2011 schedule analysis: Purdue

My team-by-team breakdown of each Big Ten schedule continues with the Purdue Boilermakers.

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 3: Middle Tennessee (6-7)

Sept. 10: at Rice (4-8)

Sept. 17 Southeast Missouri State (9-3)

Oct. 1: Notre Dame (8-5)

Leaders division games

Oct. 15: at Penn State

Oct. 22: Illinois

Nov. 5: at Wisconsin

Nov. 12: Ohio State

Nov. 26: at Indiana

Crossover games

Oct. 8: Minnesota

Oct. 29: at Michigan

Nov. 19: Iowa (protected)

No plays

Michigan State



Gut-check game: At Penn State. Purdue has a relatively favorable start to the season and could head to Happy Valley at 4-1 or even 5-0. But the difficulty increases beginning with the Penn State game, as Purdue plays three of four on the road. Like Purdue, Penn State has a back-loaded schedule and needs to start strong. The teams last met in 2008, and Penn State holds a 10-3-1 edge in the all-time series.

Trap game: There's not an obvious one on the schedule. Although Minnesota marks the Big Ten opener, you can make a case it's a trap game. It's sandwiched between a rivalry game against Notre Dame and consecutive Leaders division games against Penn State and Illinois. Purdue beat Minnesota last season at Ross-Ade Stadium, but both teams could be improved on offense heading into the matchup.

Snoozer: At Rice. Some will point to the Southeast Missouri State game, but the Redhawks went 9-3 last season and won the FCS Ohio Valley Conference. Purdue shouldn't take SEMO for granted. Rice really struggled in 2010, and the atmosphere in Houston shouldn't be too daunting for Danny Hope's crew. It could be a competitive game, but it's hard to get too excited about the matchup right now.

Non-con challenge: Notre Dame. An easy pick here for multiple reasons. Any game against Notre Dame brings increased national attention, and Purdue has to start generating some buzz after three consecutive losing seasons. Hope is looking for a signature nonconference win and this would qualify as Notre Dame likely will enter the season ranked in the top 20. Purdue blew a great chance to knock off Notre Dame two years ago in Ross-Ade, a game that featured a head-scratching timeout call by Hope in the closing seconds. Bottom line: This would be a big win for a Boilers program that needs a boost.

Key stretch: Purdue plays three of four on the road and three Legends division contests between Oct. 15-Nov. 5. It's imperative for the Boilers to pick up a few wins during the stretch before hosting Ohio State and Iowa in November. The Illinois home game is crucial, and Purdue can gain some confidence by winning in some tough venues (Beaver Stadium, Camp Randall Stadium, Michigan Stadium).

Analysis: The Boilers should be favored in four of their first five contests and have a real chance to gain some early confidence. They boast the easiest crossover schedule among Leaders division teams as they don't play three squads that combined for 28 victories in 2010. Purdue also has some matchups -- Michigan on the road, Ohio State at home -- that it won the last time out. There's a path to a bowl game in this schedule, but Purdue must start strong, survive the stretch outlined above and pick up at least one win in its final three contests. Purdue's home schedule provides some challenges -- Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois, Notre Dame -- but also some opportunities.

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