NCF Nation: Darrell Hazell

Our Big Ten-wide examination of positions that need improvement continues with a look at the Purdue Boilermakers.

Problem position: Quarterback

Why quarterback is a problem: There are plenty of places to look within a program that's won one Big Ten game over the past two years. Sometimes, though, the most obvious answer is the correct one. Purdue has coined itself as the cradle of quarterbacks, producing stars at the position such as Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Gary Danielson, Jim Everett and Drew Brees. When the Boilermakers find a gunslinger, all other problems fade into the background. It's struggling under Darrell Hazell to identify a reliable option. Austin Appleby was the latest to try, starting the final seven games as a sophomore with varied success.

How it can be fixed: Appleby had his moments in 2014, playing well against Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota before the Boilermakers put too much on his shoulders in November. As his pass attempts rose, efficiency dropped. Purdue can help its quarterbacks by improving in the run game. Another offseason of work under Hazell and offensive coordinator John Shoop should help Appleby if he remains atop the depth chart, by no means a certainty.

Early 2015 outlook: Look for Appleby to face stiff competition in the spring from Danny Etling, another rising junior who started as a freshman in 2013 and for the first five games of 2014. He threw for 800 yards but committed seven turnovers. David Blough, a redshirt freshman, also enters the mix. Each came to Purdue as a solid prospect and recognized on the national level in recruiting circles. For Purdue to take the desired big step as a program, one of its quarterbacks must emerge as elite.
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When Minnesota's Jerry Kill, Maryland's Randy Edsall, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Purdue's Darrell Hazell exited the head coaches' convention meeting Tuesday morning, they didn't spell out O-H-I-O.

But all four Big Ten coaches were pleased that Ohio State won the national championship on Monday night, ending the league's 12-year drought since last reaching college football's pinnacle. Unlike many fans, the coaches don't get wrapped up in the endless debate about conference strength, but they don't tune it out, either. They can't.

"It's great for the Big Ten," Kill told ESPN.com. "There's no question about that."

Added Edsall: "It probably eliminates that negative talk about the Big Ten and all those things. It's nice to have one of your conference members win the national championship."

The Big Ten's hubris will never match that of the SEC, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As one Big Ten assistant joked Monday afternoon about the title game, "You hold your nose and root for Ohio State."

But conference pride exists, and to have the nation's best team shines a positive light on the Big Ten, which has been bashed for the better part of the past decade.

"To play 15 games and to be an on-the-field champion, just ecstatic for those guys, first and foremost," Fitzgerald said of Ohio State. "It also shows that anybody can win, to go play it on the field. You have to go play a competitive schedule but most importantly, you have to win. Everybody's in control of that."

Ohio State's championship isn't just a point of pride for other Big Ten teams, but an inspiration. An Indiana assistant told ESPN.com on Monday that he couldn't believe how much Ohio State had improved late in the season. (Indiana held a third-quarter lead in Ohio Stadium on Nov. 22.)

As Hazell watched the championship game in his hotel room, his thoughts turned to his own team, which was coming off another subpar season.

"It makes you hungry," said Hazell, an Ohio State assistant from 2004-10. "I took it all in. It was a quiet moment, but I sat up in the bed and I watched it by myself and thought, 'These are the things we have to do to move our program forward.'"

Northwestern has endured consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 2001-02, and Fitzgerald hoped that Wildcats players watched the title game and saw how Ohio State, written off in the playoff race early this season, had earned its way onto the sport's biggest stage.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has made "The Chase" a theme for his players as they pursue goals. But after Monday night, the Buckeyes have become the hunted.

"Obviously, they're the team to chase," Hazell said. "It's a credit to their staff, their recruiting department. They're out there now. They are really out there."

The rest of the Big Ten is trying to catch Ohio State. And for the first time since 2003, so is the rest of the country.

Brian Bennett contributed to this report.
The Big Ten can't move its campuses closer to the top recruiting hotbeds. It won't stop caring about or investing in sports that don't make money. It won't compromise academic standards.

But there's one element the Big Ten can upgrade as it tries to improve its football fortunes: coaches. The resources are there, thanks to the Big Ten Network and other revenue streams. The demand is there from many fan bases.

