The 2015 football season is going to be huge for Darrell Hazell going forward. After going 4-20 in the first two seasons, but showing at least some improvement in year two, he needs to have a successful year three. In fact, I would argue that a 6-6 bowl season at minimum would be critical, especially when you consider what the other coaches Purdue seriously considered did in their second year:
Sonny Dykes - California - Dykes also went 1-11 in year one, but improved to 5-7 in year 2 and had a team that was much more competitive. Cal would be in a bowl game if not for a 47-yard Hail Mary converted by Arizona for the Wildcats win. They also dropped a game to UCLA on a late field goal. Their offense was prolific to say the least, scoring more than 38 points in a game.
Dave Doeren - NC State - The Wolfpack improved from 3-9 to 7-5 and even pushed Florida State hard before losing. They will play in the St. Petersburg Bowl against UCF on December 26.
Butch Jones - Tennessee - The Volunteers had only modest improvement from 5-7 to 6-6, but they will play in the Taxslayer Bowl on New Year's Day. I would argue that with the resources devoted to football Tennessee has been a massive disappointment for several years now.
Those were the big three, as I don't think we were in the market for someone like Chris Helfrich or anything. They are all ahead of coach Hazell too.
A dramatic turnaround will begin at the quarterback position. Purdue has not had consistent quarterback play for a while. The receiver position hasn't exactly helped matters with both Cameron Posey and DeAngelo Yancey both having very disappointing 2014 seasons. I feel like I should state a caveat that it does not matter if we have Drew Brees himself return to quarterback in 2015. If the offensive line doesn't play better and the receivers don't improve it is not going to matter who is back there.
So here are the four that will battle for the job:
Austin Appleby - Junior (RS) - For now, Appleby is the incumbent. For his career he sits at 1,517 yards and 11 TDs against 11 interceptions. He ended 2014 very poorly, however. After starting seven games in a row he threw five picks against only two touchdowns in the last two games. For his career he is 149 of 278 for a completion percentage that is not much over 50%. It also seemed like he struggled to throw the ball to anyone other Danny Anthrop. Four of his career TD passes have gone to Anthrop, who had 379 receiving yards in the four starts where they played together this year.
I still like Appleby's attitude, but he had almost no help in the final two games. The protection kept breaking down and his receivers got no separation. Anthrop will return and there are now a couple of interesting recruits coming in, but Posey and Yancey have got to get better.
Danny Etling - Junior - Etling has been extremely quiet ever since losing the starting job before the Illinois game. He did not take a single snap since the September 27 game against Iowa, where by all accounts he looked like a completely broken quarterback. Etling is at 2,490 yards and 16 TD passes against 12 interceptions now. Only against Notre Dame in his five starts did he surpass 20 completions and 200 yards. In 13 career games he has only been over 200 yards four times, with the 2013 IU game his high water park at 485 yards and four TDs. Those are great numbers, but when they mostly came after we were down 40 points I don't put a lot of stock in them.
What will Etling do? He is very likely staying at least through spring football, but he has his redshirt year available and can go anywhere else with two years of eligibility remaining. He can even go home to Indiana State and start immediately. His silence since losing the starting job has been interesting. Only he knows what he is going to do.
David Blough - Freshman (RS) - Blough made it through the year while redshirting and he looked good in spring football, but that was against our defense, which hardly instills confidence. I like his attitude and that he is a Brees disciple, but we're still asking a player that has not played a down of college football to come in and be great immediately. Maybe the year learning helped him and he can seize the job this spring. He was at least battling for it this fall. The pedigree is there with his Elite 11 performance, but doing well in 7-on-7 is nothing compared to the Big Ten.
Bough might get a look simply to give someone else a chance. I think he will push both Appleby and tling with the position wide open.
Elijah Sindelar - Freshman - Sindelar had a record-breaking year and was considered the best player coming out of the state of Kentucky. He announced that he was going to enroll in January so he could go through spring practice just like Blough did before him. Of course, the Purdue ACL curse immediately found him. Just 24 hours later his knee was torn in a state playoff game.
The injury likely prevent Sindelar from participating much in spring football, as he would only be 4 months after the original injury. I the quarterback situation bad enough that a true freshman can win the job for the season opener less than a year after a major knee injury? I don't think so. Not with Blough around for a look.
Assuming there are no transfers Purdue will be four deep at the position. Sindelar has the luxury of being able to redshirt and heal with no expectations to play immediately. If injuries or transfers mean we get down to him, well, we probably have bigger problems anyway.
Blough is likely a lock to stay. I don't see Appleby leaving either because it is not in his character to transfer. This is good because at minimum we have an experienced backup ready to go for two more seasons with Appleby. As for Etling, who knows? I think Etling has more raw talent than Appleby, but Appleby had more moxie on the field.
The unfortunate thing is that both Appleby and Etling looked really, really bad in their final games this year. Can they hold off Blough? Has Blough done enough to deserve a look? It will definitely make spring football more interesting.