It is December 1st, and Purdue football season is already over for the third straight year. That may not have seemed like much in the past. Even our great teams in the ‘60s went to only one bowl game because of the precious few bids to go around. Now, it is much more embarrassing. Like Boiled Sports said, it is an indictment of the program if you can't get to a bowl game these days. Shoot, Indiana ended up a game short and they even tried to schedule one with that weak non-conference slate.
We have had 13 wins in the last three seasons combined. That was with an experienced fifth year senior quarterback in two of those seasons and a highly touted transfer. In fact, the problems have spun in reverse. We went from having a solid offense and shaky defense to an offense that couldn't score in a women's prison with a fistful of pardons and a defense that has done more than enough for a typical Purdue offense to win. I have never expected our defense to be pitching shutouts left and right. If they can hold a team to 20 or less (especially if the offense isn't giving them poor field position) we should be able to win.
Next year has to end in a bowl game, and that means at least seven wins. The opportunity is there, so let's look at the schedule first.
September 3 vs. ?
I have heard that Middle Tennessee State or Bowling Green are the likely opponents for this game. If it is MTSU, it means we won't have a single MAC opponent for the first time since 1998. Since we like to crap the bed in MAC games lately, that may be a good thing. It is possible this game could be moved to September 17th or 24th to accommodate another opponent. Whoever it is, we need to beat them.
September 10 at Rice
Ironically, 1998 was the year we played our end of this home and home that will finally be completed. This game should still be a win. If we can beat Northwestern (who easily handled the Owls in Houston this year) while virtually crippled we can beat Rice. Like us, they were 4-8 this year with an ineffective passing game. I would say we can move the ball with impunity against a defense that was 115th this year in points given up at 38.5 per game, but we struggled against Toledo, Indiana, and Michigan's shitty defenses.
September 17 vs. Southeast Missouri State
This date could be shifted around due to the opponent to be named. It won't be your typical 1-AA game, either. SEMO is in the 1-AA playoffs this season, just like Western Illinois. There is still no excuse to ever lose to a 1-AA team.
October 1 vs. Notre Dame
It is time to beat the Fighting Irish again. We should have beaten them at least once in the last three years, but we have failed to do so. They have not had the epic step forward as is typical when they hire the latest Greatest Coach Who Has Ever Coached. Their recruiting is leveling off a bit, and there is not the forward momentum that they were expecting. We also get them at home. It is time to beat them again, because there is no reason we shouldn't expect at least a competitive game against them any more. They will continue to be a middling program, so we must have higher goals than hoping to beat them.
October 8 vs. Minnesota
Thanks to the radical changes in the Big Ten we get the gift of a second straight home game against Minnesota. They will also be in year one of a new regime, so it is important that we stay ahead of them. Still, this is a wild card of a game because of their coaching change. Tim Brewster left some talent in Minneapolis. Can the new guy develop it?
October 15 at Penn State
I know we say this every year, but it could be Joe Paterno's final season. I think they have enough left to pull off one more nice run under JoePa. Our one win in Happy Valley was against a pretty bad Penn State team in 2004, and we struggled to get that one. I don't like our chances here.
October 22 vs. Illinois
Now that this is a game we will have every season maybe it can be a true trophy game. The Fighting Illini finally had an average season instead of their BCS or nothing standard of the past decade. If we can come in with an offensive gameplan that doesn't look like it was drawn up by a 1st grader we should be favored at home.
October 29 at Michigan
This game depends on two things: 1. Will the Wolverines choose to field a defense next year, and 2. Will we decide we want to do something against it. We proved that we can play well against running quarterbacks like Denard Robinson. Also, will RichRod be back?
November 5 at Wisconsin
This will be a loss because we can never match them physically.
November 12 vs. Ohio State
This will be a loss because last year's game was a fluke. We didn't even bother to do anything against them this year.
November 19 vs. Iowa
Our new Most Hated Rival comes in humbled after their all-everything season ended at 7-5 with a loss to Minnesota. It even could have been 6-6 if Indiana could catch passes. Now they lose a bunch, so we can take game one in this rivalry.
