Big Ten football preview: Purdue Boilermakers

Big Ten football preview: Purdue Boilermakers
July 31, 2013, 10:15 am
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Vinnie Duber

Two straight bowl appearances weren’t enough to help Danny Hope keep his job as Purdue’s head football coach, and that should illustrate perfectly the expectations in West Lafayette for Hope’s replacement, Darrell Hazell.

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“One of the first things that I said to our team -- very first team meeting on that Sunday night -- was Purdue was always a team that's perceived in the middle of the Big Ten. Never up here, never down here,” Hazell said at Big Ten media day. “And I told them it's going to take a lot of work but we're going to climb ourselves out of the middle and we're going to put this program on national prominence for a long point in time.”

Hazell takes over for Hope this season after two years helming the program at Kent State. But Boilermakers fans should not fear that Hazell is unaccustomed to the Big Ten, as he spent seven years as an assistant at Ohio State.

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In fact, he lists former Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel as a major influence.

“Coach Tressel was a big influence on me, the way I do things today,” Hazell said. “There's a lot of great values and just his demeanor through the course of my time there was something that you can take from and the great decisions that he made on game day, when those bullets are flying, it's a chaotic moment. I learned a lot from Jim Tressel there at my seven years at Ohio State.”

Tressel might have left Ohio State under undesirable circumstances, but if Hazell can deliver the type of success Tressel typically fostered in Columbus, Purdue fans will be very happy.

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Hope was handpicked as Joe Tiller’s successor after the latter’s 12 seasons as Boilermakers coach. And though he won just nine games in his first two seasons, Hope rebounded, guiding Purdue to back-to-back bowl appearances.

But, as Hazell mentioned, middling isn’t something Purdue wants to be known for.

Last year

Record: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten)

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Bowl: Though they accomplished a bowl appearance, that’s about all the Boilermakers did, as they were crushed, 58-14, in the Heart of Dallas Bowl by Oklahoma State.

At the helm

Hazell is in his first season as Purdue’s head coach. He spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons as the head coach at Kent State, prior to which he was an assistant on Jim Tressel’s staff at Ohio State for seven years, the final six of which he served as assistant head coach. In his two years with Kent State, the Golden Flashes went 16-10.

On the 2013 schedule

Purdue has gone 0-5 in the past five seasons in nonconference road games, an upsetting stat looking at the season opener at Cincinnati. In addition, the Boilermakers play nonconference opponents Notre Dame and Northern Illinois at home. Both those teams appeared in BCS bowl games a year ago and figure to be tough challenges for Purdue. The Boilermakers have lost five straight against the Irish, and Hazell dropped both games against NIU during his tenure at Kent State.

2013 could see the conference schedule go much the same way last year’s did, when they lost their first five games and won their last three. Purdue gets Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State to open the conference slate, but it could pick up some victories needed to get back to the postseason with the season’s final two games against Illinois and Indiana.

Under center

Purdue’s top two passers from a year ago -- Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush -- are both gone following 2012, and the Boilermakers have a QB competition brewing.

“We have a nice quarterback battle going on,” Hazell said. “We have a senior in Rob Henry, and Danny Etling, a true freshman that came in, competed extremely hard. A third guy that can get himself back in the mix with (redshirt freshman) Austin Appleby. But we'll give them equal reps. ... And in about two weeks after we start practice, we'll make a decision and have that guy have ownership of our football team going into our first game.

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“And I think it's obviously critically important because the No. 1 component for that guy is to take care of the football. No. 2 is to get us in the right place, No. 3 to be tough enough to stand in there on third-and-five and take a shot. And we need a big play.”

Back in the fold

The Boilermakers return eight starters on the defensive side of the ball, a unit that needs to see improvement from a year ago. The Boilermakers ranked 10th in the Big Ten, allowing 33.1 points per game, and they ranked 11th in the conference, allowing 434 yards per game. The ranks were slightly better in the passing defense, though, which returns three starters -- including three-time All-Big Ten Second Team defensive back Ricardo Allen -- and could be one of the team’s strongest units.

Season outlook

Hazell’s goal of getting Purdue to the top of the Big Ten heap likely won’t happen overnight. With two very hard nonconference games and a tough conference schedule, as well, even matching last year’s level could prove a challenge.

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