I have long been a reader of CFN's site. Though they have quite a few typos for a major college football site, it's not like I don't. They usually provide pretty good analysis even of teams that they think are going to be terrible. They posted their 2009 Purdue preview today, and they seem to be one of the few sites that think we can win this year as opposed to just waiting for 2010. Of course, this is the same group of people that think Indiana can be an eight win team this year because of experience. It is more likely that they try and just say something positive about every team that has even marginal bowl chances.
What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. Here's the biggest early debate of the Hope era. With Justin Siller booted off the team due to academic problems, Joey Elliott will be the main man early on. However, he's a limited talent and is gone next year. How quickly will Hope plug in Caleb TerBush, a big-armed redshirt freshman who'll be the triggerman when the program becomes bowl-good again? Playing TerBush might not be a concession for a rebuilding team; he's been almost as good as Elliott this offseason.
Pete Fiutak later went as far as saying that TerBush is the best quarterback we currently have and that he is the sure starter in 2010. I like TerBush. He has already done more than I expected being a 2-star recruit form the middle of nowhere in Illinois. Still, he has a long way to go. He will be right there in the fight for the starting job next season with Marve and Rob Henry. As far as this year, however, I like Elliott. There is nothing wrong with being, "a limited talent that will be gone next year." We called him Billy Dicken in 1997 and was first team all-Big Ten out of nowhere. I don't think it is completely unexpected that Elliott could have a Dicken-esque season. The question is who will be his Brees?
For some additional reading, I found a great post made on Saturday by the good folks at The Rivalry, Esq. They dedicate themselves entirely to the Big Ten, and they have a great look at Elliott's throwing motion.
The Schedule: The start of the Danny Hope era shouldn't be too bad if the team can hold serve at home. The Boilermakers likely won't have a shot at beating Oregon in Autzen Stadium, but they should be strong enough to get by Toledo and Northern Illinois and a statement could be made against Notre Dame. With the Big Ten opener against Northwestern at home, Purdue gets to play in West Lafayette four times in the first five games and six times in eight games before Halloween. However, there are three road games in the final four. Not playing Iowa or Penn State will be a huge help in the drive for a decent year.
I absolutely do think we have a shot at beating Oregon, and I have gone on record many times as saying so. The Addicted to Quack guys are leery of the game as well. Why wouldn't we have a chance? We played them tough last year and they must replace some key players. Their veteran secondary is gone and in their place they have talent, but not a ton of experience. They have also been going through many of the same offensive line issues that we did last spring. They have a rough road trip to Boise State the week before, while we get what should be an easy home game against Toledo. This will be a much closer game than people expect, and I think we have a better shot of beating them than Notre Dame. Last year's Notre Dame game was an embarrassment that we had no business losing. This year the Irish will be better.
Key game: Sept. 26 vs. Notre Dame. Home wins over Toledo and Northern Illinois aren't going to be layups, but they're must-wins to have any real hope of going bowling. A good showing at Oregon would be nice, but a win is too much to ask for. Before Big Ten play kicks in, the Boilermakers could use a win over the Irish, after losing three of the last four in the series, to be 3-1 with Northwestern coming to town.
If we're going to have any chance at going to a bowl, Northern Illinois and Toledo have to be layups. Lose either of those games and we are done. If a win at Oregon is too much to ask for then why should we even bother playing the game? They are a better team than Notre Dame and they are more likely to be a national player this season than the Irish. To me, it is a more important game than Notre Dame because beating Oregon in Autzen Stadium will raise more eyebrows. It absolutely is a game we can win.
Projected Starter: Senior Joey Elliott stepped in for Curtis Painter three times last season, and was fine completing 8-of-15 passes for 81 yards while running for 13 yards and a score. And then he got hurt with a shoulder injury and that ended any hope of doing much over the second half of the year. The 6-2, 216-pound veteran isn't a top-shelf passer but he has decent mobility and he's been around long enough to know what he's doing. Known as a clutch passer in high school throwing for 7,797 yards and 80 touchdowns at Evansville High in Indiana. Now he'll have to come through to hold on to the starting job early this fall.