November 26 at Indiana
We haven't lost two in a row to the Hoosiers since 1993-94. Indiana took 4 of 5 from 1990-94. I think I will break something tasteful if we lose two in a row to them.
As you can see, the schedule is not that overwhelming. Yes, the Big Ten was supposed to be tough this year, but outside of the three champions, it was a bunch of mediocre. 7-5 overall was good enough for fourth place this year. We also held second half leads against two of those three champions. We're not that far away. We just have to answer the following questions:
Quarterback - Above all, we need consistency at the position. The Illinois game proved that. I think, in the end the starter will be the winner of a competition between Robert Marve and Rob Henry. Henry matured late in the year, but lost the last two games on brutal interceptions. He'll get better (right?). Marve was only fully healthy for the Notre Dame game. I think he can come back and have a redemptive season. At this point, I really want the kid to succeed. He has matured off the field and has done everything right in the classroom at Purdue. He deserves to have a solid final year. I predict Sean Robinson will redshirt, as he would have this year, as will Russell Bellomy. Caleb TerBush will possibly be on hand for depth purposes.
Wide Receiver - Part of our quarterback struggles came from the top targets not being there. How many first downs did we lose because of the Keith Smith injury? We never got to see what Justin Siller could do. How handy was the Speed of O.J. Ross when he was there? At least Antavian Edison had a breakout season. All four of those guys, plus Gary Bush, can give us a very good group.
Running Back - This is Ralph Bolden's job if he comes back healthy. I have no idea who will back him up. Al-Terek McBurse has been a bust so far, and they seem intent on moving him to receiver. Doug Gentry, Akeem Hunt, and Brandon Cottom are listed as running backs from our small incoming class. Unless Reggie Pegram improves, one of them will likely get a shot. Jared Crank returns as the fullback, which is good.
Offensive line - First, the good news: Four starters return. Dennis Kelly, Nick Mondek, Peters Drey, and Ken Plue made it through the season healthy and give us a solid group. The bad news is that they couldn't run block for squat against Indiana. Rick Schmeig will probably get the first crack at being the fifth starter, while Trevor Foy and Andrew Brewer could be in the mix. I don't know what to think because they weren't an awful group, but they weren't great either.
Defensive line - You don't get better by losing Ryan Kerrigan, but Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston were great this year. Gerald Gooden disappointed by not taking advantage of all the attention paid to Kerrigan. Someone must emerge as a rush end, even if Antwon Higgs moves down to defensive line.
Linebackers - For the love of God, cover the middle of the field on third down, please! I really like Will Lucas, but it isn't good when experience guys continue to be passed up by younger players. Chris Carlino was pushed out this year. Jason Werner will be gone, but I don't care if we play walk-ons here as long as they cover the middle of the field. And that doesn't mean giving a 15 yard cushion at the snap.
Secondary - We found our answer at cornerback with Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen. Safety is another matter. Albert Evans is good, but we have to have someone better than Logan Link. On the pyre of redshirts I was shocked that E.J. Johnson didn't have his end up there. I hope it pays off, because I like what I saw from him in all the recruiting videos. Normando Harris could be a more regular answer here too.
Specialists - How will Carson Wiggs fare without his Blurry teammates of John Finch and Kris Staats? Finch was as solid as you can be at long snapper, which will now fall to Jesse Schmitt or Kevin Ballinger. Who knows about holder. Cody Webster had an excellent freshman season punting, plus his mom is the supplier of Yuengling. Jonathan Linkenheimer should be the kickoff specialist as was expected before his injury this year.
Coaching - If we don't make a bowl game it will because of this position. As you can see above, we have a ton of experience back everywhere on the field. Technically, we lose two starters on defense (Kerrigan and Werner), Three on offense (Kyle Adams, Justin Pierce, and Cortez Smith), and no specialists. Also, because of injuries this year, there will be experienced depth behind the starters. That means it lies on the coaches to develop continuity with the players returning.
The schedule is not that hard. The players will be talented. If we don't make a bowl game, then we have our answer about what isn't working.