2015 record: 2-10 (1-7 B1G)
Staff projection: 2-10 (1-8 B1G), 7th in the Big Ten West
Key Returners: DT Jake Replogle, RB Markell Jones, WR DeAngelo Yancey
Key Losses: DB Frankie Williams, OL Robert Kugler, WR Danny Anthrop
Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke is scheduled to retire in July of 2017. Between now and then, he’ll probably conduct a football coaching search. Burke kept Boilermaker head coach Darrell Hazell employed for a fourth year at the helm of Purdue’s football program, despite an unimpressive 6-30 record through his first three seasons in West Lafayette.
Last season’s Boilermakers ranked 95th in total offense and 111th in total defense, so there’s nowhere to go but up. Purdue employed lots of young players in 2015, so the team should only get better in 2016. The question is, can the Boilermakers improve fast enough for Hazell to keep his job?
Offense: Purdue fired both of its coordinators after the 2015 season, and replaced them both on a co-coordinator basis. Half of each new coordinator tandem comes from inside the Boilermakers’ 2015 coaching staff, while the other half is a new addition. On offense, John Shoop is no longer with Purdue, and former tight ends coach Terry Malone will take over as offensive coordinator. Syracuse quarterback coach Tim Lester joins the staff, and he’ll have a young quarterback to work with in David Blough. Blough played in ten games as a freshman and completed 58% of his passes, tossing ten touchdowns and eight interceptions. Veteran Austin Appleby exercised a graduate transfer and left West Lafayette for the University of Florida, leaving Blough the starting job. Blough gets almost a full compliment of skill position players back as three of the team’s top four receivers (headlined by deep threat DeAngelo Yancey) return. Running back Markell Jones rushed for 875 yards and ten touchdowns as a freshman, and he’s back as well. Somebody must replace Danny Anthrop, Purdue’s reliable slot receiver who led last year’s team with 57 receptions, but there seem to be plenty of returning options.
Defense: Greg Hudson is out as defensive coordinator after the Boilermakers finished 111th out of 128 FBS teams allowing 458 yards per game. Marcus Freeman has been promoted from linebackers coach to co-defensive coordinator, and he’ll share his new role with Ross Els. Els spent last season as an assistant coach for his son’s high school football team in Lincoln, Nebraska, and he spent the four years before that as a Cornhusker assistant under Bo Pelini. The current depth chart has ten upperclassmen starting on defense for Purdue, so experience won’t be an issue. Last year’s leading tackler returns, but last year’s leading tackler was safety Leroy Clark. This indicates the Boilermakers gave up lots of big plays, an indication which the numbers back up. Purdue allowed a whopping 213 plays of ten yards are more, good for 117th out of 128 FBS teams. In addition to Clark, linebacker and all-name selection Danny Ezechukwu is back after finishing second on the team in tackles. Purdue’s leading tackler for loss (Jake Replogle) and sacker (Evan Panfil) are both back as well.
Special Teams: Senior Frankie Williams returned kicks and punts last year, and he’ll have to be replaced. DJ Knox is slated to handle kickoff return duties, while Tario Fuller will run back punts. That said, Fuller may not see much action as Purdue returned a grand total of ten punts in 2015. Joe Schopper returns for another year at punter, but kicker Paul Griggs has graduated. Boilermaker fans may not be sorry to see Griggs go, as he went five-for-11 on field goals last season, and Griggs’ leg strength may have played a role in Purdue’s decision to average less than one field goal attempt per game. Freshman Brian Bravo from Illinois’ Joliet Catholic is expected to take over as Purdue’s kicker, and, well, he can’t be much worse than Griggs.
Best Case: Last season, Purdue beat FCS foe Indiana State and stole a conference game against Nebraska. This season, FCS Eastern Kentucky should provide a season-opening win, but other chances for victory are few and far between. Somehow, the Boilermakers appear to play their four toughest conference opponents (Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern, and Wisconsin) at home and face their five easiest league foes on the road, which is a tough break. That said, there’s an outside shot Purdue can steal a second non-con game against Nevada, poach a couple early season league wins as Maryland and Illinois adjust to new coaches, and turn their season finale against Indiana into a fight for a 5-7 record. Win against the Hoosiers, and given the current bowl landscape and Purdue’s status as a tough academic school, the Boilers might find themselves playing a bowl game with a losing record.
Worst Case: Purdue falls flat against Nevada, then loses to rookie head coaches at Maryland and Illinois. After an embarrassing homecoming blowout loss to Iowa, Burke has finally seen enough and cans Hazell after a 1-5 start. The interim coach doesn’t fare much better, and Purdue finishes the year 1-11 or 2-10.