- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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We're less than 60 days from the start of the 2012 football season, and to get you prepared, we're looking at each Week 1 matchup in the Big Ten. Purdue could be a popular sleeper pick in the wide-open Leaders division this fall, and fourth-year coach Danny Hope thinks he has his best team in place. What do the Boilers face in Week 1?
For more Week 1 matchups, click here.
Week 1 opponent: Eastern Kentucky
Coach: Dean Hood (fifth season, 26-20)
2011 record: 7-5 (6-2 Ohio Valley)
Returning starters: 19 (10 offense, 7 defense, 2 specialists)
About the Colonels: Eastern Kentucky returns the core pieces from a squad that shared the Ohio Valley Conference championship in 2011 and earned an at-large spot in the FCS playoffs. Leading the way is senior running back Matt Denham, a Kentucky transfer who led the Ohio Valley and ranked second nationally in rushing yards with 1,570 in 2011. Denham eclipsed 200 rush yards in each of his final three games and will run behind a line that brings back four starters, including three first-team All-Conference performers. The Colonels also return quarterback T.J. Pryor and all of their receivers and tight ends. The defense loses a few more pieces than the offense, but first-team All-OVC linebacker Ichiro Vance is back in the fold. Vance recorded 86 tackles (10.5 for loss) and two forced fumbles last season. Eastern Kentucky returns eight first-team All-OVC performers from a squad that nearly stunned Kansas State in its 2011 opener before eventually falling, 10-7.
Random factoid: Purdue's Hope returned to West Lafayette after spending five years as head coach at Eastern Kentucky, his alma mater. Hope, a former Colonels guard, went 35-22 as EKU's head coach and guided the team to an Ohio Valley Conference championship and a FCS playoff spot in 2007.
Series with Purdue: First meeting
Totally unscientific percentage chance Purdue wins: 66 percent. Eastern Kentucky is a very good FCS team that should only get better with so many starters back in 2012. After their near stunner at Kansas State in last year's opener, the Colonels will be looking to make a splash at Ross-Ade Stadium against their former coach. Purdue needs its defense to show up in a big way, and fortunately for the Boilers, one of their strengths should be the defensive line. All-Big Ten defensive tackle Kawann Short and his crew must limit Denham and force Eastern Kentucky to win the game through the air, where it's a bit shaky. The Colonels were plus-15 in turnover margin last year, so Purdue must limit mistakes, hang onto the ball and capitalize on its size and speed edges.