Best case-worst case: Purdue
September, 3, 2009
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The 10th installment in a series examining the best and worst outcomes, within reason, for each Big Ten squad.
The Big Ten's mystery team flummoxes opponents, youth is served and veterans flourish in featured roles, as Hope returns to West Lafayette.
First-year coach Danny Hope has accelerated the pace at Purdue since he took over for Joe Tiller, and the results show in the Boilermakers' first game. The team is faster and more athletic on both sides of the ball, as Ralph Bolden sparks the rushing attack in an easy win against Toledo. Purdue then heads to Eugene and paces Oregon before losing in overtime, but unlike last year's game, the strong showing against the heavily favored Ducks galvanizes the Boilers.
After handling Northern Illinois in Week 3, Purdue's defense provides a huge lift in an upset of Notre Dame. Defensive linemen Ryan Kerrigan and Mike Neal both record sacks, and a veteran Boilers secondary stifles the Irish pass attack. Purdue improves to 5-1 with wins against Northwestern and Minnesota before losing a defensive struggle against Ohio State.
The Boilers fall the next week against Illinois but bounce back in Madison as Bolden and Jaycen Taylor combine for 250 rush yards against a questionable Wisconsin front seven. Purdue loses a close one to Michigan State the next week, but crushes Indiana for the second straight year as young wideouts Antavian Edison and Gary Bush get into the act.
At 8-4, Purdue heads to the Alamo Bowl and beats Kansas. Robert Marve beams on the sideline, anxiously awaiting his chance to start in 2010. Elliott immediately joins the Purdue coaching staff to tutor the quarterbacks. Kerrigan decides to stay for his senior year and Neal earns first-team All-Big Ten honors. All Purdue male students grow mustaches to honor Hope and Tiller.
All the transition catches up to Purdue, the offense stalls, the run defense collapses and fans wonder if the dark days are back.
Purdue stumbles out of the gate against Toledo, as Elliott and the offense can't find a rhythm and the defense fails to generate much pressure. The Rockets stun the Boilers, who are forced to play too many young players. Oregon remembers last year's near upset in West Lafayette and thrashes Purdue 42-7, as Jeremiah Masoli and LeGarrette Blount each gash the Boilers for 80-yard runs.
The Boilers barely salvage a win against Northern Illinois before Notre Dame visits Ross-Ade Stadium and takes to the air, consistently beating Purdue's veteran defensive backs with wideouts Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Elliott proves why he hasn't been a starter before, tossing three interceptions in a 45-14 loss to the Irish.
Northwestern and Minnesota take advantage of Purdue's weak run defense, consistently double-teaming Kerrigan and Neal and forcing young players to beat them. Terrelle Pryor then runs wild as Ohio State hands Purdue its fourth straight loss. Things get even worse the next week against Illinois, which makes big play after big play against a defense that allowed far too many of them last year.
Purdue collapses down the stretch, as Indiana avenges last year's blowout with a 35-point victory at Memorial Stadium that secures bowl eligibility for Bill Lynch's crew. The Boilers go winless in the Big Ten for the first time since 1993 and miss the postseason for the second straight year. Kerrigan leaves early for the NFL, and several of Hope's recruits from Florida also depart. Purdue fans shave their mustaches in protest and wear "Hopeless" T-shirts at the home finale against Michigan State.