Big Ten: Robert Marve

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October, 22, 2014
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Join Big Ten reporters Brian Bennett, Dan Murphy, Josh Moyer and Austin Ward as they look around the conference heading into Week 9.

Rob Henry lost a chance at the starting quarterback job in 2011 after he tore his ACL a week before the season-opener. Now, two seasons later, the senior has reclaimed the job.

Henry was named Purdue’s starting quarterback Sunday by first-year coach Darrell Hazell, a move that will likely be both popular in the locker room -- Henry was named a co-captain before tearing his knee in that season -- and makes sense with the Boilermakers’ schedule.

Flat out, Henry gives Purdue the best chance to be successful early in the season, with trips to Cincinnati and Wisconsin in the first month of the season along with home games against No. 14 Notre Dame and Northern Illinois, which reached the Orange Bowl last season.

To ask a freshman (Danny Etling) or a redshirt freshman (Austin Appleby) to handle that rough early schedule could destroy a young quarterback’s confidence, let alone his team’s belief in him. By going with Henry, who has had a strong preseason anyway, it gives the Boilermakers a seasoned leader to look to.

In Henry, Purdue also has a quarterback who understands what it is like to lose his starting job and not be able to reclaim it, as former coach Danny Hope chose to go with then-seniors Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush. TerBush had won the job when Henry tore his ACL two years ago.

Now back as the starter, he’ll be looked to as the stopgap for a team which will be learning Hazell’s new offense while also setting an example for his replacement a year from now. He is the perfect player to be in this position, considering he won the team’s unselfishness and dedication award in 2010 and even made a run at becoming Purdue’s student body vice president.

Having even moved positions for the good of his team, Henry is now back where he started his career -- running the Boilermakers’ offense as their quarterback.
A group of Big Ten football players, one Big Ten football coach, one Big Ten football team and one unforgettable 7-year-old Nebraska football fan are among the nominees for the BTN awards. The awards show takes place June 26 at 8 p.m. ET.

Here are the football nominees by category ...
  • Penn State's Bill O'Brien is among the nominees for men's coach of the year. He joins Michigan basketball's John Beilein, Indiana soccer's Todd Yeagley, Indiana baseball's Tracy Smith and Penn State wrestling's Cael Sanderson. O'Brien won several national coaching honors after guiding Penn State to an 8-4 mark last season.
  • Northwestern RB Venric Mark and Penn State WR Allen Robinson are nominated for breakout performer of the year. Mark and Robinson are up against two men's basketball players (Michigan's Trey Burke and Indiana's Victor Oladipo).
  • Wisconsin RB Montee Ball and Michigan QB Denard Robinson both are nominated for most dominating performance. Ball had a career-high 247 rush yards and three touchdowns on Oct. 13 at Purdue, as he set the Big Ten's career rushing record. Robinson scored four touchdowns Sept. 8 against Air Force and became the first FBS player to eclipse 200 rush yards and 200 pass yards three times in his career.
  • Jack Hoffman, the 7-year-old brain cancer patient and Nebraska fan who became a household name with his touchdown run during the Nebraska spring game, is nominated for most courageous performance. Purdue quarterback Robert Marve, who continued to play despite a third ACL tear and helped the Boilers reach a bowl game, also is up for the award. Just a hunch: Hoffman wins this one.
  • The fourth-down stop by Michigan LB Kenny Demens on Northwestern RB Tyris Jones in overtime to seal a Wolverines victory is nominated for best finish, along with three buzzer-beating men's basketball plays.
  • Ohio State's 12-0 football team is up for men's team of the year, along with Indiana soccer, Michigan swimming, Penn State wrestling and Indiana baseball.

There are no football nominees for game of the year.

The Big Ten also will announce its best male athlete and best female athlete of the year at the awards. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell is among the nominees for best male athlete.
Only 22 Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2013 NFL draft, the league's lowest total in nearly two decades (it had 21 draftees in 1994).

But as soon as the draft ended Saturday, the free-agent signings began. And there were plenty around the Big Ten from all 12 squads.

Here's our first look list of free-agent signings or team tryouts from the conference. As a reminder, this is not a final list, and we'll have updates later on either here on the blog or on Twitter.

Here we go ...

ILLINOIS

C Graham Pocic, Houston Texans
DE Justin Staples, Cleveland Browns
DE Glenn Foster, New Orleans Saints

INDIANA

C Will Matte, Kansas City Chiefs (tryout)
DE Larry Black Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
DT Adam Replogle, Atlanta Falcons

IOWA

WR Keenan Davis, Cleveland Browns
OL Matt Tobin, Philadelphia Eagles
QB James Vandenberg, Minnesota Vikings

MICHIGAN

WR Roy Roundtree, Cincinnati Bengals
S Jordan Kovacs, Miami Dolphins
LB Kenny Demens, Arizona Cardinals
DE Craig Roh, Carolina Panthers
OL Elliott Mealer, New Orleans Saints
OL Patrick Omameh, San Francisco 49ers
OL Ricky Barnum, Washington Redskins
LB Brandin Hawthorne, St. Louis Rams
(WR Darryl Stonum, dismissed before the 2012 season, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs)

MICHIGAN STATE

CB Johnny Adams, Houston Texans
DT Anthony Rashad White, Pittsburgh Steelers
OL Chris McDonald, New England Patriots

MINNESOTA

CB Troy Stoudermire, Cincinnati Bengals
TE MarQueis Gray, San Francisco 49ers
CB Michael Carter, Minnesota Vikings

NEBRASKA

DE Eric Martin, New Orleans Saints
LB Will Compton, Washington Redskins
TE Ben Cotton, San Diego Chargers
TE/FB Kyler Reed, Jacksonville Jaguars
K Brett Maher, New York Jets
DE Cameron Meredith, Oakland Raiders

NORTHWESTERN

OL Patrick Ward, Miami Dolphins
DL Brian Arnfelt, Pittsburgh Steelers
LB David Nwabuisi, Carolina Panthers (tryout)
WR Demetrius Fields, Chicago Bears (tryout)

OHIO STATE

CB Travis Howard, Houston Texans
S Orhian Johnson, Houston Texans
FB Zach Boren, Houston Texans
TE Jake Stoneburner, Green Bay Packers
DE Nathan Williams, Minnesota Vikings
DL Garrett Goebel, St. Louis Rams
LB Etienne Sabino, New York Giants

PENN STATE

OL Mike Farrell, Pittsburgh Steelers
CB Stephon Morris, New England Patriots
OL Matt Stankiewitch, New England Patriots
FB Michael Zordich, Carolina Panthers

PURDUE

CB Josh Johnson, San Diego Chargers
QB Robert Marve, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Akeem Shavers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WISCONSIN

CB Marcus Cromartie, San Diego Chargers
CB Devin Smith, Dallas Cowboys
S Shelton Johnson, Oakland Raiders

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue quarterback Rob Henry enjoys the random pop quizzes from offensive coordinator John Shoop, even when he has "no clue" about the answers.