It's time for the Big Ten to aim higher with the head coaches it courts and ultimately brings into the conference. That means looking beyond the MAC coach of the moment or the affordable coordinator. That means sparing absolutely no expense to lure top candidates.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsMichigan can't afford to hire a coach without top-notch credentials as it did with Brady Hoke.
Nebraska and now Michigan have the opportunity to reshape the quality of coaching in this conference. Both programs are viewed as great, if not elite, jobs. Both programs are dripping with tradition, fan support, facilities, and, well, just about everything else a coach could want. Both have gone far too long without competing for conference championships, much less national championships.

This is the time for both to start moving toward college football's upper crust again. The first step: bringing in the right leaders.

Some disagreed with Nebraska's decision Sunday to part with a coach (Bo Pelini) who had won nine or 10 games in each of his first seven seasons. But the move signals that Nebraska wants to be better than good, and is willing to take a big risk to reclaim elite status. A coach close to Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst told me Sunday that Eichorst is aiming for a big name to replace Pelini. Whether he lands him remains to be seen, but it's encouraging that Nebraska, without many obvious candidates, is thinking big.

Michigan faced a much easier decision with Brady Hoke, whose program had backslid since winning 11 games and a Sugar Bowl in his first season. Hoke checked a lot of boxes that Rich Rodriguez didn't in Ann Arbor, but his Michigan Man schtick quickly grew old once the wins stopped. Did Michigan settle for Hoke, a 47-50 coach prior to his arrival? Perhaps. It cannot settle this time. Interim athletic director Jim Hackett must start his search with prominent candidates who will listen.

If you want to be great, you have to commit to being great. Look at the Pac-12. Not only has every school made significant investments in facilities -- some Big Ten schools have done the same -- but the quality of coaching has skyrocketed in recent years.

Recent coaching additions include Jim Mora, Chris Petersen, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham and Mike Leach. Not every move is working out to perfection, but there are more proven winners in the Pac-12 than the Big Ten. Rodriguez, while struggling at Michigan, certainly belongs in the proven winner category after leading Arizona to the Pac-12 championship game in his third year.

Big Ten schools, meanwhile, too often take the bunny slope instead of the double black diamond when it comes to finding coaches. There have been plenty of practical hires but not enough brazen ones.

There are also some Big Ten programs seemingly satisfied with their place in the college football world.

Iowa fans should be furious right now. Their Hawkeyes managed to go 7-5 despite the most favorable schedule they'll ever have to the Big Ten championship game. Plus, their neighbors to the west sent a message that very good isn't good enough. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, meanwhile, faces no internal pressure despite a top-10 salary, no top-10 finishes since 2009 and just one such finish in the past decade. Ferentz's compensation and a beautiful new facility suggest Iowa wants to be elite. But if that expectation were real, wouldn't there be more outcry?

Illinois' decision to retain Tim Beckman for a fourth year makes sense, as Beckman's team improved down the stretch to become bowl eligible. But another jump in wins is a must in 2015, perhaps a run for the West Division. If not, what message does it send to an already apathetic fan base?

Pat Fitzgerald should be feeling some pressure to make changes after consecutive 5-7 seasons. How can Northwestern raise its profile without some expectation, some tension, in and around the program?

Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Indiana's Kevin Wilson must make bowls in 2015 to keep their jobs. If not, what's the point?

I recently had lunch with a top coordinator from another conference and asked what he wants in his first head-coaching job. His answer: a place with unrealistic expectations.

How many Big Ten programs can say they do right now?

Coaches always talk about controlling the controllables. The Big Ten always will have certain factors working against it, but it can control who leads its programs. The league remains very appealing to top coaches.

It's time for an upgrade. Your moves, Nebraska and Michigan.

Make them bold ones.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
11/09/14
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Happy Halloween in the Big Ten

October, 31, 2014
10/31/14
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Happy Halloween, Big Ten fans! The conference got off to a ghoulish start this season but has since provided enough tricks and treats to set up an entertaining final month of the regular season. In celebration of the undead, let’s take a look at what Halloween staples we think of when talking about the Big Ten.