This is why I think Elliott has some serious Billy Dicken potential. The guy knew what he was doing in high school and has plenty of time to hone his craft in practice. He just needs a chance to show what he can do. A key element will be his mobility. Yes, it was nice to have Siller's athleticism at times last year, but his running ability can be a two edged sword. Sometimes quarterbacks like that run for the sake of running instead of being patient in the pocket. Brees was an expert at picking his spots to run. Even Orton was pretty good at it. Sometimes speed isn't as important as knowing when to tuck and run when the opening is there. To me, that is why Painter struggled so much. I think Elliott has that ability in him. If he shows it, it will open up our passing game even more.
Underappreciated but strong, fifth-year senior Mike Neal will be the anchor up front after an up-and-down career. He was supposed to be a key starter on the inside a few years ago, but instead he was a key backup making 33 tackles in 2007 before taking over the full-time job last year making 33 stops with 5.5 sacks and ten tackles for loss. Even though he's 6-4 and 301 pounds, he's able to play end if needed and would be ideal in a 3-4 alignment. He was tougher than last year throughout the offseason and he should be an All-Big Ten performer.
Stepping in at the other tackle spot is Kawann Short, a 6-4, 310-pound redshirt freshman who dominated at times throughout the spring. A great recruit, he's tremendously athletic for his size and he should be able to get into the backfield as easily as he'll eat up the run. All the tools and all the measurables are in place to become an instant star.
We absolutely need Neal and Short to do well against the run. I am a big fan of Mike Neal. He has shown me a lot the past two seasons and I think he is ready for a breakout. Our pass rush means nothing if we can't stop the run though. The worst example was Notre Dame last year. We turned Armando Allen, a disappointing talent to that point, into Marcus Allen from Tecmo Bowl. That was the most pathetic display of run defense I have ever seen because Notre Dame didn't even have a running game for the past 15 games before that one. Stopping the run plays to our strengths because the pass defense should be very good. Suddenly games become a lot easier to win when you only have to score 20 points as opposed to 40.
Projected Starters: The kicking game was once again all on senior Chris Summers, who struggled as a punter averaging 38.4 yards per kick with 14 put inside the 20 and regressed as a placekicker. He nailed 18-of-22 field goals two years ago, but missed five of his ten kicks last year. Now he'll be just the punter, while sophomore Carson Wiggs will serve as the placekicker and backup punter after hitting 8-of-11 field goals.
The punt return game sputtered without Dorien Bryant as Desmond Tardy averaged 6.3 yards per kick. Now the return game will be all about Aaron Valentin, a speedy receiver who averaged 23.7 yards per kickoff return and will handle the punt return duties.
Watch Out For ... Summers to be trying his leg at field goals again soon. Wiggs was great as a fill-in, but Summers was too good two years ago and has too long a leg to not see a few deep shots.
Strength: Valentin. He was a strong kickoff returner and a major weapon, and now he should add more pop to the punt returns.
Weakness: Punt coverage. A total disaster, the Boilermakers allowed a whopping 16.7 yards per punt return with three touchdowns. Summers was part of the problem, but the coverage teams struggled.
Outlook: J.B. Gibboney will take over the special teams coaching and there's a renewed emphasis on tightening things up. The kicking game will be fine, Summers is a good veteran and Wiggs will be solid. If Valentin can do for the punt return game what he does as a kick returner, the Boilermakers will have a major weapon.
Having Summers do long kicks is a new one on me, especially considering that Wiggs SET THE SCHOOL RECORD WITH A 53 YARD FIELD GOAL at Ohio State last season. Wiggs has more than enough leg for the position, and I think Summers will benefit greatly from concentrating solely on punting. This is a kid majoring in engineering. He has enough on his plate off the football field. I would honestly be shocked if he kicked one field goal this year (barring injury/gross underperformance in Wiggs). The punt coverage has to be better though. A punt return TD is what started the comeback against Oregon. A punt return TD nearly killed us against Michigan. A blocked punt for a TD was Ohio State's only score in a game where our defense played out of its mind.
I don't want to say too much since I'll be getting into my own previews here in a few weeks, but CFN has given us pretty high rankings at every position for a team that is supposed to struggle. A good defense can mask a lot of mistakes in an offense. If we can figure out the whole running the ball=killing the clock and resting the defense equation when we should have a good running game things should be even better. Obviously we're not going to run Navy's triple option every game, but we need to have just enough of a passing game that people don't concentrate against the run. If we can do that, we will be a lot better than other people think.