The more Shoop demands of his signal callers, the more Henry enjoys the process. When it comes to learning Purdue's new offense, Henry, a fifth-year senior, is in the same boat as the three freshmen -- redshirt freshmen Austin Appleby and Bilal Marshall, and true freshman Danny Etling -- he's competing with for the starting quarterback spot.

But he's paddling a little faster.

"When I came in, I was able to sit behind Joey [Elliott] and learn the system that was in place at that time," Henry told ESPN.com. "But now I have one season left. So I don't have any time to learn. I have to learn everything as fast as possible.

"This is it, this is it. I have a few more months left here at Purdue."

Henry's Purdue career has come full circle two springs after it appeared ready to take off. In the spring of 2011, he had established himself as Purdue's top quarterback, a soon-to-be-elected co-captain and, in the words of then-coach Danny Hope, the team's most improved player of the offseason.

After starting seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2010 because of necessity, he was poised to lead the offense in 2011 purely because of performance. Then, days before the season opener, Henry tore the ACL in his right knee. Season over, career altered.

Henry returned last season but slipped down the depth chart. He attempted just 38 passes as Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush rotated at the quarterback spot.

The 6-2, 200-pound Henry is, in a way, back to square one, competing for a starting spot in a new offense with several others.

"It's gone from thinking I would start for a few years to having one year of playing under my belt and one year left," Henry said. "So it's a very urgent time."

Henry's coaches sense his urgency this spring. As the only candidate with collegiate game experience, he opened spring ball taking snaps with the first-team offense.

Although the coaches have been fairly egalitarian with the reps, Henry remains the first quarterback to call signals during practices. Henry and Etling worked mostly with the first-team offense in Saturday's scrimmage, although head coach Darrell Hazell told ESPN.com on Monday that it remains a three-man race with Appleby also in the mix.

"It's extremely important to him," Hazell said of Henry, "and that's where it starts. You see it in his preparation. He's been a very good leader for us, and he brings that maturity to the huddle."

Henry's athleticism never has been questioned. He led Purdue in rushing in 2010 with 547 yards. He lined up at quarterback, running back and receiver in last year's loss to Minnesota.

But there always have been questions about Henry's skills as a pure quarterback. Dual-threat quarterbacks thrive in the spread offense, but can Henry fit into a true pro-style system like the one Shoop and Hazell intend to run?

"I'm confident in my ability, whether it's running the ball or throwing the ball," Henry said. "The thing that really makes a difference is Coach Shoop, how he teaches us and how he pushes us. You really don't have a choice but to do it right."

Winning the starting job won't be easy for Henry. Winning the Boilers' locker room is much easier.

Whether or not Henry emerges as the starter, he'll be a leader for Purdue in 2013.

"He took me on my official visit when I got here," Appleby said. "He was my first friend here. He's been nothing but a senior leader to me. He's such a tremendous person in all aspects. He's somebody who I definitely look up to, and the rest of the quarterbacks look up to.

"He's been through a heck of a lot. Because of that, he has the respect of the rest of our team."
I thought it would be fun to borrow an idea from our friends at the SEC blog -- they're on our good side after this post -- and look at which Big Ten offenses return the best triumvirates (quarterback, running back, receiver) on offense.

It turned out to be quite challenging. And a little depressing.

No Big Ten squad brings back a 2,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher (running back) and a 1,000-yard receiver from 2012. After all, Penn State's Allen Robinson was the lone Big Ten pass-catcher to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in 2011. Although the Lions return Zach Zwinak, who finished with exactly 1,000 rush yards, they lose 3,200-yard passer Matt McGloin.

The benchmark seems to be 2,000 pass yards, 900 rush yards and 600 receiving yards. Two teams qualify here, and they would have met in the Big Ten title game if one hadn't been on postseason probation.

Here are the Big Ten's top three offensive triumvirates ...

1. NEBRASKA
2. OHIO STATE
  • QB Braxton Miller* -- 2,039 pass yards, 15 touchdowns, six interceptions
  • RB Carlos Hyde -- 970 rush yards and 16 touchdowns
  • WR Corey Brown -- 669 receiving yards and three touchdowns
3. INDIANA
*-Miller led Ohio State in rushing with 1,271 yards.

Why are only three teams listed? Because no other Big Ten offenses merit mentions. They're either losing key pieces or looking for much more production from the pieces they have.

Northwestern brings back a 1,300-yard rusher in Venric Mark but lacks the passing and receiving components. Despite losing Montee Ball, Wisconsin brings back two talented running backs (James White and Melvin Gordon) and a solid receiver (Jared Abbrederis), but none of its three quarterbacks eclipsed 1,200 pass yards in 2012.

Penn State has the receiver and the rusher, but its leading returning passer (Steven Bench) had 12 yards in 2012. James Vandenberg was the only Iowa Hawkeye to attempt a pass in 2012, and he's gone. Purdue loses its top passer (Robert Marve), top rusher (Akeem Shavers) and top receiver (Antavian Edison).

Michigan likely would have had two-thirds of the equation if Devin Gardner had played quarterback all season, but the Wolverines lose their only consistent rushing threat in Denard Robinson. Speaking of rushers, Le'Veon Bell leaves a huge void (1,793 yards) at Michigan State, which brings back 2,500-yard passer Andrew Maxwell and two 500-yard receivers (Keith Mumphery and Bennie Fowler).

Personnel losses are part of college football, but the limited list of Big Ten "triumvirates" illustrates how many teams are returning proven pieces on offense. The quarterback and receiver positions are particularly lacking.
After a brief break for signing day, the postseason position rankings return with the wide receivers and tight ends. The Big Ten had only one team (Indiana) rank in the top 30 nationally in pass offense, and the league's overall depth at receiver and tight end wasn't good at all, but a few groups of pass-catchers stood out.