Jason Voorhees: Have you ever seen Jason run after one of his soon-to-be victims? Nope, but somehow he always catches them with his slow-and-steady gait. Watching Minnesota hasn’t been much different this season. The Golden Gophers are in no hurry, defiantly marching their way toward wins in the age of turbo-speed offenses. Somehow Jerry Kill (a name made for a horror movie villain) and his team, which is now 6-2, usually end up catching their opponent and slashing them to bits.

Zombies: Unless of course, Minnesota is playing the Fighting Illini. Tim Beckman and his coaching staff might be walking dead as his third season in Champaign rolls toward the finish line, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take a few other teams down with them along the way. Can Illinois infect another team with an undefeated conference record when it faces Ohio State this Saturday? Something tells me J.T. Barrett will be going to this weekend’s party dressed as Michonne, katana and all.

Freddy Krueger: You don’t want to sleep on Nebraska this season. The Cornhuskers fell off the radar after a loss at Michigan State in early October. With Ameer Abdullah terrorizing defenses this season, they haven’t played their way out of an unexpected playoff bid just yet. The original playoff rankings put Nebraska at 15th. If Bo Pelini's team can win the West Division and a potential rematch with the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game, it can silently sneak up on a lot of folks in the college football world.

Sidney Prescott: The Ohio State-Penn State referee crew. Sidney is the main character in the Scream series, but this one applies to pretty much any pretty slasher-film target. You know, the ones who always seems to make the wrong decision. The front door is open? It’s time to scramble up the stairs. An incomplete pass bounces on the turf? Let’s rule it an interception. Getaway car is running in the driveway? Time to hide behind the chainsaws. The play clock expired? Let them kick the field goal anyway. These decisions always work out for the killer, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of Columbus who doesn’t see Urban Meyer as the perfect fit for a Big Ten villain role.

The Headless Horseman: Michigan isn’t headless quite yet, but coach Brady Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon are both moving in the direction of the guillotine. The Wolverines may be riding through the night searching for a couple new leaders a month from now. While football season has left the people of Ann Arbor feeling hollow, the town has been anything but sleepy this autumn. The Big House feels haunted. Maybe that explains all the boos.

All right, I think we’ve filled our quota for (candy)corny Halloween puns this year. Before we go, a few costume suggestions for coaches and players around the Big Ten…

Michigan LB Jake Ryan: He-Man (Before Ryan cut his hair, of course)

Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (No one has rocked the flat top as well as Turay since Will Smith.)

Michigan WR Dennis Norfleet: Carlton Banks (Will needs his partner in crime, and Norfleet’s dance moves fit the bill.)

Northwestern DC Mike Hankwitz: Walter White (No costume required, maybe just a black hat.)

Penn State coach James Franklin: Gus Fring (Close enough, and Hankwitz's defense did blow up the Nittany Lions this year.)

Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: George Whitfield (No wonder Hazell has Austin Appleby playing so well.)

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini: Voldemort (When Bo is screaming, the resemblance is uncanny.)

Michigan State P Mike Sadler: Bo Pelini (Well, technically Faux Pelini, but his impression was spot-on.)

Indiana QB Zander Diamont: Derek Zoolander (There’s more to life than being ridiculously good looking, and for former model Diamont, that includes playing quarterback for the Hoosiers.)
Some nights, at Purdue’s athletic center, an unknown battle rages: Who will be the last to leave -- the janitors or quarterback Austin Appleby?

Appleby, who is to make his third career start Saturday, will sometimes lock himself in a small film room until just before midnight. It’s then a coin-flip whether he will have to walk out of a dark, quiet building -- the janitors turned the lights out on him again on Tuesday -- or whether he’s able to sneak out before the cleaning crew finishes.

"I like to watch the tape and get lost in it," Appleby told ESPN.com. "That’s my element."

[+] EnlargeAustin Appleby
AP Photo/AJ MastPreparation has been a key to the early success of Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby.
It has allowed him to slide easily into the starting role. While other athletes are sleeping or playing video games, he’s feverishly scribbling notes on an array of game tape and practice film. This isn’t a new exercise, either. Appleby made his first start this month, but this is something he has done all season.

The Boilermakers seem all the better for it. In his first start, against Illinois, Appleby finished 15-of-20 for 202 yards -- and added a 62-yard run -- as Purdue stopped a nine-game losing streak against conference teams. Against Michigan State, he helped turn heads when he guided the offense to 31 points, the most Michigan State surrendered to a Big Ten team since 2011.

