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Looking Forward To 2015 Purdue Football

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Purdue should get better in 2015, but how much better?

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The playoffs have been emB1Ggened and the Big Ten once again rules all. Yes, even our Boilermakers, who somehow dropped from 12th to 14th in the conference this season thanks to a late swoon.

But hey, we have the Cannon, so yeah!

The 2015 season is going to be a turning point for Darrell Hazell. After a 4-20 start it is time for him to start producing some results with his own recruits. The first year was an abject disaster as the 2013 Boilermakers rank as not only the worst Purdue team of the modern era, but one of the worst Big Ten teams of all time. The 2014 season was not much better, but when you look at things abjectly, there was at least improvement:

  • The wins went from one to three
  • We at least didn't nearly lose to an FCS team
  • We beat two bowl teams
  • We beat a Big Ten team, on the road in a trophy game, no less
  • The blowouts were fewer, as Purdue hung with Minnesota, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa. None of those games were over at halftime.
  • For the first time in a decade it looks like we have real, live linebackers in Ja'Whaun Bentley and Danny Ezechukwu

There are still a lot of questions with this team. There are no delusions at all of Purdue standing in Ohio State's place a year from now hoisting the trophy. More likely, we'll be happy if we're back in Detroit hoisting a trophy the day after Christmas. In that, I would be happy, because it means we at least doubled our win total and answered a few more questions. I am still frustrated that the Bucket is in enemy hands for a second straight year when that was a very winnable game, but I also know there was a step forward this season. Much of that step came because we couldn't be any worse than the 2013 team, but progress was made.

So let's look ahead. Can there be more progress? Here are some positives already:

  • We don't play Ohio State! - The defending champs are going to be nasty good, but we won't see them (unless we make the B1G title game).
  • We don't play Notre Dame! - Yeah, I want to beat the Irish, but since 2007 this has been an automatic loss and I am tired of losing to them. I don't have to care a single iota about Notre Dame until 2020. It's nice.
  • We don't play Michigan! - The only narrative that will be overplayed more than "Ohio State is an unbeatable juggernaut that will win every game by 50" is going to be "Jim Harbaugh is the Lord and Savior of Michigan football and wills somehow manage to win every game twice."
  • Bentley and Ezechukwu are back - For once we have some stability and real talent in the middle of the defense to build around. For years the defense has been a donut with some talent in the secondary and on the lines, but the linebackers were awful. With these two guys and several other returning players the defense can be a little salty.
  • The entire offensive line is back - The line was atrocious in 2013 and better in 2014, but everyone is back from a unit that did well at times and poorly at others. A solid offensive line can make quarterbacks and running backs look a lot better.

Let's look at the schedule:

September 5 at Marshall (13-1, Conference USA Champions, won Boca Raton Bowl)

Why Purdue can win:

Because it is Marshall. Yeah, they were 13-1 and won a bowl games this past year, but they played a schedule that even Purdue could have gone 13-1 against. They must break in a new quarterback after Rakeem Cato threw for nearly 4,000 yards and had 40 TDs. Much of their strength will come from Devon Johnson, who ran for more than 1,700 yards, but he could go to the NFL Draft. Their defense only gave up 21 points per game, but the toughest game was against Western Kentucky who beat them 67-66. That's not a basketball score.

Why Marshall can win:

Simply by being a Big Ten team going to a non-power five conference team we're going to be the highlight of their schedule. They're going to get up for this game, especially since they know it is winnable for them. Devon Johnson, if he returns, can run wild. This is still a conference champion playing at home. Don't discount that.

September 12 vs. Indiana State (8-6, won FCS playoff game)

Why Purdue can win:

We're playing an FCS team at home and have never lost to an FCS team.

Why Indiana State can win:

There is no valid excuse for a Big Ten team to ever lose to an FCS team (North Dakota State excluded).

September 19 vs. Virginia Tech (7-6, won Military Bowl)

Why Purdue can win:

Aside from the absolutely inexplicable win over Ohio State the Virginia Tech was a bad team. They had a 0-0 tie with Wake Forest, who was one of the few Power Five conference teams worse than Purdue. They ended up losing that game 6-3 in double overtime. Their offense was really, really bad except for against Ohio State and in their bowl win over Cincinnati.

