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2014 Purdue Football Preview: Quarterbacks

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Purdue has a three-way battle for starting quarterback raging in fall camp.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

With the season now 19 days away it is time to look at who will be playing where. We're starting to get a decent idea who will start the home opener against Western Michigan on August 30th. It is a game that simply has to be a win because Western was possibly one of the very few teams in college football that was worse than Purdue in 2014.

Purdue returns a load of starters on both sides of the ball, but after a 1-11 season that should mean nothing. Coach Hazell appears to be approaching fall camp as if every single position is up for grabs, and that's the right way to go. You can't just roll it back when you have the worst season in program history.

With that in mind, let's look at the quarterbacks, where there is a heated competition to be the next in The Cradle.

The Incumbent:

Danny Etling - So. - 149 of 267, 1,690 yards, 10 touchdowns, 7 interceptions (also 1 rushing TD)

On paper it looks like Etling could be the guy to beat. He has the most game experience, but he is still only a true sophomore. He has been in the system for over a year now and through a pair of spring practices, but that only means so much. He is the one who has real, live game experience, which is invaluable at the quarterback position.

Etling is also coming off of his best game too. He threw for 485 yards and four touchdowns in the season-ending loss to Indiana. Yes, it was against a terrible Indiana defense and much came when Purdue was already down 40, but when you consider that Purdue couldn't move the ball at all last season those are good numbers.

Where we should be concerned is that Etling couldn't move against an equally bad Illinois defense a week earlier. That was a very winnable game and Etling was 20 of 29 for only 163 yards and a score against a touchdown. He was also intercepted as Purdue was driving for the go-ahead touchdown with a minute left.

Etling is still 0-8 as a starter, so he has as many wins on the field as anyone else on the roster. We've seen that he can do some things and he has some skills, but it is early yet. Winning this QB battle might set him as the starter for the next three years.

The Challenger:

Austin Appleby - So. - 5 of 6, 68 yards, TD

Appleby has been around for two seasons, as he redshirted during Coach Hope's final season and emerged as the No. 3 guy coming out of last year's fall camp. Once the Rob Henry experiment ended Appleby moved up to No. 2, and saw his only action in the final drive of the game against Iowa. He completed 5 of his 6 pass attempts, including a 44 yard TD pass to Danny Anthrop with 44 seconds left.

That's an incredibly small sample size, but he at least looked good in that mop-up duty. Etling had a rough day to that point and had only 145 yards on 15 completions in over three quarters of action. As a whole, Purdue's offense had one of its worst days with only 266 total yards, so the 68 yards he threw for represented almost a quarter of Purdue's entire offensive output.

Appleby has been splitting snaps with the No. 1 offense so far in fall camp, and I like what he has been saying. He has never conceded the position to Etling and has tried as hard as he can to push himself for the job. You have to think he is making it a close competition too. Coach Hazell originally said he was going to name a starter after a week of practice, but that has not happened. Even today, Appleby had the No. 1 snaps in the first practice and Etling had it in the afternoon practice. Here is what Hazell said:

''It's a great competition right now,'' Hazell said during the team's media day festivities. ''All three of those guys are doing a great job. It is fun to see. This coming week will tell us a lot. There's a lot of reps to be had. Austin has done a good job of really closing the gap, and so has David. There has been significant competition.

''If this was a situation where one guy was playing poorly, and another guy was playing well, then you would like to have a decision. But when they all are playing well, that is good.''

So it looks like we're waiting another week.

The Kid:

David Blough - Fr.

A lightly recruited quarterback is coming in as a true freshman and is pushing upperclassmen for playing time? Have we seen this before?

I have to admit that seeing Blough at last summer's The Gathering represent Purdue and talk about being a Drew Brees disciple was exciting. The kid has some moxie and is already not afraid to learn. In many of the practice reports that have come from GBI he has been the most accurate of the three. The problem is that he has been playing with the No. 3 offense. He hasn't even been bumped up to the 2's, let alone the 1's.

I tend to believe that he is the more accurate one of the three. He had the best spring game of all three (he graduated HS early to attend spring practice), and he had the only TD pass one a nice deep ball to Danny Anthrop.

One of the downsides to the competition we have right now is that if one guy wins, we could lose at least one to a transfer, especially with another promising QB already coming in 2015. The nice thing about Blough is that he could redshirt if he doesn't have to play. That puts Etling and Appleby both two years ahead of him and gives him even more time to compete.

Because Blough hasn't been given snaps with the No. 1 offense I think he is at a disadvantage, but it is impressive no less that he is already pushing for the top job.

Final Analysis:

I t doesn't matter who wins the job. If the offensive line does not show improvement Purdue is not going to have much of a chance. All three guys are solid choices and I think Etling and Appleby have shown a lot of improvement since last year, but when they are forced to run for their lives every play with no time to throw it doesn't matter. We could have Peyton Manning right now and without an offensive line we could still lose most of our games because there is no protection.

If I had to choose, I would give a slight edge to Etling based on experience. I am big on that, and he is the one that took the shots last year. I think if he has some time he can be a really good quarterback. He can get the offense moving and has a ton of weapons around him that are promising. He just needs a line.