"He understands what we're trying to do and doesn't always do it perfectly, but you know he knows exactly what to do," head coach Darrell Hazell said. "And I think a lot of guys are feeding off of Austin right now."

Appleby doesn't require a nudge to linger in the Mollenkopf Athletic Center after practice. His life’s biggest fear is staring down a defense he doesn’t understand and isn’t prepared for. So, he will sometimes bring a teammate -- or simply dim the lights by himself, armed with a notebook -- and watch one clip after another.

Early in the week, he will focus on the Boilermakers’ film or some general tape of the opponent. Then, as the week progresses, come the specifics. What kind of blitzes does an opponent show on third down? What can he expect on second-and-short? What mismatches can he find? He will scribble it all down in that notebook -- "It’s filling up quick," he said -- and then quiz himself.

When he can ask himself questions and he doesn’t need to consult the notebook for answers, he knows he’s prepared. That is when he can call it a night.

"It just allows you to play fast, to play free. When you think, you play slow, and that’s the biggest thing," Appleby said. "I don’t have to go out there and, 'Oh, I’m not sure.' I’m able to make those quick decisions."

Appleby understands this offense -- and the opposing defenses -- and that has instilled a great amount of confidence. He swears he never felt an ounce of anxiety because he’s so prepared, and Hazell labeled that confidence infectious. It’s on display whether he’s addressing teammates, coaches or reporters.

He mentioned Purdue "could’ve hung 40" on the Spartans because it left points on the field. And, even with a 3-4 record and two starts to his name, he doesn’t sound like a former backup.

"It’s in us. We’ve got the pieces to the puzzle," Appleby said. "We don’t need to go recruit anybody else; we don’t need to get certain guys. They’re right here in this locker room. I have 100 percent confidence in every single guy in that huddle with me. ... It’s scary how good we can be."

Appleby remains confident despite not watching one more minute of film since he has become the starter. He has changed nothing about his approach and doesn't plan to. It’s why he believes the transition from backup to QB1 has come so easily.

The only difference now really comes on Saturdays when, instead of donning a headset, he's out stringing together his own highlights. For those film sessions.
College football has become fast food. More teams are ingesting as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and putting bloated numbers on the scoreboard.

Games like last Saturday's captivating track meet between Baylor and TCU -- it featured 1,267 yards, 119 points, 62 first downs, 198 plays and a staggering 39 possessions -- are becoming common, like fast food joints on a main drag.

Does the game still have room for the five-course meal? As they say in Minnesota, you betcha!

Shortly after TCU-Baylor kicked off, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald lamented a 24-17 loss to Minnesota. The Wildcats had recorded twice as many first downs (28-14) and 119 more yards than Minnesota, and ran 30 more plays, but they couldn't fatten up on points or possessions (11 total, just four in the first half).

[+] EnlargeDavid Cobb
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesWith David Cobb helping the offense control the clock, Minnesota is off to a 5-1 start.
"To Minnesota's credit," Fitzgerald said, "[Jerry Kill's] offense takes half the game away by standing in the huddle and talking about what they're ordering for dinner."

Matt Limegrover loved that line. Minnesota's offensive coordinator also liked hearing Fitzgerald say his team pressed a bit too much against a team trying to shorten the game.

"I don't think it'll ever be sexy," Limegrover said of Minnesota's approach, "but at least somebody's saying they're a little affected by it. I got a kick out of that."

In an age when more teams are ramping up tempo and possessions, Minnesota is going the other direction. The Gophers are slow-playing their opponents, averaging just 62.7 plays per game, the third lowest rate in the FBS. The only teams logging fewer snaps than Minnesota -- Florida Atlantic and South Florida -- are both 2-4.

Minnesota is 5-1 and in tied for first place in the Big Ten West Division. Maybe Limegrover is wrong -- slow is sexy.

"I don't know if you want to call it a dinosaur or an outlier," Limegrover said. "The best way to put it is the world around us has changed and we've remained the same."

Added Kill: "Sometimes it's not bad to be different."

