Purdue needs to settle its quarterback position very, very quickly.
Purdue may be the Cradle of Quarterbacks, but of late there has been a revolving door at the position. Here are your opening day starters for every season since 2008 (Joe Tiller's final year) with parenthesis around players that have started at least one game in that season later on:
2008: Curtis Painter (Justin Siller, Joey Elliott played, then was hurt, walk-on Chris Bennett played three plays due to injuries)
2009: Joey Elliott
2010: Robert Marve (Rob Henry, Justin Siller, Sean Robinson)
2011: Caleb TerBush (Marve did not start, but played extensively)
2012: Marve (TerBush started a few games, Henry played extensively as Danny Hope rotated 3 QBs)
2013: Henry (Danny Etling, Austin Appleby played a bit)
2014: Danny Etling (Austin Appleby started midway through the season)
Painter made the NFL and even got a few starts with Indianapolis. Elliott and Marve made the CFL. Everything else has pretty much been a disaster with some small bright spots. There has been no consistency at the position since Painter left, and it is not like Brees begat Orton begat Painter. Let's not forget the Brandons (Hance and Kirsch) who also flamed out.
It is no secret that Purdue needs consistency at the position. Etling was pretty much ruined by a porous offensive line as a true freshman in 2013 and lost his job last year before transferring. That leaves Purdue with a single quarterback that has college experience. Either he gets the job this year, or we start over with another freshman trying to find that consistency.
Austin Appleby - Jr. (RS)
149 of 278 career. 1,517 yards, 11 TDs, 11 INTs, 198 yards rushing, 5 TDs.
Appleby's numbers should be looked at both with and without Danny Anthrop as a receiver. Even in his first career action, which came against Iowa in 2013, Appleby's rapport with Anthrop was apparent. His first TD pass was a 44-yard score to Anthrop in that game, and as long as Anthrop was healthy last season Appleby played well. He threw a TD to Anthrop against Central Michigan last season when Etling was pulled late, and later found him two more times for scores.
Appleby took over the starting job at Illinois last season and immediately paid dividends with a victory behind 202 yards passing, 76 yards rushing, and three total touchdowns. After that Appleby was up and down. He played well in losses to Michigan State and Minnesota. He was pretty awful against Indiana. He showed some ability to run the ball efficiently when it was there and had several big gains. Unfortunately, he was not helped by his receivers, especially after Anthrop was injured.
So where does that leave him? Well, he is a redshirt junior and, at minimum, an insurance policy for the next two years in case of injuries. He has demonstrated leadership and has said all the right things, but has yet to put it together on the field. So far his best game has been that Illinois game where he did not turn the ball over and let a terrible run defense do the work for him. Later, against another bad defense in Indiana, he threw three interceptions and had only 123 yards passing.
I would bet that Appleby is named the starter against Marshall. He has experience, the leadership, and aside from the Indiana game has not been horrid. There were far too many problems for him to shoulder all of the blame for Purdue's six game losing streak last season. Some of those problems, like an awful third down defense and disappointing receivers, have hopefully been fixed. I think coach Hazell gives him the nod because so far the most "experienced" guy has been named the starter in each of his previous two years. We could really use a Billy Dicken/Joey Elliott type of season out of him.
Whether he stays there, however, is a different story.
The Kid from Texas
David Blough - Fr. (RS)
Ever since I saw David Blough at The Opening two summers ago, proudly sporting a Purdue visor as he dazzled in seven-on-seven drills, I have been excited. A 6'1" quarterback from Central Texas that is accurate, smart, somewhat overlooked, and loyal to the major program that offered him? Who does this remind you of?
There are plenty of reasons to compare Blough to Drew Brees. I am not the only one:
It hardly seemed like a stretch in watching the Elite 11 Finals to start comparing Blough to Brees because of their similarities in stature and mechanical efficiency. It's a comparison that Dilfer supports as a big fan of Blough, too.
In watching the Opening Blough just had "The Look", as well. It is that undefinable poise and confidence that, honestly a quarterback needs to be successful. Blough seems to know his abilities and what he can do right to the limit. It is confidence without being cocky.
Now... let's not get too excited. He still has not played a single down of college football. He played for a pretty bad HS team in Texas and 7-on-7 drills are far different than real football. They are great for learning routes and improving accuracy, but it is a lot damn harder than when a 280 pound defensive lineman is bearing down on you.
There is a lot to like about Blough. He seems like a great kid and he very well could beat out Appleby to start from day 1. Is he the end-all, be-all Savior of Purdue football, however? I doubt it, mostly because we're so bad we need more than one savior because even Antwaan Randle-El playing at Indiana is a legitimate Heisman candidate playing for a crap team like Indiana.
Blough will be heard from. There will be some point this year where we see him on the field, whether it is the opener at Marshall, in garbage during a (hopeful) blowout against Indiana State, due to injury, or because Appleby fades. If he has to wait two years before he is the starter because Appleby fully seizes the job, so be it.
I will say that, at least to my eyes, Blough looked like the best quarterback in the spring. He is probably a major reason why Etling transferred by passing him on the depth chart.
The Injured Freshman with Gaudy Numbers
Elijah Sindelar - Fr.
The underdog in this three man race is Sindelar. Though he is a 4-star commitment and he comes with a bevy of state records in his native Kentucky, he is still a true freshman trying to play the toughest position on the field and beat out two more experienced players. There is also the fact that he tore his ACL last season and is still not a full year from that injury.
Sindelar has a great pedigree. He was Kentucky's Mr. Football and threw for more than 12,000 yards and 140 TDs during his high school career before injury. He is still a true freshman. Rarely does a true freshman come in and start at quarterback with a ton of success without much around him. The most recent example is Brad Kaaya, whose defense did him no favors but he still won six games and he looked really good for Miami last season.
Sindelar has his surgery on December 15, so he would not even be nine months post-surgery if he won the starting job. He tried to go through spring practice, but was obviously limited and did not play. I really like him as a prospect, but I would be surprised if he beat our both Blough and Appleby. He would only do so because he is really that good or they both perform that poorly.
Bilal Marshall - Jr.
0 for 1 career
The good: Marshall is the second most experienced quarterback on the roster, having thrown a pass against Notre Dame in 2013. The bad: he is currently playing wide receiver, but is likely fourth on the depth chart at quarterback. You can laugh, but in both 2008 and 2010 Purdue, out of necessity, has had to get down to at least fourth on the depth chart. In 2010 it was down there for multiple games when Robert Marve tore his ACL, Caleb TerBush was suspended, and Rob Henry nearly had a finger ripped off.
Right now, the Boilers don't even have a walk-on quarterback for the scout team. If anyone gets hurt it seems likely that Sindelar's redshirt gets burned. Marshall was the emergency QB at times in the past, but if the Boilers get down this far on the depth chart they are probably screwed anyway.
Project Depth Chart:
4. Please, dear God no...