As a reminder, these rankings are based solely on performance during the 2012 season and factor in both star power and depth. Here's a look at our preseason rundown.

There's clear separation with the top three groups, while the bottom four could be rearranged just about any way you want (if you enjoy that sort of thing).

Now let's get started ...

[+] EnlargeCody Latimer
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Cody Latimer should have a productive season in Indiana's pass-oriented system.
1. Indiana (Preseason ranking: 8): The Hoosiers attempted 58 more passes than any other Big Ten team, but they had plenty of reasons to do so and merit top billing here. Speedster Shane Wynn led the squad in receptions with 68, but Cody Latimer emerged into the star of the group, recording 51 receptions for 806 yards and six touchdowns. Like Latimer, Kofi Hughes stretched the field and averaged nearly 15 yards per reception. Tight end Ted Bolser also made nice contributions (41 catches, 445 yards). IU had five receivers or tight ends finish with at least 23 receptions.

2. Nebraska (Preseason ranking: 2): The Huskers' multitude of big-play threats nearly put them in the top spot, as they helped Nebraska finish with the Big Ten's top offense (460.8 ypg). Wideout Kenny Bell led the way with 863 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 50 receptions (17.3-yard average). Receiver Jamal Turner and tight ends Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton all averaged at least 13 yards per reception. Quincy Enunwa became a nice No. 2 target with 42 receptions for 470 yards.

3. Penn State (Preseason ranking: 7): Few saw this coming before the season, and our preseason capsule about the Nittany Lions began with, "Justin Brown gives the Nittany Lions a solid top option." Whoops. Even though Brown transferred in the wake of the NCAA sanctions, Penn State found surprise stars in wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Kyle Carter. Robinson won the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award after leading the league in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,013) and touchdown catches (11). Carter (36 catches for 453 yards) might have been the league's top tight end, a position where Penn State had unparalleled depth. Players like wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder and tight end Matt Lehman emerged later in the season.

4. Purdue (Preseason ranking: 5): There's definitely a drop-off after the top three groups, but Purdue had a nice crop of receivers who likely would have put up bigger numbers if quarterback Robert Marve had stayed healthy all season. Wideouts O.J. Ross (56 receptions, 454 yards) and Antavian Edison (58 receptions, 682 yards) both finished in the league's top five in receptions, while Gary Bush also eclipsed the 40-catch mark. Young wideout Dolapo Macarthy showed promise, and tight ends Gabe Holmes and Crosby Wright combined for 47 receptions.

5. Michigan (Preseason ranking: 6): No offense to Denard Robinson, but Michigan's receiving corps truly got its chance to shine once Devin Gardner took control at quarterback. Michigan became a much more pass-oriented offense and stretched the field with several players. Jeremy Gallon turned in a very solid junior season with 49 receptions for 829 yards and four touchdowns (16.9-yard average). Roy Roundtree came on strong late in the season and made the catch of the year in the league against Northwestern to force overtime. Michigan received nice contributions from wideout Drew Dileo and young tight end Devin Funchess (five touchdowns), and Gardner himself made some plays early on before switching permanently to QB.

6. Ohio State (Preseason ranking: 9): Coach Urban Meyer is looking for much more from Ohio State's perimeter players, but in a pass-challenged league like the Big Ten, Ohio State's receivers and tight ends finish in the middle of the pack. Corey Brown quietly produced a 60-catch season, finishing fourth in the league in receptions (5 rpg). Devin Smith had half as many receptions as Brown but finished with nearly the same yardage total (669-618) as he became Braxton Miller's top deep threat. Jake Stoneburner had four touchdown catches, while sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman showed some promise.

7. Northwestern (Preseason ranking: 1): Thanks to the emergence of Venric Mark, Northwestern became a much more run-driven offense than we anticipated before the season, although the receiving corps underachieved a bit. The Wildcats had no true stars, although they boasted some nice balance as four players recorded at least 29 receptions. The big bright spot late in the season came from freshman tight end Dan Vitale, who recorded 28 receptions for 288 yards and two touchdowns. USC transfer Kyle Prater wasn't much of a factor (10 catches, 54 yards). Quarterback Kain Colter might have provided the best performance from a Northwestern receiver when he moved there against Indiana and recorded career highs for both receptions (9) and receiving yards (131).

8. Michigan State (Preseason ranking: 11): It says something about the Big Ten when Michigan State's receivers, who received heavy criticism for much of the season, finish in the top two-thirds of the rankings. But the Spartans simply produced a lot more than the groups below them. They had arguably the league's top tight end in Dion Sims, who recorded 36 receptions for 475 yards before opting to skip his senior year and enter the NFL draft. Freshman Aaron Burbridge emerged at receiver during Big Ten play (29 receptions, 364), and the Spartans had three receivers record at least 36 receptions and two -- Keith Mumphery and Bennie Fowler -- with more than 500 receiving yards.

9. Wisconsin (Preseason ranking: 3): Wisconsin had a major shortage of depth, which hurt during a season where three different players started at quarterback. The Badgers had one of the league's best wide receivers in Jared Abbrederis (49 receptions, 837 yards, 5 TDs), and Jacob Pedersen won the Big Ten's Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award, albeit in surprising fashion. But no other players recorded 20 receptions and Wisconsin ended up finishing last in the Big Ten and 111th nationally in passing.

10. Iowa (Preseason rank: 4): The Hawkeyes struggled to consistently pass the ball, and getting into the end zone proved to be nearly impossible as they finished with just seven receiving touchdowns. Kevonte Martin-Manley, the group's bright spot with 52 catches for 571 yards, was the lone Hawkeye with multiple scoring receptions in 2012. Keenan Davis fell short of expectations and while C.J. Fiedorowicz put up nice numbers for a tight end (45 receptions, 433 yards), many expected more from him as well. Like several Big Ten squads, Iowa struggled with depth at receiver.

11. Illinois (Preseason ranking: 10): We had concerns about Illinois' skill-position talent and depth before the season, and it proved true. Although the Illini had four players record at least 25 receptions, two of them -- receptions leader Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson -- play running back. Ryan Lankford was the team's top wideout with 469 receiving yards and five touchdowns, while Darius Millines once again struggled to stay healthy. Spencer Harris contributed 21 catches for 252 yards and two scores, but Illinois needed much more to spark the league's worst offense.

