The college football season officially ended on Monday night, but it was over months ago for Purdue. We've been looking ahead to 2014 for quite some time, mostly because it cannot get worse than the 1-11 complete debacle that was 2013.
Much has been made about Kent State going from 5-7 to 11-3 and the brink of a BCS bowl in the second year under Darrell Hazell. A lot of key pieces will return, but 6-6 and a return to the postseason would probably qualify as drastic improvement. A much easier schedule will certainly help. In 2013 Purdue played Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Nebraska as teams that either played in or were a game away from a BCS bowl within the past two seasons. Of Purdue's 11 FBS-level opponents nine won enough games to play in the postseason.
The 2014 schedule is much easier:
August 30 vs. Western Michigan - Last year's MAC opponent was one of the best MAC teams of all-time. This year Purdue gets two teams from Big Ten Junior and the opener on August 30 should provide an excellent chance to end the current 10-game losing streak. Western Michigan also finished this last season at 1-11, earning a one-point win over UMass. Since meeting in the 2011 Little Caesar's Bowl the Broncos are 5-19. In 2013 they lost to Iowa, Northwestern, and Michigan State and had an offense barely better than Purdue. This needs to be a win or Purdue can expected another season of double-digit losses.
September 6 vs. Central Michigan - Purdue faces another directional Michigan it has played in Detroit in a bowl game as the Chippewas return to the schedule. Fortunately, Dan Lefevour is gone. The Chips weren't great this past season, but were still bowl eligible at 6-6 after close wins over New Hampshire, Ohio, and Western Michigan. Quarterback Cooper Rush had a solid freshman campaign of over 2,300 yards passing and 15 touchdowns. Against all three Directional Michigans Purdue is undefeated all-time.
September 13 vs. Notre Dame at Lucas Oil Stadium - Purdue's best games of each of the last two years have come against the Fighting Irish, and with this being the final meeting until 2020 there is a lot on the line for the Boilers. Each of the last two games for Purdue have been right there for the taking with Notre Dame, but the Irish are undefeated in their Shamrock Series games and haven't lost to Purdue since 2007. They will likely be a preseason top 25 team with Everett Golson coming back.
September 20 vs. Southern Illinois - As I have said before, no Big Ten team ever has a valid excuse for losing to an FCS team and even coming off of a 1-11 season I feel no different. The Salukis were 7-5 last season and went 5-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference. They also challenged Illinois early on in the season. Still, Purdue has a huge advantage in recruiting, conditioning, depth, and everywhere else across the board. They are a decent FCS team year-in, year-out, but this has to be a victory.
September 27 vs. Iowa - The Boilers were able to hang around with the Hawkeyes last season, who turned out to have a pretty solid defense and a better than expected season. Iowa's offense is not going to be great, but the defense should once again be solid. This Most Hated Rivalry is now a divisional rivalry too. It is tough, but Purdue could have a far worse Big Ten opener.
October 4 at Illinois - The Fighting Illini were the closest Purdue came to a victory against an FBS opponent and they aren't expected to be significantly better from the team that has now lost 21 of 22 Big Ten games. It is one of the easier road games for anyone in the Big Ten and they have to break in a new quarterback after losing a four-year starter. As bad as things were, Purdue wins last year's game had the offense not quit after a quarter. It should only take marginal improvement to beat Illinois and if Purdue can got 3-1 against an easier non-conference slate being 4-2 at the halfway mark is very possible.
October 11 vs. Michigan State - On the one hand, Michigan State finished No. 3 in this year's poll, won the Rose Bowl, and had an argument that they could have played Florida State for the national title. On the other, Purdue played them hard in East Lansing before falling 14-0. As one of only two crossover games with the East Division Purdue got about as tough of a draw as they could have, but it is balanced out by having Indiana as the other crossover game.
October 18 at Minnesota - This will be Purdue's first game outside of a 100-mile radius of West Lafayette, so it is the first game that really feels like a road game. Purdue is now 0-2 all-time at TCF Bank Stadium since it opened and did not look good in either game. The Golden Gophers had a chance to win the Big Ten with two weeks to go and could be a dark-horse candidate to win the West Division in 2014.
November 1 at Nebraska - Purdue's first trip to Lincoln will not be easy. The Cornhuskers had their way with Purdue in October and won a New Year's Day Bowl. They are always tough at home too. This season they were 9-4 and it was viewed as a grave disappointment by a large number of Nebraska fans. We can expect more of the same in 2014. After Ameer Abdullah rushed for almost 1,700 yards in 2013 he could be back for more unless he goes to the NFL.
November 8 vs. Wisconsin - The Badgers didn't go to Pasadena for the first time in four years, but they were still very good. You know what they are going to do too. This is going to be another display of their power running game running all over us until we prove we can stop it. It has been over a decade now since we did stop it.
November 22 vs. Northwestern - If Purdue can get to this game at4-6 or better I like its chances of getting to a bowl game. After playing for every season seemingly forever the Wildcats are back on Purdue's schedule after a three year absence. Purdue basically trades Penn State and Ohio State for Minnesota and Northwestern, which is definitely a trade I will take, especially after Northwestern fell apart.
November 29 at Indiana - A second straight Bucket game will be in Bloomington and Purdue will try to avoid losing consecutive Bucket games for the first time in 20 years. Indiana will probably be another all offense/no defense team as well. If Purdue can figure out how to hold them under 40 points they should be fine like everyone else in the league that plays Indiana.