We are going to start this season on a positive note. That includes this Saturday, when Purdue hosts Eastern Kentucky for the final game ever against the FCS level. The Big Ten is phasing these games out, with a nine game conference schedule and encouraging every team to play at least one non-conference game against a Power 5 opponent. They are allowing teams to honor previously made agreements for games against FCS opponents, but this is the final year of widespread games against the lower division. Saturday marks Purdue’s lost contract with an FCS team, and it is likely a holdover as part of the deal when Purdue hired Danny Hope from the Colonels.
The good news is that Purdue is 11-0 against the FCS and only one game was within one score (the heart attack-inducing 20-14 win over Indiana State in 2013). They are scheduled as de facto preseason games and are designed to be glorified scrimmages where the Big Ten wins by a few touchdowns and plays virtually anyone who has a chance of playing that season.
Saturday will be no different. While Eastern Kentucky has a load of former FBS players and they are just outside of the FCS top 25, this is still a game that Purdue has no valid excuse in losing. The Boilers have 22 more scholarship players, better facilities, and infinitely deeper resources. The Big Ten team should never, under any circumstances, lose these games.
Still, it can happen. Michigan’s famous loss to Appalachian State was a big one, but at least that was an Appy State team in the middle of a run of FCS dominance. Indiana and Penn State have each lost to FCS teams once (with Indiana surviving by a point last season). Northwestern has lost to an FCS team twice. Minnesota and Rutgers have each fallen three times to the lower division. Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska have all recently had games come down to the very end. That has usually signaled that those teams weren’t that good, anyway. To my knowledge Michigan is the only Big Ten team to get bitten by the FCS and still recover to make a bowl game.
So those are the stakes. Beating Eastern Kentucky is not a sign of a great season and a turnaround, but losing this game will certainly speak volumes about Purdue.
2015 Record: 6-5, 5-3 Ohio Valley Conference
2015 Bowl result: None
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
Who to Watch on Offense
Maty Mauk – QB – Mauk, a transfer into the program from Missouri, may or may not be the starter. A starter has not been publicly named between him and returning senior Bennie Coney. Mauk still had an impressive career at Missouri with a 17-5 record as a starter (before he was kicked off the team due to some drug allegations). He had 4,373 yards and 42 touchdown passes in his career and was a decent rusher with over 700 career yards on the ground.
The thing is, Conney has experience with this offense and is a good player in his own right. He had 2,471 yards and 23 touchdowns against 8 interceptions last season plus another 193 on the ground. I would say Mauk has a slight edge and is the better player, but we may not know until the first snap on Saturday.
Justin Adekoya – OT – Adekoya is a preseason all-OVC selection and the anchor of the offensive line. He is a strong 6’5” 294 pounds tackle that is not Big Ten sized, but is still very good as a pass protector and run blocker.
Devin Borders – WR – Borders led EKU with 37 receptions for 376 yards and four touchdowns last season, but he is a matchup problem as a 6’6” outside receiver.
Ethan Thomas – RB – Several backs split carries last season, but Thomas has emerged this year as the featured back. He had a team high 498 yards and four touchdowns last season. That was while only playing in nine games, too.
Who to Watch on Defense
Kiante Northington – DB – Northington is one of only three returning starters on defense and he led the team with three interceptions and seven passes defensed. He was also a steady tackler with 43.
Avery Pitt – DL – Pitt was a solid defensive linesman last season with 26 tackles, six of them for loss. He will have to pick up the slack from Noah Spence, who was drafted by Tampa Bay after an 11.5 sack season.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Lucas Williams – K – Williams was the preseason Ohio Valley Conference 1st team pick on special teams after going 11 for 14 on field goals last year. He had a long of 45 yards.
Keith Wrzuszczak – P – the Australian punter was also a First team all-OVC selection in the preseason and he averaged 43.7 yards per punt last year.
EKU was picked to finish in the OVC behind Jacksonville State, who was the FCS national runner-up last season. They are under a first time head coach in Mark Elder and they have brought in depth from all over the FBS including Boston College, Kentucky, Cincinnati, UCLA, and more. They pushed Kentucky into overtime last season and probably should have beaten them, as they held a 14 point lead with 6 minutes left in regulation.
They still have a young defense and they are still an FCS team. For one afternoon Purdue fans can feel good. A loss makes Hazell a dead coach walking in my eyes and to save time he should be fired before the postgame handshake if we lose.