12. Minnesota (Preseason ranking: 12): Like many of their Big Ten brethren, the Gophers lacked playmakers on the edge to provide balance on offense. Their best threat, A.J. Barker, left the program in not-so-quiet fashion after a spat with head coach Jerry Kill. Barker appeared in only eight games but still had 11 more receptions than any other Minnesota player. Receivers like Isaac Fruechte, Derrick Engel and Devin Crawford-Tufts showed flashes, and tight end John Rabe had four touchdown grabs, but Minnesota needs a lot more from this group going forward.
Way back in the heady days of the 2012 preseason, we ranked every Big Ten position group from No. 1 through 12. We had to base our thoughts on previous performance and a lot of projections in August.

We're going back now and issuing a final, postseason ranking for each position group, and these will be far less subjective now because we have an actual full season's worth of data on hand.

Quarterbacks, naturally, are up first. (Those guys hog all the glory). You can take a look back and see how we ranked this group in the preseason here. Depth is an important factor in these position rankings, but having a standout main guy under center (or in the shotgun) is the most overriding concern with this group.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThanks to consistent play by QB Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes finished the 2012 season unbeaten.
1. Ohio State (Preseason rank: 5): We figured Braxton Miller would improve greatly in his second year of starting and in Urban Meyer's system. We didn't know he'd become the Big Ten offensive player of the year or finish fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. While he didn't always throw the ball with precision, Miller made all the big plays and led his team to a 12-0 record. The biggest preseason worry was what would happen if he got hurt. Kenny Guiton answered that in the Purdue comeback.

2. Penn State (Preseason: 12): The Nittany Lions were dead last in our preseason rankings, and with good reason considering their past performances at the position. But I did write at the time: "Call me an optimist, but I believe Matt McGloin will be more effective at quarterback now that he's got a more modern offensive system and peace of mind that he's the starter." Uh, yeah. McGloin led the Big Ten in passing yards (3,266) and passing touchdowns (24) while throwing only five interceptions. And he stayed healthy, keeping Penn State's youthful backups from getting exposed.

3. Nebraska (Preseason: 3): Taylor Martinez led the Big Ten in total offense and completed a career-best 62 percent of his passes. When he was good, he was as good as there was in the league. But he still struggled with turnovers in key games, including 12 interceptions and numerous fumbles. If he can eliminate the mistakes, the sky's the limit.

4. Michigan (Preseason: 2): The Wolverines are a hard to team to peg in these rankings. Do we rank them based on Denard Robinson's poor showings in big games against Alabama and Notre Dame? Do we rank them based on Devin Gardner's strong finish to the season, when he was as productive as any Big Ten QB? How much do we factor in the team's lack of a solid backup plan in the Nebraska loss when Robinson got hurt early? You have to weigh the good with the bad, which makes this spot feel about right.

5. Northwestern (Preseason: 9): Starting quarterback Kain Colter threw for 872 yards, which was nearly 450 yards less than nominal backup Trevor Siemian. But Colter also rushed for 894 yards and kept defenses off balance with his versatility. Meanwhile, the Wildcats could use Siemian when they needed to stretch the field. The next step for Northwestern is developing a more consistent downfield passing attack.

6. Indiana (Preseason: 11): Who would have guessed in the preseason that the Hoosiers would actually exhibit the best depth at quarterback? After starter Tre Roberson went down in Week 2, Indiana was able to plug in juco transfer Cameron Coffman and true freshman Nate Sudfeld to sustain the league's top passing offense. The three combined to throw for more than 3,700 yards. Coffman got the bulk of the work but needed a better touchdown-to-interception ration than his 15-to-11 mark.

7. Purdue (Preseason: 1): We overrated the Boilermakers' depth in the preseason. It turned out that only one of the trio of former starters performed at a high level, and Robert Marve didn't play enough because of a torn ACL and Danny Hope's misguided insistence on sticking with Caleb TerBush. Purdue actually led the Big Ten in passing touchdowns (30) and finished third in passing yards, but much of that was because the team often had to throw the ball a lot after falling way behind. This ranking could have been higher with a full season of Marve.

8. Wisconsin (Preseason: 8): Danny O'Brien quickly showed that he was not the next Russell Wilson, but luckily the Badgers had some depth. Redshirt freshman Joel Stave showed major promise before his season was derailed by a broken collarbone, and Curt Phillips turned in a nice comeback story by managing the team well down the stretch. Still, Wisconsin ranked last in the Big Ten in passing yards.

9. Michigan State (Preseason: 10): It was not exactly a season to remember for first-year starter Andrew Maxwell, who was benched late in the Spartans' bowl game. But for all his struggles, Maxwell still finished No. 4 in the league in passing and had some nice games in the middle of the year.

10. Minnesota (Preseason: 6): What could MarQueis Gray have done if he hadn't hurt his ankle, prompting an eventual move to receiver? True freshman Philip Nelson took over the reins midseason and broke out with a huge first half against Purdue. However, he failed to throw for more than 80 yards in the team's final three regular season games. Nelson led the team with just 873 passing yards on the season, and the Gophers threw 15 interceptions.

11. Iowa (Preseason: 4): Nobody took a bigger tumble than the Hawkeyes, as James Vandenberg went from a 3,000-yard passer as a junior to often looking lost as a senior. He completed only 57.3 percent of his passes and tossed only seven touchdowns, with eight interceptions, and Iowa showed almost no ability to go vertical. And no other Hawkeye attempted a pass all season.

12. Illinois (Preseason: 7): The Illini had experience at the position with Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole, but they were both part of a wildly dysfunctional offense. Illinois was next-to-last in passing yards in the Big Ten and also had just 11 touchdown passes versus 14 interceptions. In fairness, both QBs were often running for their lives and had very little help.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
4:30
PM ET
Wishing you a great weekend. We'll have a Senior Bowl wrap-up and any big recruiting updates on Monday.

Rick from Adel, Ga., writes: Hello Adam,I have 2 questions. First question, With the NCAA investigating itself for internal problems, will that benefit Penn St. in getting sanctions reduced? Second question, Would it be better if the B1G went to 9 conference games, playing 4 games at home, 4 away, and 1 neutral site where the two teams can split revenue? If they do the 9th conf. game at a neutral site I would think that would eliminate having a home/away series and allow even more times for teams in different divisions to play each other.

