Big Ten Preview: Purdue Boilermakers
Our Big Ten preview series is back. Over the next few weeks, we’ll make our way through the Big Ten East and West from the bottom to the top.
Our countdown begins with the Purdue Boilermakers. Our Erik Bremer breaks it all down.
2014 Record: 3-9 overall, 1-7 B1G
2015 WNUR Projected Record: 3-9 overall, 0-8 B1G
Key Returners: Austin Appleby (QB), Danny Anthrop (WR), Ja’Whaun Bentley (LB), Frankie Williams (DB)
Key Departures: Akeem Hunt (RB), Raheem Mostert (RB), Landon Feichter (S), Gabe Holmes (TE)
As one might expect with a team that owns four wins in its last two seasons, the Boilermakers didn’t have a whole lot of positives on the offensive side of the ball. It’s all part of the process for third-year head coach Darrell Hazell, though, and it might be a few years before fans see tangible improvements. Hometown quarterback Austin Appleby will look to build upon his sophomore season in which he made seven starts and provided some stability to the rebuilding project. While the Boilermakers won’t be playing for moral victories come September, the long-term health of the program will be greatly helped if Appleby can stay on the field all year and let younger players grow around him. He’s lost his two most potent running options in Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, but Keyante Green picked up some stray yards last year and looks to be a competent replacement. Leading wide-receiver target Danny Anthrop caught 38 passes for 616 yards in 2014, and if he can connect with Appleby on a regular basis things could get a lot easier for everyone else.
The Boilermakers matched their anemic offense with an equally ineffective defense last year. If they’re to improve at all this year, they’ll have to improve the pass rush that ranked 13th in the Big Ten in sacks with 20. Ends Jalani Phillips and Ryan Russell weren’t great, but their absences could make a weakness even more glaring if Hazell can’t find replacements. Jake Replogle and Ra’Zahn Howard will be back and figure to block up the inside, but there’s no reason for opponents to run it up the gut if there are more attractive options outside. On a 3-win team, the secondary was, well, secondary on Purdue’s list of concerns. Another year older and presumably another year wiser, this group will have to absorb the loss of Landon Feichter but appear to have plenty of other options. Boilermaker fans should hope that the secondary is tested, because that means that opponents aren’t walking all over their front line. If the pass rush can prove effective, there should be no worries about the hands waiting to intercept throws.
SPECIAL TEAMS PREVIEW:
Senior Thomas Meadows will be punting for the Boilermakers, but for the sake of the team he probably hopes it won’t be as often as the last two years. Senior Paul Griggs was perfect on field goals under 40 yards, so for at least one more season the kicking game should be just fine. Mostert returned kicks, so someone will have to step in. Will DB Frankie Williams, who returned punts last year, be asked to pull double duty? Or will someone like Green or Anthrop fill the void? It’s probably too early to tell.
This will likely be another rebuilding year for the Boilermakers, and people seem to be at peace with that. After years of mediocrity, fans will be patient as long as tangible strides are made both offensively and defensively. Purdue is still a few years away from being a legitimate contender in the Big Ten, but they’re in the right division to develop talent and slingshot their way to the top. Just not this year.
Best case? The team record improves at an incremental pace. A jump from one win in 2013 to three wins in 2014 to five wins in 2015 would be a resounding success, and it would turn heads in the dormant fanbase. At 5-7, the Boilermakers would likely be flirting with a bowl berth come November. If that happens, great. But even if it doesn’t, the prospect of Purdue football gaining relevance would be a victory in its own right.
Worst case? Stagnation, or worse. If a best-case scenario signals an affirmation of hope in this program, the opposite would be a step backwards. It’s very possible that Purdue struggles again this year and slides to the cellar of the B1G West. This team is already hurting for top-end talent, and one key injury or two could send the 2015 season off the rails. That was it, that was my one train pun. Saved it for the end of the article. You’re welcome.