The unluckiest team in America resided in West Lafayette, Ind., this season.
Injuries were the story for Purdue in 2010, as key players seemed to go down every week. The Boilermakers entered the fall without starting running back Ralph Bolden, and they lost starting quarterback Robert Marve and top receiver Keith Smith before Big Ten play began. Injuries continued to ravage the offense, claiming players like receiver Justin Siller and third-string quarterback Rob Henry.
Coach Danny Hope must have had a waist-high stack of depth charts in his office by early November.
Purdue never gave up and opened Big Ten play 2-0 after shocking Northwestern in Henry's first career start and then outlasting Minnesota at home. Even after reality set in against Ohio State, the Boilers kept fighting and took a 28-13 lead into the fourth quarter at No. 12 Michigan State before falling apart in the final 15 minutes. Purdue ended up losing its final six games to miss a bowl for the third consecutive season.
Hope's teams certainly compete hard, and Purdue made strides in areas like rushing defense this season. But the Boilers still make too many major mistakes, especially in the kicking game. Purdue tied for last in the league in turnovers with 27 and ranked 10th in penalties with 77.
Those are areas Hope must fix before a pivotal 2011 season.
Offensive MVP: Rob Henry. He went from an afterthought in spring practice -- Purdue's coaches, confident in their quarterback situation, thought about moving him to free safety -- to the team's starting signal caller for the Big Ten opener. Henry made mistakes, but he also led Purdue with 547 rush yards and four touchdowns and added eight passing touchdowns. Purdue's offense struggled, but it would have been even worse without Henry.
Defensive MVP: Ryan Kerrigan. No Big Ten player had a stronger senior season than Kerrigan, who edged J.J. Watt for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award. Kerrigan was unstoppable in most games, leading the nation with 26 tackles for loss and ranking third in sacks (12.5). He tied for second nationally in forced fumbles and had two fumble recoveries for the Boilers. Kerrigan recorded a tackle for loss in 11 of Purdue's 12 games and had multiple tackles for loss in seven contests.
Turning point: Despite all the injuries, Purdue had a chance to become bowl eligible and record a signature win when it visited Michigan State on Nov. 20. The Boilers built a 28-13 lead entering the fourth quarter but surrendered 22 points in the final 10:55. Purdue had a punt blocked near its goal line that led to the game-winning touchdown. The Boilers blew another fourth-quarter lead the next week against Indiana and lost at home to their archrival for the first time since 1996.
What's next: Purdue will get healthier for 2011, and the return of players like Marve, Bolden, Siller and most likely Smith raise hopes for the offense. Fans understood the injury issues this season, but they want to see more from Hope, who will feel the heat if things go bad next fall. Kerrigan is a major loss up front, and while the Boilers still will have a nice pass rush, they'll need to upgrade the linebacker spot and find more defensive playmakers to join cornerback Ricardo Allen, a rising star.