's defense should be much more settled than their offense, though there is one big issue—the backfield—which will be replacing all four starters.

Along with the backfield, Purdue also has to replace defensive tackle Mike Neal.

However, I will begin with the good, and that begins with All-Big Ten defensive lineman Ryan Kerrigan , who will be returning for his senior season.

In 2009, Kerrigan had 65 tackles, 17 tackles-for-loss, 11 sacks, and six forced fumbles. Moreover, he was almost singlehandedly responsible for squashing Terrelle Pryor in the Boiler's win over OSU.

He will begin the 2010 season on the Lombardi Award , Lott Trophy , and Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch lists.

Needless to say, Kerrigan is the star of the Purdue defense, but he will have some help. Most notable will be fellow linemates, junior Gerald Gooden and sophomore Kawann Short.

With all the attention that will be lavished on Kerrigan by opposing offensive coordinators, expect these two to have breakout years.

Behind them will be linebackers Joe Holland, Chris Carlino, and sixth year senior Jason Werner.

After that is where it gets sketchy.

You can probably put junior Albert Evans at one of the safety slots. In spot duty last season, he registered 30 tackles.

After that, you've got a whole lot of inexperience. Hopefully for the Boilermakers, Kerrigan and his linemates can keep opposing quarterbacks so occupied that they never get to test the backfield.


Purdue begins the season at Notre Dame. The eyes of the college football world will be on the Boilers in South Bend, but it will have nothing to do with them.

Everybody will be tuned in to see the beginning of the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame.

After that, things ease up with home games against Western Illinois, Ball State, and Toledo.

Then Purdue has a bye week in order to tune up for its conference slate, which is as follows: at Northwestern, Minnesota, at Ohio State, at Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, at Michigan State, Indiana.

As is evident, the Boilermakers are fortunate in that they will be missing two of the better teams in the Big Ten, in Iowa and Penn State.

Furthermore, they have Wisconsin and Michigan at home. The question is, will that be enough to get them to six wins?

Notre Dame is something of a question mark, but they should win their other three out-of-conference games.

I don't see them beating OSU or Wisconsin, but that leaves six other winnable games.


Firstly, there is the quarterback situation. This may seem hokey, but Marve seems to be an unlucky guy . Then again, maybe he has been patient and it is finally his turn to shine.

Then there is the complete lack of depth in the backfield. If ATM's leg should snap, Purdue might very well be advised to go five-wide every play.

Also, last season Purdue had the bad habit of following up a huge emotional effort with a lackluster performance.

Exhibit A was the tough Oregon game followed by a loss to Northern Illinois. Exhibit B was a fourth quarter breakdown against Michigan State , following a close win at Michigan.

Finally, according to the Phil Steele model , Purdue is in line to turn around a bit as regards turnovers, which isn't surprising given the talent on their defensive line.

Last season Purdue was minus-.25 in turnover ratio. Expect that to improve minimally.

Worst Case Scenario

Marve and/or TerBush struggles right out of the gate. Purdue loses to Notre Dame, but still beat their other out-of-conference foes and head into the Big Ten season with a 3-1 record.

Then disaster hits. Al-Terek McBurse struggles with health issues and the Boilers struggle to put a tailback in their backfield.

All of their opponents don't allow the talented Purdue D-line to damage them, as they nickel and dime their way down the field, attacking the Boiler's inexperienced secondary with quick, short passes.

Purdue squeaks out one in-conference win, and they limp to a final 4-8 record, ending the season with more questions than answers.

Best Case Scenario

Marve excels right out of the gate and Purdue squeaks by Notre Dame to begin the season. Moreover, they win their other out-of-conference games and head into Evanston with a perfect 4-0 record.

Their running game is not great, but it does enough to keep defenses honest.

The defensive backfield is solid if unspectacular, but it doesn't have to be great as the front four are so disruptive that teams rarely get to test Purdue.

They beat Northwestern and Minnesota and head into Columbus ranked in the high teens with a perfect 6-0 record.

The Buckeyes win the game, but Purdue plays respectably in front of a national audience.

They go on to lose to Wisconsin and one of the Michigan teams, but secure three more in-conference wins, ending the season with a 9-3 record and securing a bid to play in the Gator Bowl against a middle-tiered SEC team.

My Prediction

Purdue will start the year with a loss against Notre Dame in what will be an ugly game on both sides.

They will sweep the rest of their non-conference and head into Evanston at 3-1.

I feel that with an easy beginning to their season , Northwestern will be riding a saccharine high that will propel them over the Boilers.

Purdue will come back against Minnesota, but I don't see them beating the Buckeyes this year. Furthermore, I see them losing what will turn out to be a huge game at Illinois, then proceeding to lose their next three, thereby mathematically eliminating them from bowl eligibility.

However, I think they will come back at the end of the year and play the ruiner for their in-state rival Indiana, beating them in the Old Oaken Bucket Game.

Final Record: 5-7.

I think the future is bright for Danny Hope and his Boilermakers. I just don't think it's going to happen in 2010.

Breaking Down the Big Ten Part One: The Minnesota Golden Gophers

Breaking Down the Big Ten Part Two: The Illinois Fighting Illini

Breaking Down the Big Ten Part Three: The Indiana Hoosiers


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