One reason why Minnesota plays this way is that Kill's staff has remained the same. Limegrover has worked for Kill since 1999. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has done so since 1995. Two other offensive assistants, Brian Anderson and Pat Poore, have been with the group since 2001. H-backs/tight ends coach Rob Reeves began his coaching career with Kill in 1996 and has never left Kill's staff.

Limegrover wonders whether things would be different if the group assembled two years ago rather than 12.

"The current trend is, let's speed up, let's go as fast as we can," he said. "Everybody clamors, 'They're a relic, they're a dinosaur.' But because we've been together for so long and it's developed, we know it's a good blueprint.

"Why mess with it?"

Minnesota's philosophy seems simple but is exceedingly rare: Play great defense and special teams, limit turnovers, score a few touchdowns to gain a lead, bleed the clock, sing the fight song. The Gophers are tied for 16th nationally in points allowed and limit explosion plays, especially through the air, ranking ninth in yards per pass attempt (5.49). They beat Northwestern primarily because of a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown in the fourth quarter. Other than a five-turnover disaster in its lone loss at TCU, Minnesota has committed two or fewer turnovers in its other five games and none in a Sept. 27 win at Michigan.

The offense is tied for 112th nationally in yards (331.8 ypg) and 121st in passing (119.8 ypg). But the scoring is adequate (27 ppg), and with a deliberate style (38th nationally in possession time) and a punishing running back in David Cobb, Minnesota can inflict slow death with a lead.

"Every possession's important," Limegrover said. "Every time you get your hands on that football, you've got to make something positive happen, but you can't be negligent."

While HUNH (hurry-up, ho-huddle) offenses gain an edge by snapping the ball before defenses are set, Minnesota uses presnap motion and shifts to flummox its foes. The Gophers might show three different formations before the snap, forcing defenses to adjust their calls and possibly creating numbers advantages.

"They're very patient offensively," said Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, whose team visits Minnesota on Saturday. "They do a great job of running the ball. ... They throw the play-action passes at you, they throw the naked passes at you, and then they're very content with punting the ball and playing great defense.

"That's been their formula for winning."

There are drawbacks. Three-and-outs are killers and, until the Northwestern game, Minnesota struggled on third down. Though a 10-point lead can feel like 21, especially with Cobb pounding away in the fourth quarter, Minnesota isn't built to rally.

The most telling stat: Under Kill, Minnesota is 19-0 when leading at halftime and 0-22 when trailing.

"If our defense wasn't playing great, there'd be a lot bigger issues," Limegrover said.

But Minnesota will remain methodical, huddling up and discussing what's for dinner.

Lately, it's been a lot of chicken.

What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 7

October, 11, 2014
10/11/14
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Five observations from an interesting Saturday in the Big Ten:

1. Gophers are contenders: The wins aren’t usually pretty, but it doesn’t take any style points to win a conference championship. Offensive limitations certainly cut down on Minnesota’s margin for error every week, but with running back David Cobb pounding away at teams and a stout defense, the victories are starting to pile up for coach Jerry Kill, who appears to have a legitimate contender on his hands. Knocking off resurgent Northwestern 24-17 puts the Gophers on top of the West Division with manageable games on deck against Purdue and Illinois, which could allow them to build momentum ahead of a tough closing stretch in November. By the end of October, there might not be a team in better position in the wide-open West.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's David Cobb
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesDavid Cobb rushed 30 times for 97 yards, helping Minnesota to a 2-0 record in the Big Ten.
2. Ferentz, Hawkeyes alive and well: Meet the new Kirk Ferentz, fearless riverboat gambler in do-or-die, fourth-and-goal situations and manager of a two-quarterback system. Indiana’s suspect defense might have made it easier for Ferentz to get aggressive just before halftime Saturday, and the Hawkeyes might have given the scoreboard a workout regardless of who was taking the snaps. But after some ugly play in September, Iowa appears to be finding an identity and gaining confidence at the right time now that Big Ten play has arrived. Iowa has taken care of business in both league games so far, including Saturday's 45-29 win over the Hoosiers, and like Minnesota, that alone makes it a threat in the unpredictable West.

