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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Second-half outlook: Purdue


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Purdue Boilermakers

Record: 2-5

Remaining schedule: vs. Illinois, at Wisconsin, at Michigan, vs. Michigan State, at Indiana

The Boilermakers finally have some concrete evidence to support their belief that they're a good team. How they respond in the final five games will go a long way toward determining where this program goes under new head coach Danny Hope. Purdue clearly has enough weapons on offense, including Big Ten passing leader Joey Elliott, Big Ten receptions leader Keith Smith and talented running back Ralph Bolden. But turnovers kill scoring chances, and Purdue must cut down on its giveaways, which were a problem even in the Ohio State victory. If the offense can play mistake-free for extended stretches, the Boilers should be in games until the end. Purdue's defense has made steady progress and looked dominant at times against Ohio State, as end Ryan Kerrigan had a career day. Kerrigan and Mike Neal anchor the line, and a healthy Jason Werner is making a difference at linebacker. Purdue faces a must-win Saturday against Illinois before playing the spoiler role down the stretch.

Best-case scenario: The Boilers use the Ohio State win as a springboard and turn their improved play into more wins. Elliott cuts down on his turnovers and wideouts Smith and Aaron Valentin continue to blossom, while Bolden once again becomes a weapon on the ground. The defense continues to turn the tables on its opponents, forcing turnovers in bunches. Purdue goes 4-1 down the stretch and gets into a lower-tier bowl game.

Worst-case scenario: Things revert to form again, as Purdue keeps giving the ball away for points and not forcing enough miscues from the opposition. A close loss against woeful Illinois drops the team's confidence level, and Purdue scratches out only one more victory. The Boilers finish with their fewest number of wins since a 3-8 campaign in 1996, right before Joe Tiller arrived.

Prediction: No bowl, but two more victories and a bit of momentum generated for 2010.