We're just two weeks from the start of the season and Purdue, as expected, still has a bunch of questions. Most Purdue fans feel that Darrell Hazell is a major upgrade, but a tougher schedule could mean that a worse record on the field may result.
A lot has to go right if Purdue is to win more than six games. On the other hand, only a few of those things that need to go right may go wrong and Purdue could finish 3-9. What most people want to see is a team that has improved effort and generally looks better against tough competition than the rollovers that occurred last season.
As a two-part entry, let's look at the best case scenario today for each game:
August 31 at Cincinnati - Purdue exhibits an improved, more disciplined defense against a Cincinnati team that won 10 games a year ago, but whose best win might have been over a crappy Virginia Tech team. Akeem Hunt and Brandon Cottom show that Purdue is much more hard-nosed than in the past and the defense gets a few picks as Purdue looks more disciplined than it has in years. Even the linebackers show promise by answering all the questions I have had about them thanks to Andy James Garcia playing like his hair is on fire. Purdue crusies to a surprising 31-17 road win.
September 7 vs. Indiana State - Shakir Bell is held in check as Purdue does what it wants to do, when it wants to do it. We see the first career action of Austin Appleby or Danny Etling in the second half and the future of Purdue football as the freshman leads a nice scoring drive. Purdue rolls by five touchdowns over its FCS opponent.
September 14 vs. Notre Dame - In coach Hazell's first big game as Purdue's coach he turns the clock back to 1997. Tommy Rees gets roughed up like Ron Powlus did backing he day and B.J. Knauf becomes the second coming of Vinny Sutherland and has 14 catches for 130 yards and two scores. A late pick six by Ricardo Allen ties the FBS record for such plays by an individual and Purdue wins 28-17. Rob Henry plays like a savvy senior just as Billy Dicken did.
September 21 at Wisconsin - A prepared coaching staff gets the defense ready for Wisconsin's power run game, something that Danny Hope failed miserably to do. Purdue still loses, but actually looks competent and competitive against the team that has steamrolled it for several years. The Badgers grind out the clock with a late lead to hang on for a four point win.
September 28 vs. Northern Illinois - Greg Hudson's linebackers hassled Jordan Lynch into an awful Orange Bowl against Florida State and he is now the architect of Purdue's entire defense. If a punchless Iowa team can beat a really good NIU team last year then so can Purdue this season. The Boilers move to 4-1 with a 10-point win.
October 12 vs. Nebraska - The Cornhuskers come to Purdue looking for their first ever win over the Boilers. Taylor Martinez and the offense offer a variety of looks that cause all kinds of trouble, while the Purdue offense takes a step back. Nebraska gets the win, but Purdue plays well enough tocontinue giving fans hope.
October 19 at Michigan State - Purdue faces a team that struggled mightily to score points last season, but has a really, really good defense. This leads to a low scoring affair where points are at a premium. Twice Danny Hope had Michigan State on the ropes and could not close the deal. A late turnover drops Purdue to 4-3 by a 13-9 count.
November 2 vs. Ohio State - Purdue comes in at 0-3, but their dominance of the Buckeyes in West Lafayette continues. Ohio State enters as the No. 1 team in the nation and undefeated, but Purdue ruins their championship dreams by continuing to control Braxton Miller as they have done the last two years, mostly because we realize that Miller is the vast majority of their offense, and if you hit him and get great defensive line play you beat OSU. Instead of playing missionary position with a late lead like Danny Hope Hazell goes for the clinching first down. Patrick Bade redeems himself with a 12 yard catch from Rob Henry on the clinching first down as the Boilers shock Ohio State again.
November 9 vs. Iowa - Our Most Hated Rival is a lot like Michigan State in terms of having a struggling offense. The difference is that they do not have a lights out defense. By now AIRBHG will have likely taken care of Mark Weisman and Iowa doesn't have a definite quarterback right now with any game experience. The Hawkeyes are not going to be very good, and Purdue should win this one.
November 16 at Penn State - The Nittany Lions are entering the season with a true freshman likely starting at quarterback and in year two of their sanctions. Will they have enough depth to stay with most of the Big Ten? Also, last year was based on a lot of emotion. That can only last for so long. All those factors play into Purdue's hands as the Boilers get just their second win ever in Happy Valley.
November 23 vs. Illinois - It is senior day and The Illini are generally regarded as the worst team in the Big Ten going into this season. They are riding a 14 game conference losing streak and have been lucky to crack 20 points offensively in those games. This has to be a win for Purdue as Purdue keeps the Cannon in West Lafayette for a third straight season.
November 30 at Indiana - Because of upsets elsewhere Purdue enters with a chance to win the Leaders Division due to its victory over Ohio State. Yes, Purdue has three losses, but Ohio State enters the day with two conference losses and Purdue can advance to the Big Ten title game with a win over Indiana an Ohio State loss to Michigan. The Wolverines get revenge on their rivals and Purdue keeps the Bucket where it belongs by having Cottom and Hunt run all day against an Indiana "defense" that still can't stop the run.
So there you have it. 9-3 with a trip to Indianapolis is your best case scenario. Yes, it is unlikely, but we can at least dream, can'twe?
No one expected Joe Tiller to go 9-3 in 1997.