3. Uphill battle ahead of Hackenberg, Nittany Lions: The talent is still plain to see at times, but Christian Hackenberg's development might be getting stunted by Penn State’s anemic offensive line. The sophomore looks like he’s preparing to get hit every time he takes a snap, and that’s leading to some horrible decisions and inaccurate passes that are catching up with the Nittany Lions after their fast start under James Franklin. Without Hackenberg’s ill-advised attempt under pressure that was picked off in the second half on Saturday night, Michigan’s toothless offense probably would have never been in position to kick a game-tying field goal, and his intentional grounding on Penn State’s final drive clinched the 18-13 defeat. Devin Gardner is in a similar situation behind Michigan’s suspect offensive line, and both guys should prepare to take a lot more punishment over the next few weeks.

4. Spartans still missing a complete effort: Purdue has noticeably improved and deserves credit for the strides it has made in coach Darrell Hazell’s second season with the program. But there’s still no real excuse for the reigning Big Ten champions and a team aiming to get back in the College Football Playoff conversation to lose concentration and allow opponents to climb back into games down the stretch the way Michigan State did for the second week in a row. The Spartans claimed to have learned a lesson after nearly giving away a win over Nebraska last week, but it doesn’t appear to have sunk in yet following a 45-31 win over the Boilermakers. Even Mark Dantonio will have to accept some blame this time after his head-scratching decision to fake a punt deep in his own territory in the fourth quarter.

5. Defenses sinking Illinois, Indiana: Both programs are still more than capable of scoring points, even with injuries limiting their quarterbacks. But the Illini and Hoosiers just aren’t going anywhere with such porous defenses continuing to undermine any efforts on the other side of the ball. Illinois showed some fight for coach Tim Beckman during a 38-28 loss, but its tackling was shoddy far more often than not and it couldn’t slow down even a one-dimensional Wisconsin offense that is barely a threat to pass at all. And an Iowa team that hadn’t scored more than 24 points in a game all season surpassed that total by the end of the first quarter, once again showing how far the Hoosiers have to go defensively if they’re going to turn things around and get back to a bowl game.
With all the attention last week focused on the ending of the Michigan-Notre Dame series, it was easy to forget that another long-running rivalry involving the Irish and the Big Ten is going on a break.

Purdue and Notre Dame will meet for the 86th time overall and the 69th straight time on Saturday in Indianapolis. Their series is tied for the fourth-longest continual rivalry in the FBS. But after this weekend, the Shillelagh Trophy goes in storage until 2020, as this game is another casualty of the Irish's ACC arrangement.

[+] EnlargeBennett Jackson, Shane Mikeskey
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame and Purdue will play for the 86th time overall and the 69th straight time on Saturday.
The Notre Dame series means much more to Purdue than it does to Michigan, as it's an in-state series that offers the Boilermakers a measuring stick most years.

"It's big for a lot of reasons," Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell told ESPN.com this summer. "This has been a rivalry that's gone on for a long time, and it has helped elevate what people think about this game. It's such a healthy rivalry, in the state with two really good programs. It’s unfortunate that it’s going to go away for a few years."

If the series won't be missed much by those outside of the Hoosier State, that's due in large part to its recent one-sidedness. Notre Dame has won six straight over its counterparts from West Lafayette, and after Purdue's 38-17 home loss to Central Michigan last week, the Irish are enormous favorites this time around as well.

But don't underestimate how the heat of a rivalry can light up the Boilers. Two years ago, a mediocre Danny Hope-coached team lost by only three points in South Bend. Last year, in the midst of a miserable 1-11 first season under Hazell, Purdue fired all its bullets in leading 10-3 at halftime before eventually falling just 31-24 at home. It was far and away the team's best performance of the year.

Hazell said he expects a great energy level from his players when they take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. Earlier this week, he showed them highlights of the best plays in the history of the series. The message: go add yourselves to that reel.

"I think we can go win this game with the mentality that no one expects us to win," Hazell said.

Still, the Boilermakers have many issues to overcome, including a major talent gap and a hot Irish team that just destroyed Michigan. And now you can add the quarterback position to that list. Hazell pulled starter Danny Etling in the second half of the Central Michigan game for Austin Appleby and reopened the competition this week in practice. As of Wednesday night, he had not named a starter.

"They've got to just relax," Hazell said. "They're putting way too much pressure on themselves and are too uptight. They've just got to go out there, go through their reads and cut the ball loose. Stop making the game more than it is."

