- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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The long wait until football returns is only beginning, but spring practice is at least another day closer. To help pass the time until Big Ten teams are back in pads, we're looking around the entire league at key position battles that could help sort out the race for a championship by the time fall eventually arrives.
Up next: Purdue.
1. Quarterback: Despite leaving the job in the hands of Austin Appleby down the stretch last season, the Boilermakers still don't appear to be completely settled on him as the starter. So the competition is once again open at Purdue, with Danny Etling still an option behind center and coach Darrell Hazell facing a critical decision heading into his third season with the program. The coaching staff will also take a close look at redshirt freshman David Blough, but this is a race that could certainly use a clear winner if the Boilermakers are going to make up any ground in the league.
2. Running back: After sorting through the options at quarterback, the next priority will be finding somebody to hand the football to and establishing a pecking order in the backfield. Both Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert are gone, taking a combined 1,478 yards and nine touchdowns with them and leaving little experience behind for the Purdue ground game. Keyante Green did get a taste of action as a redshirt freshman and averaged more than 7 yards per carry during his limited appearances, but he'll need to prove he's capable of becoming an every-down tailback for the Boilermakers and might face a challenge for playing time from sophomore Keith Byars II or redshirt freshman D.J. Knox.
3. Defensive end: The Boilermakers didn't generate much of a pass rush a year ago, and losing both starters at defensive end wouldn't seem to be all that encouraging moving forward with Ryan Russell and Jalani Phillips both out of eligibility. But, for the most part, Purdue received most of its production from the inside anyway, and Purdue does appear to have some young talent coming up to potentially provide a lift for the line moving forward. Evan Panfil and Gelen Robinson are at the top of the list for the Boilermakers, and this could be a big camp for that tandem to establish itself as capable of starting in the Big Ten.