The start of college football is roughly 15 weeks away, so it is never too early to start looking at our schedule. Sure, expectations could not be lower at this point, but things can change. Maybe the offense will actually be semi-competent under Terry Malone. Maybe an extremely young secondary will be better than expected. Maybe the entire defense won't look completely out of position on every snap.
From a schedule perspective Purdue has every chance to get off to a hot start. A semi-competent Big Ten team can beat Eastern Kentucky, Nevada, and a defensively challenged & turnover prone Cincinnati. Maryland and Illinois to start B1G play are about as easy as it gets, too. If there is ever going to be some success under Darrell Hazell it has to start in these first five games. Anything less than 3-2 is probably a very bad sign.
It all begins with a nice, easy opponent that even Hazell should be able to beat:
2015 Record: 6-5, 5-3 Ohio Valley Conference
Bowl result: No Playoff appearance
Blog Representation: Maroon Nation
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 1-0
Last Purdue win: 9/1/2012 at Purdue 48-6
Last Eastern Kentucky win: None
Head Coach: Mark Elder (1st Season)
Last Season for the Colonels:
In the final game likely ever against the FCS level because of Big Ten scheduling rules Purdue will put its spotless 11-0 mark against the lower division on the line. Normally, things have gone exactly to plan:
1990 - Indiana State - W 41-13
2002 - Illinois State - W 51-10
2006 - Indiana State - W 60-35
2007 - Eastern Illinois - W 52-6
2008 - Northern Colorado - W 42-10
2010 - Western Illinois - W 31-21
2011 - SE Missouri State - W 59-0
2012 - Eastern Kentucky - W 48-6
2013 - Indiana State - W 20-14
2014 - Southern Illinois - W 35-13
2015 - Indiana State - W 38-14
As you can see, other than the near disaster in 2013 against the Mighty Trees of Indiana State, Purdue has done exactly what any Big Ten team should do against their FCS opponent: win convincingly. This includes the 2012 win over the Colonels. Both games are likely relics of Purdue hiring Danny Hope away from EKU. We took their coach and gave them a pair of paycheck games as compensation. I will let you judge as to who came out on top there.
The Colonels are usually one of the better teams in the FCS division too. They have made 20 appearances in the playoffs, most recently in 2014 when they lost to Indiana State in the first round. The last time they actually won a playoff game was 1994, and they are a two-time National champion in 1979 and 1982.
Last season they lost 35-0 in an FBS matchup at North Carolina State, but managed to take Kentucky to overtime before losing 34-27 in overtime. In that game the Colonels were up 27-13 with five minutes left before a pair of late TDs by the Wildcats saved the honor of the SEC. This wasn't an awful FCS team. They were 6-3 against their division with a 34-0 loss at No. 1 ranked Jacksonville State.
Eastern Kentucky Offense
The Colonels could feature a very, very interesting wrinkle on offense that could be big trouble for Purdue. Maty Mauk, the long-time starting quarterback at Missouri, is allegedly heading to Richmond for his final year of eligibility. Mauk was kicked off the team at Missouri after some drug issues, but when he played he was a damn good quarterback. He played in 32 games overall in three years and thre for 4,373 yards and 42 touchdowns against 19 interceptions. His best season was 2014 , when he threw for 2,648 yards and 25 scores against 13 interceptions as Missouri went 11-3 and won the SEC East. Their only losses were to Georgia, Alabama in the SEC title game and... Indiana. Mauk also played extensively for a Missouri team that went 12-2, won the SEC East, and finished in the top 10 in 2013. That season he threw for 1,071 yards and 11 TDs against two picks. He is also a decent rusher with 737 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
Should Mauk agree to come to Eastern Kentucky he gives them an excellent chance at a great season. He would be the presumptive starter even with Bennie Conney returning. Conney threw for 2,471 yards and 23 touchdowns against 8 interceptions last season and also ran for 283 yards and two scores. Regardless of who starts, the Colonels will likely have a major edge at the quarterback position.
Many of the top weapons return for the Colonels, too. Devin Borders, a 6'6" matchup nightmare of a receiver is back for his senior season after 37 receptions for 376 yards and 4 touchdowns. Bryan Green, a versatile receiver, is also back after a 25-294-5 year.
Ethan Thomas was the top rusher last year with only 498 yards and 4 touchdowns, but Eastern Kentucky did a good job of spreading the ball around. There is some decent size on the offensive line too. Chance Edwards and Ryan Garretson are experienced starters at over 325 pounds each. Justin Adekoya also started ten games a season ago.
This was not an explosive offense last year. They were shut out twice in 11 games and held to just 7 points another time. The addition of Mauk should be reason alone to be scary, however. Conney is good, but Mauk has proven himself against the best in the SEC. Against an inexperienced and porous Purdue defense he could single-handedly have a good day.
Eastern Kentucky Defense
We are lucky that Noah Spence has graduated. The defensive end was one of the best in the FCS with 11.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. As a result, Tampa Bay used the No. 39 overall pick on him in the NFL draft a few weeks ago. He was, by far, the team's top defensive player, but he is gone along with top tackler Trey Thomas. Kobie Grace is back as the top returning player after notching 61 tackles and a pair of interceptions as a defensive back.
Eastern Kentucky has experience and depth on the defensive line led by Avery Pitt. He had 26 tackles in 11 starts at defensive tackle and brings good size to the position at 6'3", 290 pounds. Kagen Skidmore and Patrick Graffree also provide experience as two big linemen over 300 pounds.
The rest of the defense is a pretty large question mark with many of the other top performers gone due to graduation. It was a defense that gave up 34.5 points per game in two games against FBS opponents and basically had a late collapse in the Kentucky game, so that should help.
Eastern Kentucky Special Teams
The Colonels definitely have a punter, as Keith Wrzuszczak averaged an impressive 43.7 yards per punts with 20 downed inside the 20 last season. Kicker Lucas Williams was also decent by going 11 of 14 with a long of 45, so basically better than Purdue by a lot. The return game does not bring back much of anything of note. Kiante Northington averaged 7.2 yards on 11 returns as a punt returner last season, but that is it.
As I say every year, there is no valid excuse for a Big Ten team to ever lose to an FCS team. Maybe if we were playing North Dakota State, who is a rolling death machine that everyone should fear, but this is Eastern Kentucky. They have some talented players, but the differences in depth, recruiting, training, facilities, and sheer number of scholarship athletes should be more than enough for even a Darrell Hazell coached team to prevail. We even have empirical proof. Hazell is 3-0 against the FCS, so he can get it done in this game.
Honestly, if Purdue loses, Hazell needs to be fired before the postgame handshake, because otherwise the possibility of an 0-12 season becomes very likely. If the Boilers can't win their paycheck game here I don't see them beating a real, live FBS level team.
Way Too Early Prediction:
For a day at least, Purdue looks good and gets to 1-0. Eastern Kentucky is being paid to come to Purdue for a glorified exhibition. If Mauk does come to EKU I have some pretty major concerns, but even then, the Boilers should be the better team. Hazell has done progressively better against FCS competition since the near disaster in 2013, so I think he gets it done here. The alternative is too dark to think about. Purdue 38, Eastern Kentucky 17