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Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Best case/Worst case: Purdue

By Josh Moyer

The season is inching closer and closer and, with that, so is our series on the best- and worst-case scenarios for every Big Ten team in 2014.

These aren't predictions or scenarios that are illustrative on the most probable outcomes. They're simply meant to show the potential highs and lows in a season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. Also an important reminder: We're trying to have some fun with these.

Up next are the Purdue Boilermakers.

Best case

Last week Purdue tailback Raheem Mostert predicted an offense that would score "30-something points a game." In the final weeks of the season, Mostert surveys the media room and utters three words.

“Told you so.”

The Boilermakers start the season hot enough. They trounce both directional Michigans as the offense posts more than a combined 90 points on the two outmatched opponents. There are no believers yet in West Lafayette, Ind., but that all changes Sept. 13 thanks to a nationally televised game against Notre Dame.

No one gives the Boilermakers a shot. But Darrell Hazell has this game circled. He throws everything at the Fighting Irish he can -- including a fake field goal that leads to a critical third-quarter touchdown -- and quarterback Danny Etling takes care of the rest with a game-winning, two-minute drive that culminates in a 12-yard fade to DeAngelo Yancey. Purdue wins 28-24.

The win is dismissed as a fluke. But Boilermakers fans can’t help but grow excited. Etling jerseys fly off the shelves, and Hazell is heralded as a genius. Fans pack into Ross-Ade Stadium the next week to watch the home team thrash Southern Illinois. And then they watch Mostert and Akeem Hunt run all over Iowa in an upset that’s decided on a last-second field goal.

They beat Illinois, too, to start 6-0 -- something that even Drew Brees didn’t accomplish. Purdue is bowl-eligible now, and West Lafayette can’t contain itself. Michigan State is up next but, for a change, the Boilermakers truly feel they have a shot.

They lose by two touchdowns, but the atmosphere at Ross-Ade is still rocking. Most admit Purdue just lost to the better team. But that starts a slight return to earth, as the schedule toughens up and the Boilermakers drop three more conference games. But they still finish 8-4 and punch their ticket to a mid-level bowl.

There’s some talk about making Hazell the Big Ten coach of the year, but most agree the second-half of the season put to sleep any real hopes. He’s a contender but loses out. Yancey earns a spot on the All-B1G first team, while Etling and defensive end Ryan Russell earn mention on the second team.

But there’s hope in West Lafayette for the first time in a long time. And, with a relatively young team, fans are actually excited about 2015.

Worst case

Grab the paper bags and shield your eyes -- because this isn’t pretty.

Purdue opens the season by struggling to get a win against lowly Western Michigan. It’s just first-game jitters, Hazell tells reporters, but then Week 2 comes. Along with a 31-24 upset loss to Central Michigan. Purdue fans are stunned and quickly become the butt of endless jokes around the conference. Confidence is already shot, and Hazell is asked at every opportunity if Austin Appleby or David Blough will see time at quarterback.

Truthfully, he knows it’s not going to matter. The defense can’t stop anyone, the offense is just as bad as last season, and every adjustment seems to lead to the same result. The Boilermakers lose big to Notre Dame but rebound with a win against Southern Illinois. But that’s when Purdue completely derails. It loses every single game from there on out and finishes 2-10.

Hunt and Mostert are beside themselves. They make plays when they find space, but their line can’t give them enough time to find any kind of room. It doesn’t help that center Robert Kugler Jr. goes down before the conference season. Appleby and Blough get some time too, but they’re no better than Etling.

Purdue hits rock bottom. It can’t get any lower. But fans wonder aloud if the hole isn’t so deep that there’s no climbing out of it. Hazell is on the Hot Seat and runs out of ways to defend himself. Last season’s attendance gains are wiped out. Alumni are embarrassed by the program.

Sure, there’s always next year. But the mood around West Lafayette is, “What does it matter?”