Just 12 weeks from today the Big Ten Media Days get underway in Chicago, officially kicking off the 2013 college football season. We're still over 100 days away from the kickoff of the year, which will be counted down once again by the other writers here at the site, but the 12 week window allows me to get a very early start on looking at all 12 opponents on Purdue's schedule.
For the second time in its history the Boilermakers will open the season at Nippert Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bearcats. This presents Purdue with the unique experience of a road game that is still relatively close to home, but not in the Big Ten. There was a very large pro-Purdue crowd the last time this happened back in 2001, when Brandon Hance took over for Drew Brees and Purdue played its first game after the Rose Bowl.
Needless to say, things are different now.
2012 Record: 10-3, 5-2 Big East (Shared title with Louisville, Rutgers, and Syracuse)
Bowl Result: Beat Duke 48-34 in Belk Bowl
Blog Representation: Down the Drive
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 1-0
Last Purdue win: 9/2/2001 19-14 at Cincinnati
Last Season for the Bearcats:
Cincinnati was a very good teams last season and perhaps a bit underrated at 10-3 overall. Their only losses were at Toledo, an overtime loss to a Louisville team that won the Sugar Bowl, and a 10-3 loss to Rutgers. Among their most impressive wins was a 27-24 win at Virginia tech. the Hokies struggled last year, but they are always tough at home. A pair of Cincinnati's wins came against FCS teams in Delaware State and Fordham, however.
Despite being separated by less than 200 miles Purdue and Cincinnati have only met once in football. The Boilers started defense of their 2000 Big Ten title with a 19-14 win at Cincinnati, and the return game in West Lafayette was filled by Syracuse in 2004 when Cincinnati moved from Conference USA to the Big East. This is an entirely new contract and the Bearcats will come to Ross-Ade in 2016 as a return game.
That 2001 game is significant to me because it marked the first time I ever traveled to a Purdue road game. I was a senior that fall and I went down to Nippert and watched Joey Harris rush for 79 yards and a score while Hance threw for 117 yards and another TD in the win. Stu Schweigert capped the win with a late goal-line interception, his second of the game.
This game will be interesting because Purdue made a big push for Butch Jones over Darrell Hazell back in December. Jones, of course, eventually left for Tennessee, leaving the Bearcats to hire Tommy Tuberville away from Texas Tech, which has not gone well. Tuberville has been quite successful with a 130-77 record and 7-3 mark in bowls at Mississippi, Auburn, and Texas Tech.
Offensively, Tuberville has some definite talent to build around, as Cincinnati could be a top 25 team. Quarterback Munchie Legaux returns for his senior season after throwing for 1,716 yards and 13 TDs against nine interceptions. His completion percentage was only 52%, however, leading him to split time with Brendon Kay (87-138-2, 1,298 yards, 10 TDs). Kay will also be back, and the nomadic Gunner Kiel is expected to join the roster. If Kiel ever decides he is good enough to actually play remains to be seen, but he would have to sit a year anyway.
I don't know if Tuberville will continue the rotation or pick one QB, but his offensive style will be familiar as he hired two of Jim Cheney's underlings to run the offense.
On the ground the Bearcats have to replace George Winn, who rushed for 1,334 yards and 13 scores as a true workhorse back. R.D. Abernathy will likely take over as the premier back after rushing for 336 yards and three scores, while Legaux and kay were both mobile in each running for over 300 yards.
Cincinnati has similar losses in the passing game with Travis Kelce (45-722-8) gone as the top receiver. Anthony McClung, a product of Pike HS in Indianapolis, is the leading returning receiver with 34 catches for 539 yards and two scores.
Cincinnati will be helped by returning its entire starting offensive line intact. Parker Ehringer, Eric Lefeld, Austen Bujnoch, Sam Longo, and Dan Sprague were all underclass starters last season, but each weighs in at less than 290 pounds. This is where Brandon Taylor, Bruce Gaston, and Ryan Russell have a chance for a big day. They are not facing the typical 6'7", 320 pound behemoths they are used to facing in the Big Ten. Still, this line only gave up 15 sacks last season.
Purdue will be in trouble if its offense does not click immediately, because Cincinnati had one of the best defenses in the nation last year. They gave up only 18.5 points per game (14th nationall) and were good against the run at just 3.8 yards per carry. Cincinnati was often in the nickel last year and lost seven senior starters including leading tackler Greg Blair.
The top player that comes back on the defensive line is 6'1" 287 pound Jordan Stepp, who had 36 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Nick Temple leads the team as a returning tackler with 54 stops and 2.5 sacks. As a team, Cincinnati had 31 sacks, which was quite impressive connsidering the team leader was Walter Stewart with five.
The secondary was quite adept at picking off passes with 16 interceptions spread among nine players. Arryn Chenault is the top returner here with three picks from his corner position and 49 tackles.
Cincinnati Special Teams:
Tony Miliano was a good kicker with a 17 of 22 performance on field goals, giving the Bearcats stability at the position Purdue lacks. His long was 47 yards. Cincinnati must find a new punt after Pat O'Donnell graduated.
Cincinnati was rather pedestrian on kick returns with Abernathy handling those duties. McClung handled punt return duties at 9.9 yards per return.
Both teams have new coaches looking for a fresh start, but Cincinnati is in a better position. They had to poach a coach because someone poached theirs. Purdue fired a coach because the morale of the fans was at an all-time low even after two straight bowl seasons. Purdue returns more players, but Cincinnati as a program was in a much better position. They have been to four straight bowl games and 10 bowl games since 2000. A pair of those games (in 2009 and 2010) were BCS bowls. Sure, they come from the Big East, but this has been one of the best Big East teams over a five year run.
This won't be an easy one for Purdue. Tuberville's teams have always been pretty good on offense and he has the key returning parts to be pretty good there. Where they could be weak is on defense because of the loss of so many starters.
We also have no idea what to expect out of Purdue. Will Rob Henry or Danny Etling start? Will Akeem Hunt be as dominant as he looked in the spring? Will the offensive line come together? Will the return of so many defensive starters be beneficial?
Texas Tech was second in the nation in passing last year, so expect them to bomb away against Ricardo Allen and his group. Tuberville's Texas Tech team gave up 31.8 points per game last year, but scored 37.5.
I think Cincinnati's experience on offense gives it an edge. They limit the turnovers and win in a shootout. Cincinnati 38, Purdue 35