Adam Rittenberg: Rick, I'm still trying to get a sense of whether the NCAA's internal issues could help Penn State or the state's lawsuit. The initial responses I've received from those in the know is that there are some key differences in the Penn State and Miami cases. The biggest being that the NCAA's enforcement team didn't investigate Penn State like it did Miami. The Freeh Report was used by the NCAA in lieu of its own investigation, so the enforcement team -- and all of its issues -- really doesn't relate to Penn State at all. Wednesday's news certainly hurts the NCAA's credibility, which in theory could help in the state's case, but Penn State still signed a consent decree about the penalties, and it made public the findings of Louis Freeh's group, which the NCAA in turn used to impose sanctions. So it's not the same. You bring up an interesting idea about a nine-game conference schedule with neutral-site games and shared revenues. I don't know if every Big Ten school would be on board with this, and whether so many neutral-site games are realistic every year. But several athletic directors have told us that all scheduling models are on the table in the coming months -- eight-game schedules, nine-game schedules, 10-game schedules. So we can't rule anything out.


Dennis from Norfolk, Neb., writes: Most plans for the new division alignment contains either a "brand" imbalance or a protected crossover game. This means it takes longer to play everyone in the league. .Is there any discussion about making the protected crossover optional? .The Big 12 had no protected crossovers, The B1G and the SEC have them and I thought I heard they were optional in the Pac 12. Don't know about the ACC.

Adam Rittenberg: Dennis, my understanding from talking to several Big Ten athletic directors is that everything is on the table for discussion, including the future of protected crossovers. I think the protected crossovers took on too big of a role in the initial division alignment. These crossover games should be an as-needed type of thing, more of a last resort to preserve rivalries that can't be preserved within the divisions. There are several Big Ten rivalries that are worth keeping every year in the Big Ten, and there are several that are not. There also are new, emerging rivalries that should be considered when figuring out the divisions. It's certainly possible we'll see an alignment where there are only one or two crossover games requested by the participants, rather than each team having one every year.


Steve from Chicago writes: Love to hear comments on article in lunch links yesterday in which Ohio St. says "A ticket increase is necessary largely because of the lack of a 8th home game in upcoming schedules." Before we heard that cannot go to 9 game conference schedule or add tough non-conference games because need 7 home games. Now Ohio St is saying need 8. With that comment how can a 10 game conference schedule be discussed let alone a 9 game schedule.

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Steve. A huge concern for athletic directors when they discuss future conference schedules is meeting their individual budgets. Ohio State, for example, needs at least seven home games a year. There will be years with eight, but they're few and far between, so the school has to adjust accordingly to meet its financial goals. This doesn't help the fan buying tickets, but it's not easy to run a program featuring 36 varsity teams, almost all of which lose money. If the Big Ten ends up implementing a 10-game conference schedule, it will really restrict what programs like Ohio State -- and several others that need at least seven home games per season -- can do in the nonconference portion. Do games like Ohio State-Oregon and Ohio State-Texas go away because they involve road trips? It's possible, and that'd be a shame. The problem with 9-game league schedules is that those schools have to make sure they play all three non-league games at home in seasons where they have five Big Ten road games. So it's very tricky, and it's why 8-game schedules remain appealing.


Jeffrey from Dunn Loring, Va., writes: Adam,Maybe I haven't been paying attention, but what's the quarterback situation look like for Purdue next season? Their top two QBs are gone - will the Boilermakers use one of the remaining signal callers on the team, or is Coach Hazell actively looking elsewhere?

Adam Rittenberg: Purdue has a lot of quarterbacks on its roster -- five, to be exact, including heralded incoming recruit Danny Etling (already enrolled). So Darrell Hazell and his staff have options there. The problem is inexperience. Rob Henry is a familiar name, and he would have been the team's starter in 2011 if he didn't suffer an ACL tear weeks before the season opener. But he didn't have a huge role in the offense last fall, even after Robert Marve's injury and Caleb TerBush's struggles. If Henry can recapture the form he showed during the offseason two years ago, he likely will be the top guy. But the young players can't be counted out, especially a guy like Etling, who drew excellent reviews in recruiting. Players like Austin Appleby and Bilal Marshall also are in the mix, but it's really a clean slate for Hazell and his offensive staff, led by coordinator John Shoop.


Steve from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam: With 4-team pods, you've said several times that there were questions about how a 2-game playoff would work or how ties would be broken. I think the real idea behind pods is that every season, you have two 8-team divisions, it's just that the divisions change each season. In other words, 2015 might have a Lakes-Plains division and a South-East division, 2016 would have a Lakes-South division and a Plains-East divison, 2017 would have Lakes-East and Plains-South... Still would have a division champ (not a pod champ), division tie-breakers, and a playoff between the top two teams. Could even have a protected game, and still keep an 8-game season (thus maximizing home-game revenue).

Adam Rittenberg: To Steve and many others suggesting this, I love the idea of rotating divisions. There would be more variety in which teams play each year, and you wouldn't have so much pressure to increase the total number of conference games (which will hurt nonconference scheduling). You would have to construct the divisions to preserve rivalries and as much competitive balance as possible, and you'd have to come up with a good tiebreaker system. This is much more realistic than adding semifinal games, which I doubt the presidents would do. Again, love the plan. It makes sense. Probably means it won't happen (I kid, I kid ... sorta).


Jordan from Detroit writes: It's been a while since I've seen talk about who would be #'s 15 and 16 in the b10. However when there was talk about it people were focusing on Georgia Tech, Virginia, and maybe even UNC and/or Duke. Why are people not focusing as much on Virginia Tech? They have one of the most successful football programs, they are right next door geographically, as well as creating a source for the b10 network in the Virginia market. So why are the Hokies not discussed as much? The only downside is that they are not part of the AAU but considering how Nebraska isn't a part of it (and honestly if Notre Dame wanted to join the b10 Delaney would forget about the lack of AAU in a heartbeat) I don't think of it as a deal-breaker. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Jordan, you're not the first person to ask about Virginia Tech as a Big Ten expansion candidate. For starters, the AAU thing is a very big deal. Although Nebraska lost its membership, it had it at the time of its admission. If Nebraska wasn't an AAU member in June 2010, it would have had a harder time being approved, Big Ten sources have told me. Still, Virginia Tech is a good candidate because of its location and its success in football. But there has been much more buzz about Virginia Tech as a potential SEC expansion candidate. If the ACC blows up eventually, most folks seem to think the SEC would try to add Virginia Tech to expand its footprint. Maybe things change with the Big Ten, but I don't think Virginia Tech is on the league's radar as much as AAU members like Virginia, Georgia Tech and North Carolina.