Why Virginia Tech can win:

This team did beat Ohio State. That is a wild card right there. They beat the best team in the country and lost to one of the worst in Wake Forest, so figure that out. Their defense is still really good and our offense has hardly been consistent.

September 26 vs. Bowling Green (8-6, won MAC East and Camellia Bowl)

Why Purdue can win:

We're playing a MAC team at home and the Big Ten should be able to win those games. Any self respecting Big Ten team handles its business against the MAC at home.

Why Bowling Green can win:

Because we haven't been a self-respecting Big Ten team the last two years, losing by 31 to Northern Illinois and 21 to Central Michigan. They beat Indiana last year at home and have a hell of an offense that returns James Knapke, who was solid as a quarterback.

October 3 at Michigan State (11-2, won Cotton Bowl)

Why Purdue can win:

Even though Purdue was awful the last two years and Michigan State was excellent with only three losses, the Boilers played them close into the fourth quarter in both games.  If Purdue is even a little better and Michigan State is a little worse it could get even more interesting.

Why Michigan State can win:

This is a team that is 24-3 the last two seasons and their only two losses in the last 23 games were to the two teams that played for a National Championship last night. That means they are really, really damn good.

October 10 vs. Minnesota (8-5, lost Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)

Why Purdue can win:

Because we were one dumbass penalty or a fumbled fourth down play away from winning at TCF Bank this past year. They were one dimensional with an awful passing offense, but what they did do, they did it well. Purdue might have had its best offensive game of the last two years in Minneapolis. Too bad it was undone by the stupid penalty that kept their game-winning field goal drive alive.

Why Minnesota can win:

Minnesota is still a pretty good team. Of their five losses two were to TCU and Ohio State, who might have been the two best teams in the nation. They are a solid defensive team that can run the ball well.

October 17 at Wisconsin (11-3, won Outback Bowl)

Why Purdue can win:

Because Melvin Gordon is gone and can't run for 243,077,123 yards against us. Also, for the first time in ages Purdue actually played Wisconsin tough last year.

Why Wisconsin can win:

Corey Clement has next and Wisconsin still owns Purdue overall.

October 31 vs. Nebraska (9-4, lost Holiday Bowl)

Why Purdue can win:

The Boilers played them close in Lincoln and Ameer Abdullah is gone, so maybe they can win. The Mike Riley hiring doesn't exactly inspire me and even though they won nine games, they still lost four and always lose four games a year exactly.

Why Nebraska can win:

Yeah, they are consistent with the four loss thing, but they are also consistent in winning nine games. This will still be a solid team that will be tough to beat.

November 7 vs. Illinois (6-7, lost Heart of Dallas Bowl)

Why Purdue can win:

Hey! We have a winning streak against a Big Ten team! We already beat Illinois and we get them at home. You don't want to backslide when we already beat them. They also were one of the weakest bowl teams in America.

Why Illinois can win:

They did put a few things together late this season after losing to Purdue. They beat Minnesota, Penn State, and Northwestern, so they weren't completely awful.

November 14 at Northwestern (5-7, no bowl)

Why Purdue can win:

Northwestern was not a good team last year. They couldn't run the ball and struggled to score points. How do they get better?

Why Northwestern can win:

Northwestern was mysteriously better when they faced teams from the state of Indiana, looking great on offense in consecutive weeks against Notre Dame and Purdue. They are also playing at home, and they know they can beat us.

November 21 at Iowa (7-6, lost TaxSlayer Bowl)

Why Purdue can win:

Iowa has been so limited offensively and just underwhelming overall that they don't instill me with confidence. We also won our last trip to Iowa City and they are Our Most Hated Rivals.

Why Iowa can win:

They have won two in a row against Purdue and the offense has done little to nothing against them. Aside from the win in Iowa City in 2012 Purdue has not played Iowa well at all.

November 28 vs. Indiana (4-8, no bowl)

Why Purdue can win:

Indiana is the worst FBS level team we play next season and we're at home. They have one win in West Lafayette since 1996, and it took a ridiculous string of injuries and a terribly coached second half by Danny Hope to get that. Also, they are Indiana.

Why Indiana can win:

Because they have won two in a row against Purdue and Kevin Wilson might be a better coach than Darrell Hazell.