Purdue is rebuilding…slowly
Purdue football has been recently. Really, really freaking bad. In Darrell Hazell’s first two years in West Lafayette, the Boilermakers have gone 4-20 and just 1-15 in conference. That’s even worse than Tim Beckman’s 6-18 record in his first two years at Illinois. Not a name you want to compare yourself to real often.
But there’s hope for Purdue in 2015 and the future. Purdue brings back a crazy amount of key players from last year’s team. Their QB Austin Appleby, who was actually pretty solid in stretches last season, is back and so is his top receiving target Danny Anthrop. Literally everyone on their offensive line, which ranked 47th nationally in adjusted line yards last season, is back. Jake Replogle is back at defensive tackle, and while the Boilermakers lose their top two ends from last season, the defensive line will be helped out by a linebacking crew that returns all of its starters. True, Purdue graduated its best overall player in jack-of-all-trades running back Akeem Hunt and 4-star QB Danny Etling transfered out of the program, but on the whole, Purdue has a pretty full cupboard of talent on both sides of the ball, all things considered.
Purdue’s (potential) resurgence comes right as the Big Ten is seemingly coming out of its own dark age. With Ohio State selected as favorites to repeat as national champions, Michigan State a very legitimate threat to the Buckeyes’ hegemony in the East and Michigan getting ready for a rebuild with Jim Harbaugh in charge, the Big Ten is, finally, relevant again on the national stage.
Weirdly enough, Purdue has historically tracked where the Big Ten is as a conference. When the Big Ten was subpar the last few seasons, Purdue was at or near the bottom of the conference. During the Big Ten’s high water marks in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Joe Tiller led the Boilermakers to 8 straight bowl appearances and 10 appearances in 11 seasons. In the 60’s, the Big Ten had at least a share of the national title 5 times. Purdue went 65-28-3 for the decade with a Rose Bowl win. Call it a trickle-down effect. Call it luck. Call it coincidence. But it does happen. The question is if this era of Big Ten resurgence is shadowed by a rising Boilermaker program.
Is Purdue a favorite to make a bowl game this year? No probably not. But with winnable games in non-conference against Bowling Green, Marshall, and Indiana State plus Indiana and Illinois at home in conference, it wouldn’t be too infeasible for Purdue to at least make things interesting come the end of November. Bill Connelly and Brian Fremeau’s F/+ preseason rankings put Purdue down at 74th (Northwestern, for reference is 62nd). 76 teams will make a bowl game. So Purdue is on the bubble kinda.
No one in the Big Ten West looks like they’re going to be national contenders this season, and it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s going to continue to be the softer division for the foreseeable future. The table is set for Purdue to get back to consistent bowl appearances. It just might start next season.