John L. from Djibouti, Africa, writes: Adam, the Big Ten Blog has been my daily meditation for a long time now. I'm currently deployed and may rely on it more than ever! Wisconsin has showed consistent success -- getting to B1G Championships, Rose Bowls, National Award contenders and plenty of graduates playing on Sundays, i.e., JJ Watt, Russell Wilson, yet it still seems like we haven't seen much of a boost, if any, in recruit caliber. Can you explain this?

Adam Rittenberg: John, first of all, thank you for everything you do. Appreciate the kind words. A lot of Wisconsin fans wonder why the recent success doesn't make the Badgers more of a national player in recruiting. Location has something to do with it as Wisconsin isn't located in a state packed with elite recruits. Wisconsin also has built its program on developing players, and while aiming higher in recruiting will be important going forward, there seems to be a greater focus on finding the right fits -- if they're less heralded recruits -- and fostering improvement year to year. Facilities also are a big key, and as I've written before, Wisconsin's have been among the worst in the Big Ten for a long time. The poor facilities haven't come close to matching the product on the field. The new student-athlete performance center signifies a significant upgrade, and Wisconsin must continue to invest in a program that has yielded great returns for the school. It's also important for Wisconsin to target areas where it can compete for good recruits. Florida seemed to be one of these areas under the previous coaching staff (thanks in large part to assistant Charlie Partridge). Gary Andersen needs to find similar regions where Wisconsin can target elite prospects.


Bob from Indiana writes: Re: John Shoop as Purdue OC. So was this little piece that you put up about Shoop supposed to be an objective reporting of news or an editorial about your frustration as a fan of a middling, somewhat dysfunctional NFL team and what this guy did a decade ago with very little material/players to work with. I'm not saying you should be falsely positive; I'm saying that this blurb came across as fairly negative, especially compared to some of the other reports you've done about other asst. coach hirings around the Big 10.

Bob from Crown Point, Ind., writes: Adam...Having a hard time discerning the thought process of Purdue's coach Hazell believing John Shoop is the answer for a team in need of building an offense. I too am a life long Bears fan and remember very well the Shoop playbook which seemed not to have a single passing route longer than 3 yards. Please throw out a nugget of info...an overlooked stat...or something to help understand this move.

Adam Rittenberg: These emails came in right after one another -- it shows how not all Bobs from Indiana think alike. To Bob No. 1, as I've mentioned many times, this is a blog and we will provide strong opinions from time to time. We're supposed to give a take on news items like this. My John Shoop post was intentionally a bit over the top -- not entirely serious -- because of his Chicago Bears connection and my Bears fandom and frustration with many of Shoop's offenses (2001 team the exception). You're right that he had little to work with in Chicago, and he'll inherit some more talent at Purdue. But it doesn't change my memories of him as a playcaller. Like every new Big Ten assistant, I'll give Shoop a chance and a clean slate. He deserves it. As mentioned in the post, the guy remains in high demand and did some good things toward the end of his tenure at North Carolina. For Bob No. 2, I'd look at the UNC offenses in 2010 and the way quarterback T.J. Yates developed. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks also blossomed in Shoop's offense in 2008 -- and had quite a few catches longer than three yards.
As a Chicago Bears fan, my fingers are trembling as I type this ...

According to reports, Purdue has hired John Shoop as its new offensive coordinator.

FootballScoop.com first reported Shoop's hiring, and the Big Ten Network also is reporting it. Purdue hasn't officially confirmed the addition of Shoop to Darrell Hazell's staff.

OK, John Shoop. That John Shoop? Yes, that John Shoop. (Chill goes down spine). Breathe, Adam, breathe ...

I'm going to give Shoop a chance to show he won't do to Purdue's offense what he did to the Bears' offense from 1999-2003. Every new Big Ten assistant deserves somewhat of a clean slate from the Big Ten blog.

Sorry, just had a flashback of a bubble screen for minus-3 yards. Focus, Adam.

Shoop coordinated some decent offenses at North Carolina toward the end of his tenure as Tar Heels' offensive coordinator (2007-2010). Players like quarterback T.J. Yates and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks developed nicely under his watch in Chapel Hill. He remains in demand, interviewing for NFL coaching positions in recent weeks. And Shoop certainly boasts enough experience for this job.

He takes over a Purdue offense that loses its top two quarterbacks from 2012 (Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush), its top running back in Akeem Shavers, a valuable receiver in Antavian Edison and several starting linemen. Quarterback will be Shoop's primary focus as he figures out who will lead the Boilers in 2013.

Will there be some Bears jokes made? Yes. Will there be some jokes about Shoop and Jim Bollman being on the same offensive staff? Plenty. Hazell has made some, well, interesting hires so far at Purdue. But maybe it works out in the end and Boiler fans are crankin' up Salt-N-Pepa by the end of the season.

Big Ten lunch links

January, 22, 2013
1/22/13
12:00
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Bryan Bennett reportedly is headed to SEC country. Brian Bennett, thankfully, is staying put.

Best and worst of 2012: Purdue

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
10:00
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Our series examining the best and worst moments of 2012 for each Big Ten team rolls on with the Purdue Boilermakers ...

Best moment: Bucket bowling

Purdue's season veered off track at the start of Big Ten play, and coach Danny Hope's fate had been sealed long before the Bucket game against Indiana. But the Boilers didn't quit on their coach or on themselves, winning their final three games to secure bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season. Purdue needed to beat Iowa, Illinois and then rival Indiana to finish 6-6. Players and coaches both stepped up, whether it was quarterback Robert Marve playing despite another ACL tear in his knee or wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins taking over the play-calling duties after coordinator Gary Nord suffered a serious back injury. It led up to the Bucket game, which turned into an offensive showcase featuring 91 points and 1,070 yards combined. Marve fired four touchdown passes, and senior running back Akeem Shavers had a huge performance (126 rush yards, 99 receiving yards, 3 total touchdowns). Although 6-6 wasn't what Purdue had in mind entering the fall, the team at least ensured it would go bowling.

