Chugging right along with our 2012 preseason opponent preview series, we take a look at the sixth easiest (or seventh toughest) opponent on the schedule, the Purdue Boilermakers. Previously, we looked at, from easiest to toughest, UMass, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, and Iowa.
If there was ever a year for Purdue to challenge for the Big Ten Leaders Division, this is it. The Boilermakers have a favorable conference schedule, with only Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota on the road and not having to play Michigan State or Nebraska. The rest of the Leaders Division faces big questions, while Purdue returns most of its talent both offensively and defensively.
Head coach Danny Hope enters his fourth season in West Lafayette, fresh off the Boilermakers’ first winning season since 2007. That included a bowl win – granted, it was the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, but it was a bowl win and their first since 2007. He hopes that momentum will carry into this season, and with the amount of starters returning, the depth and experience at quarterback, and one of the best defensive linemen in the Big Ten, it should.
Three quarterbacks, all of whom have starting experience, will battle it out for the starting job and may see a rotation. Last year’s starter, Caleb TerBush, is the leading candidate but he’ll be pushed by Robert Marve who is returning from his second torn ACL. The third, Rob Henry, will likely see time as a change-of-pace Wildcat QB. The three have a combined 4,068 passing yards for 28 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in addition to 849 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Not overwhelming by any means, but certainly more experience than many Big Ten teams bring to the table.
Three of last year’s top four receivers return, including Antavian Edison, who averaged 13.3 yards per catch a year ago. The best position group will be running back which returns last year’s top three rushers. The starter should be Ralph Bolden who is returning from his third torn ACL, but Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt will get some time as well.
The offensive line has to replace three starters, so if the offense struggles, that will be your culprit. Center Rick Schmeig started two games at right guard last season. Trevor Foy, Kevin Pamphile, and Justin Kitchens will rotate at the tackle positions, though they don’t have much starting experience and have battled injuries. Right guard Peters Drey started all 12 games in 2010 and was named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media. However, he missed the second half of last season with a back injury. Robert Kugler, the older brother of Michigan recruit Patrick Kugler, may get a chance to factor in as well.
|Sept. 1||Eastern Kentucky|
|Sept. 8||@ Notre Dame|
|Sept. 15||Eastern Michigan|
|Oct. 6||@ Michigan|
|Oct. 20||@ Ohio State|
|Oct. 27||@ Minnesota|
|Nov. 3||Penn State|
|Nov. 10||@ Iowa|
|Nov. 17||@ Illinois|
Defensively, the Boilers return eight starters, most notably defensive tackle Kawann Short. The senior has 12.5 career sacks and was All-Big Ten the last two seasons. Defensive end Ryan Russell is a guy Purdue hopes will have a breakout year after starting as a freshman last season. Bruce Gaston also returns on the interior. New defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar, who used to be the defensive coordinator for the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL, will try to install a 3-4 and Short should have a big season.
The big question at linebacker is the status of Dwayne Beckford. The team’s second leading tackler a year ago was suspended for the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl but was reinstated in May. He’ll be on a short leash though.
“As long as he does well in school and takes care of business and there aren’t any type of legal repercussions we’ll proceed on,” said head coach Danny Hope.
Will Lucas should another linebacker starter, while Armstead Williams, Joe Gilliam, and Mike Lee will battle for the other spots. Lucas had 10 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles last season.
The secondary will be a strength for the Boilders, led by corners Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson. Allen was an All-Big Ten second-teamer last season with 81 tackles and three interceptions. Johnson may move to safety, but will be a third-year starter. E.J. Johnson and Max Charlot will likely be the two starters at safety.
The kicking game needs to replace kicker Carson Wiggs. The job will likely fall to true freshman Paul Griggs. Returnman Raheem Mostert led the nation in kick return average (33.5) and is back along with punter Cody Webste who averaged 42.9 yards per punt in 2011.
Purdue enters 2012 with momentum coming off a winning record and Hope’s first bowl victory. The combination of returning experience and a favorable schedule make this season an important one for Hope. If the Boilers can avoid the injury bug that has plagued them the past few seasons, eight or nine wins, a finish in the top half of the Legends Division, and a decent bowl game is a realistic possibility.
What it means for Michigan
The Big Ten opener for both teams should favor Michigan since it’s in Ann Arbor. However, Michigan will be coming off an emotional night game at Notre Dame, while Purdue will be coming in after games against Eastern Michigan and Marshall. It has the potential to be a letdown game for Michigan, but Brady Hoke puts great emphasis on winning the Big Ten first and foremost, and losing the first game of the conference schedule would destroy those hopes, so he’ll keep the team motivated.