As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.
Can Purdue avoid another year as Big Ten bottom-dweller?
Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, the answer is probably not.
It’s Year 2 of the Darrell Hazell Era, and things can only get better from here. Last season saw a miserable 1-11 finish, the worst since 1993’s 1-10 mark under Jim Colletto. Purdue finished last in the conference in nearly every offensive category, scoring 14.9 points per game on 282.9 yards per game. That included an abysmal 67.1 weekly rushing average, which was the second-lowest average in the country (ahead of just Washington State). And the Boilermaker defense didn’t fare much better, ranking second to last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (38 points allowed per game) and third to last in total defense (459.9 yards allowed per game).
There doesn’t seem to be much reason for improvement this season, as the rushing game will feature a similar cast of characters. The Boilermakers return their two leading rushers from last season in Akeem Hunt and Brandon Cottom, but the duo combined for just 618 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Hazell is excited, however, about Raheem Mostert, a track champion who wasn’t used much last season. The head coach said this spring that Mostert could be a big-play guy for Purdue.
Then there’s the schedule, which doesn’t work in Purdue’s favor. There’s a neutral-site non-conference game against Notre Dame, plus daunting match ups with Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin on the conference schedule. The opponents that would figure to provide the best hopes for potential Boilermaker upsets — Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana — will all have home-field advantage in their games against Purdue.
If there are some positives heading into 2014, it’s in the passing game. Quarterback Danny Etling, who was installed as the starter midway through last season, when predecessor Rob Henry performed poorly and moved to safety. Etling went on to have a pretty good year, especially when considering he was a true freshman. In eight games (seven starts), he passed for 1,690 yards and 10 touchdowns but also threw seven interceptions. The season-finale against Indiana made observers take notice, however, as Etling threw for 485 yards and four touchdowns (no picks). Purdue also returns its top eight pass-catchers from a season ago, and the familiarity should help Etling grow with a year under his belt.
Purdue was a young team a season ago, and another year of experience should benefit the Boilermakers greatly. The biggest question that remains, though, is whether that experience can translate into on-field improvement. Something like a bowl berth would be a great surprise, though besting that one-win total from last year wouldn’t. Improvement will come, even if it comes slowly.