Worst moment: Goodbye, Columbus

The Heart of Dallas Bowl wasn't Purdue's finest moment -- not even close -- but the Boilers' worst moment came much earlier in the season. After back-to-back blowout home losses (Michigan, Wisconsin) to open Big Ten play, Purdue went to Columbus as a heavy underdog, primed for another severe beating. Instead, Purdue controlled the game for more than three quarters, gashing Ohio State with big plays on offense and special teams and also scoring on defense with a safety early in the fourth quarter. After Buckeyes star quarterback Braxton Miller left the game with a neck injury, Purdue looked ready to hand Ohio State its first loss under Urban Meyer and breath new life into its own season. Trailing by eight points, Ohio State needed to drive 61 yards with no timeouts and just 47 seconds left in regulation -- behind a backup quarterback in Kenny Guiton. But Purdue's defense couldn't get the stop as Ohio State scored with three seconds left, converted the 2-point try and went on to win in overtime. A win could have saved Hope's job and given Purdue a chance to truly turn around its season. Instead, the Boilers left Columbus wondering what might have been.

Previous best/worst:

Minnesota
Michigan
Nebraska
Northwestern
Penn State
Iowa
Indiana
The 2012 college football season is barely on ice and we're already heating up for the 2013 campaign with a way-too-early version of the Big Ten power rankings. This is a snapshot of how the league looks at this point in time, not knowing all the personnel/coaching changes that will be in place for next season. As a reminder, these can and will change during the next eight months.

Ohio State is on top, and quite frankly, the Buckeyes are head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Other teams such as Northwestern, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan certainly belong in the league's lead pack, while Michigan State and Penn State both have talent as well as question marks. We don't see a whole lot separating Nos. 2-6.

Here we go ...

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes made the most of their sanctioned season, running the table to post just the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history. Urban Meyer's crew now takes aim at a Big Ten title and perhaps even a national title, its first since 2002. Junior quarterback Braxton Miller leads a potentially explosive offense, but Ohio State needs its young defenders to grow up in a hurry as there are depth and experience questions on that side of the ball.

2. Northwestern: The Wildcats won 10 games in 2012 with a young team most projected to win no more than seven. Northwestern returns a very strong nucleus, led by running back Venric Mark and quarterback Kain Colter, and loses only a few key seniors. Most of the Wildcats' talent can be found in their younger classes. The schedule gets tougher in 2013 -- Northwestern opens Big Ten play with Ohio State and Wisconsin -- but the Wildcats should be a major factor in the Legends Division if they can shore up their offensive line and continue to make strides on defense.

3. Nebraska: There's no doubt Nebraska will have one of the nation’s top offenses in 2013. Fourth-year starter Taylor Martinez returns at quarterback and has the Big Ten's largest arsenal of weapons at his disposal. The big concerns are on defense after Nebraska hemorrhaged points and yards in its four losses this past season and loses a group of seniors. Bo Pelini needs to get his defense back on track and hope the offense can limit turnovers, a huge problem throughout this season.

4. Wisconsin: Gary Andersen hardly inherits a bare cupboard in Madison. His predecessor, Bret Bielema, actually pointed to the 2013 team as potentially his best with the Badgers. The coaching transition could create some speed bumps, but Wisconsin returns two dynamic running backs in James White and Melvin Gordon, multiple quarterbacks with experience and a good defensive front seven led by Chris Borland. There are concerns in the secondary (three starters gone) and at wide receiver (not enough playmakers), but Wisconsin should push Ohio State in the Leaders Division.

5. Michigan: The Denard Robinson era is over and Michigan needs offensive playmakers to replace its record-setting quarterback and surround new signal-caller Devin Gardner. A bigger concern, though, is an offensive line that struggled at times in 2012 and must replace most of its starting lineup. Coach Brady Hoke should see some of his strong early recruiting efforts pay off in Year 3, although Michigan might not have the depth to challenge for a league title until 2014. Linebacker Jake Ryan leads a defense that has improved the past two seasons but must measure up to elite competition.

6. Michigan State: Pat Narduzzi's defense should once again be one of the nation's best, especially with All-Big Ten standout Max Bullough once again leading the unit at middle linebacker. But the NFL departures of Le'Veon Bell and Dion Sims could hamper an offense that had no other consistent weapons in 2012. The schedule definitely favors MSU, but how will the Spartans score points? MSU's quarterback competition between Connor Cook and Andrew Maxwell will be one of the top storylines of spring practice.

7. Penn State: Bill O'Brien had a lot to do with Penn State's success in 2012, but so did a senior class featuring several NFL players on defense who certainly will be missed. O'Brien's next challenge is developing a capable quarterback, whether it's Steven Bench, junior college arrival Tyler Ferguson or, just maybe, heralded incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg. Penn State could feel the sting of the sanctions more from a depth standpoint in 2013, but O'Brien's Lions have defied the odds so far.

8. Minnesota: The Gophers doubled their win total in Jerry Kill’s second season, and Kill's track record at previous stops suggests another boost could be on the way in Year 3. Quarterback Philip Nelson looked good in the bowl game after some late-season struggles, but Minnesota still needs more weapons to develop around him as well as continued progress from the offensive line. Senior defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman leads a unit looking to fill gaps at linebacker and cornerback.

9. Indiana: The arrow is pointed up in Bloomington despite a poor finish to the regular season, and with eight home games on the slate in 2013, Indiana should expect to go bowling. Third-year coach Kevin Wilson has three quarterbacks with experience -- Tre Roberson, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld -- at his disposal, as well as other weapons such as running back Stephen Houston and receiver Cody Latimer. IU's defense once again is a major question mark, but recruiting efforts have picked up on that side of the ball.

10. Purdue: If the Heart of Dallas Bowl was any indication, new Boilers coach Darrell Hazell has a lot of work ahead in Year 1. Purdue loses its top two quarterbacks (Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush), its top defender in Kawann Short and other key contributors on both sides of the ball. Hazell's predecessor, Danny Hope, signed a bunch of quarterbacks in his recent recruiting classes, and it will be interesting to see who rises to the top. Hazell should be able to clean up some of Purdue's sloppy play, but the Boilers have quite a few question marks after a disappointing 2012 campaign.

