by P. Carl Giordano, Managing Editor

In 2011 Purdue head coach Danny Hope arrested an alarming downslide that saw the Boilermakers turn in losing records in his first two seasons (although “arrested” has been the operative word in West Lafayette in the last seven months, but more on that later). The Boilers ended the regular season with a win at rival Indiana and finished pounded out a 6-6 mark and a bid to the Little Caesar’s Bowl against Western Michigan. Hope’s regime hasn’t gone according to plan thus far, but the team’s bowl bid was enough for the athletic department to reward him with an extension through 2016 and the team provided Hope with 37-32 victory over the Broncos. With the return of 15 regulars and four more split-starters, this should be Hope’s most experienced and talented team.

That being said, a somewhat tougher schedule and Purdue’s 9th or 10th ranking in most defensive categories in the Big Ten last season, mean it’s going to be difficult for the Boilers to grind out any more than the requisite six wins for another barely bowl-eligible season.

Offensively, there is promise, as not one, not two, but three quality quarterbacks return for duty. Senior Caleb TerBush (right, sacked vs. Penn State; 62%, 1905 YP and 13 TD-6 int.) enters the fall as the starter, with less-mobile sr. Robert Marve hoping to push for a job that was his at one time before an ACL injury dealt him a major setback. Marve, formerly a Miami Hurricane, is a drop-back style QB, whose injuries have left him short on wheels. Junior Rob Henry was slated to be the starter for 2011 before injuring his knee a week before the opener against Middle Tennessee. Henry had shown a flash with his feet in rushing for 547 yards (5.3 ypc) in 2010, when he made seven starts.

There is equal depth at running back, where Ralph Bolden (left) returns off his second knee injury after rushing for 674 yards and 6 TDs last season. Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt also saw a good amount of action in 2011, and the trio of Bolden, Shavers and Hunt combined for 1,480 rushing yards and 14 rush TDs last season. With a triple threat of RBs and a mobile QB in TerBush (333 YR), Purdue managed to rank 5th in the Big Ten in rushing and hadn’t done better than its 4.4 ypc mark since 2005.

The receiver corps has speed to burn, although one might question the group’s discipline. Senior Antavian Edison (right), who snagged 44 passes for a team-high 584 yards last season, had felony gun charges dropped and is back in the lineup. Junior O.J. Ross (33 recs. in 2011) was suspended for the bowl game and had his scholarship pulled but was back on the field in spring as a walk-on and had his scholarship reinstated in late May. Junior wideout Gary Bush had 29 catches last season and Hope used senior TE Crosby Wright for more than just blocking last year, as he caught 16 balls in 2011 after being shut out in 12 games in 2010. It’s not a big group, as the starting trio of wideouts averages 5-11, with none more than 6-0, but they are Fast (that’s with a capital “F”).

Similarly, the offensive line should be at least at last season’s level, with three starters returning and Hope’s recruiting class, which was dotted with jucos, promises to provide a solid “tire change” in the offensive line where 6-7 Devin Smith will join vet C Rick Schmeig, and leftside starters sr. Peters Drey and jr. Trevor Foy could combine to form what could be one of, if not the, tallest offensive line in the league.

Please, cue the Gangsta’ Rap. Purdue’s theme has been more Tupac than Tchaikovsky in the last seven months. A loose count shows no fewer than six run-ins with the law by Boiler players since last December. None of these indiscretions are more potentially impactful than the arrest of LB Dwayne Beckford in December, his subsequent dismissal from the team, absence from spring workouts, and subsequent reinstatement in May. The Purdue faithful anticipate that the sr middle linebacker and top returning tackler with 91 stops in 2011 will be in school and ready for fall drills (as long as he’s not in the slammer), but he’s not on the roster at this writing. Two players defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar is very happy are on the squad and eligible are thick sr. DT Kawann Short (left) and jr. CB Ricardo Allen, both of whom were named to the preseason all-Big Ten first team. Short made the first-team all-conference squad in 2011 and is one of the Big Ten’s top returning pass-rushers, and Allen had 81 tackles from his cornerback position.

Potentially, if Beckford can make grades (okay, and maybe bail), he and jr. Will Lucas (82 tackles) form one of the better linebacking duos in the Big Ten. Coupled with a physical defensive line and a pair of quality cover corners, it’s possible the defense could be upgraded over last year’s 73rd-ranked crew.

Summary: Danny Hope and the Boilermakers don’t figure to make any great leaps this season despite three “gimme” home games in the first four on the schedule and a visit to South Bend against traditional rival Notre Dame. The Irish have beaten Purdue in four straight. The Big Ten slate starts with Michigan, Wisconsin and at Ohio State (read that 0-3 to start the conference). Then they play Penn State (lost 5 straight to the Nittany Lions) and visit Iowa, where they haven’t won in 20 years. Barring an unusually hot hand from TerBush, looks like Purdue will need wins at Illinois and at home in the regular-season finale against Indiana in order to equal last year’s 6-6 mark.


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