11. Iowa: After taking a significant step back in 2012, Iowa might have a tough time turning things around in a loaded Legends Division in 2013. The Hawkeyes welcome in a new quarterback (Jake Rudock) and need playmakers to emerge around him to generate much better results in Year 2 under coordinator Greg Davis. The defensive front seven could be solid as Iowa boasts a strong linebacking corps, but the Hawkeyes must plug a few holes in the secondary and get back to their traditionally stout play on D.

12. Illinois: Coach Tim Beckman needs to show significant signs of progress in Year 2 after a disastrous first season, and he might not have the personnel to do so. The Illini once again lose several defenders to the NFL draft and need to fill holes along the defensive line and in the secondary. Their bigger concerns are on the offensive side, as they had fewer playmakers than any Big Ten team in 2012. Veteran quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase returns, but Illinois needs a much better plan on offense and the personnel to get things done. An influx of junior college players must step up in a make-or-break year for Beckman.

Season report card: Purdue

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
10:00
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Final grades are almost done for all the Big Ten teams, but we've got a couple left to finish up. We're judging each team on its offense, defense, special teams and overall performance in the 2012 regular season.

Now, we turn our attention toward the Purdue Boilermakers.

Offense: C-minus

Many Purdue fans wanted Robert Marve to be the team's starting quarterback all along. And they might have been right. Marve completed 66 percent of his passes and had a 13-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Caleb TerBush had a 57 percent completion rate and a 12-to-8 ratio. Even after tearing his ACL at Notre Dame, Marve gave the offense more of a spark than TerBush. The Boilermakers averaged nearly 30 points and more than 400 yards of offense per game, numbers that were a bit inflated by three great games (a 54-16 win against Eastern Michigan and 51-41 win against Marshall early, then a 56-35 victory against Indiana in the finale). But Purdue's offense flat-lined during the heart of the Big Ten schedule against Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State, and failed to capitalize on a hot start at Ohio State when a season-rattling upset was in the team's grasp. The Boilers were mostly mediocre at running the ball and throwing it.

Defense: D-plus

We expected a much better performance out of a team blessed with a strong defensive line and a very good secondary. But injuries took a toll on the Boilers in the middle of the season, when they were flat out awful. The warning sign arrived in that Marshall game, and then Michigan and Wisconsin combined to score 82 points in consecutive weeks at Ross-Ade Stadium. The low point was probably at Minnesota, when the Gophers -- who had trouble scoring much of the season -- rolled up 44 points with a true freshman quarterback at the controls. Purdue bounced back at the end of the season when guys like Kawann Short started to get healthy. But the defense got subpar play from its linebackers and not enough big performances like cornerback Josh Johnson provided most weeks. The Boilers allowed 33.1 points per game in Big Ten play. And remember, Danny Hope changed defensive coordinators in the offseason with an eye on shoring up that side of the ball.

Special teams: C-minus

A year after leading the nation in kickoff returns, Raheem Mostert wasn't able to find the same magic as he was slowed by injuries. Akeem Hunt handled most of the kick return duties and did have a 100-yard touchdown return against Ohio State. But Purdue missed two field goals in that game against the Buckeyes when one make might have been enough for the win. Sam McCartney and Paul Griggs combined to make just nine field goals on 13 attempts. Cody Webster finished third in the league in punting, but punt returns (111th nationally) were almost invisible and the kickoff coverage unit was poor.

Overall: C-minus

What an odd season for the Boilers, who started 3-1 and finished 3-0 but went 0-5 in between. They took the nation's only two undefeated teams, Notre Dame and Ohio State, down to the wire on the road, but looked helpless at home against Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State. I had a tough time deciding on this overall grade. You could easily give Purdue a D or worse for failing to live up to high preseason expectations after Hope repeatedly called this his best team. Going just 6-6 and failing to contend in a probation-riddled Leaders Division got Hope fired. At the same time, the team was hit hard by injuries and did rally to win its last three games to make it to a second straight bowl game for the first time since 2006-07. If I had told you before the season that Purdue would make it to a bowl, that would probably have sounded like a C-minus kind of year. It was just an ugly way to get there.

Previous report cards:

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State
Ohio State
Nebraska

Minnesota

Northwestern
Penn State

 

Heart of Dallas Bowl keys: Purdue

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
11:30
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Three keys for Purdue in Tuesday's Heart of Dallas Bowl against Oklahoma State:

1. Dominate the trenches: Purdue's strength this season was supposed to be its defensive line, led by All-Big Ten defensive tackle Kawann Short. When Short and others dealt with injuries in the middle of the season, the Boilermakers got steamrolled in league play. Not coincidentally, the team won its final three games after those guys started to get healthy, and a month-long break should have the defensive line in its best shape since early September. The 315-pound Short can change a game when he's blowing up the middle of the line of scrimmage, and fellow tackle Bruce Gaston is an underrated force. Ryan Russell is a promising young pass-rusher who has also healed from some bumps and bruises. Purdue absolutely must disrupt the timing and rhythm of Oklahoma State's high-powered offense while keeping running back Joseph Randle in check. If they can do that, the Boilers will have a chance.

2. Run, run, run the ball: Akeem Shavers was the MVP of last year's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl with 149 rushing yards. While Oklahoma State's defense is much better than Western Michigan's was a year ago, Shavers ended this season with 225 rushing yards in his final two games. Ralph Bolden is also expected back following a late-season hamstring injury, and Akeem Hunt gives the team a home run hitter with his sprinter's speed. Purdue has to get its running game charged up to help out quarterback Robert Marve and, more importantly, keep the Cowboys' offense on the sidelines.

3. Stay clean: One of the reasons Danny Hope didn't make it to this bowl game is that the Boilers often played sloppily under their former head coach. Penalties, turnovers and special teams blunders always seemed to rear their heads at the wrong times. That can't happen in a game like this, in which Purdue is such a huge underdog. Marve gave the team a spark when he was thrust into the starting lineup, but he still has a tendency to force throws into coverage. He and the Boilers can't afford to give Oklahoma State extra possessions, and Purdue has to maximize opportunities in the kicking game to win the field-position battle. This team has enough talent to pull off the upset, especially against an Oklahoma State squad that might be overlooking this game. But the Boilermakers can only put themselves in that position if they first avoid beating themselves.

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