There's no question that Purdue sees this week's game as more than just another one on the schedule. The Boilers must give it their best shot, because they won't get another chance at the Irish for a while.

Purdue Boilermakers season preview

August, 19, 2014
8/19/14
10:30
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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Purdue Boilermakers.

2013 overall record: 1-11 (0-8 Big Ten)

Key returnees: Danny Etling, QB; Justin Sinz, TE; Ryan Russell, DE; Frankie Williams, DB; Raheem Mostert RB/KR.

Key losses: Ricardo Allen, CB; Bruce Gaston, DT; Greg Latta, DE; RT Justin Kitchens, RT; Kevin Pamphile, LT.

Instant impact newcomer:

Projected starters

Offense: QB: Danny Etling, So., 6-2, 221; RB: Raheem Mostert, Sr., 5-11, 190; WR: DeAngelo Yancey, So., 6-2, 218; WR: Cameron Posey, So., 6-1, 182; TE: Justin Sinz, Sr., 6-4, 235; WR: Danny Anthrop, Jr., 6-0, 191; LT: Jack De Boef, Sr., 6-7, 290; LG: Jason King, So., 6-4, 309; C: Robert Kugler, Jr., 6-3, 298; RG: Jordan Roos, So., 6-4, 312; RT: J.J. Prince, So., 6-6, 302.

Defense: DE: Ryan Russell, Sr., 6-5, 273; DT: Jake Replogle, So., 6-5, 269; NT: Ra'Zahn Howard, So., 6-3, 323; LB: Jimmy Herman, So., 6-4, 230; LB: Jalani Phillips, Sr., 6-4, 265; LB: Sean Robinson, 6-3, 239; LB: Joe Gilliam, Sr., 6-1, 230; CB: Antoine Lewis, Sr., 5-10, 186; S: Frankie Williams, 5-9, 189; S: Landon Feichter, Sr., 6-0, 192; CB: Anthony Brown, Jr., 5-11, 195.

[+] EnlargeDanny Etling
AP Photo/Doug McSchoolerDanny Etling threw for 1,690 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Specialists: P: Thomas Meadows, Jr., 6-0, 183; K: Paul Griggs, Jr., 6-1, 197.

Biggest question mark: Picking just one for a team coming off a train-wreck season like Purdue did a year ago is a challenge, because there is so much improvement to be made across the board. But if the Boilermakers are going to start threatening anybody in the Big Ten, they're going to have to find a consistent way to move the ball. Whether that means getting Mostert and his dangerous speed more involved for a rushing attack that gained just 805 yards collectively or trusting Etling's arm to air it out without turning the ball over so much doesn't make much difference. One way or the other, Purdue is going to need to score more than 15 points per game if it's going to climb out of the cellar.

Most important game: Oct. 4 at Illinois. Purdue is still a long way from even thinking about contending in the Big Ten as Darrell Hazell reshapes the program, but it can certainly show progress by climbing the ladder against the presumptive bottom half of the league. With a mostly manageable slate outside of the league, Purdue has a chance to post three wins in September to build some momentum and put a potential bowl bid in reach, but beating a team like the Illini on the road would likely be a necessity to keep that possibility alive.

Upset special: Nov. 22 against Northwestern. By late November, a team that already has plenty of experience elsewhere on the roster should have a quarterback with enough game reps to be considered a veteran. And if Etling is able to stretch defenses enough to open rushing lanes for a game-breaking weapon like Mostert, Purdue could make a late run to bowl eligibility by exposing a Northwestern defense that has question marks of its own to give Hazell another sign that his program is heading in the right direction.

Key stat: Purdue opened Big Ten play last season by getting outscored 158-17 during the first half of league play. That incredibly lopsided margin could have been worse if not for a surprisingly low-scoring loss to eventual conference champion Michigan State, which won only 14-0 at home against the Boilermakers.

What they're wearing: The Boilermakers will truly be representing the student body when they take the field on Sept. 27 against Iowa, debuting a helmet that will have pictures of students and season-ticket holders wearing team gear on the sticker. After the game, Purdue is planning to send out a digital copy of the "Motion P" logo with the approximately 1,000 photos the program is hoping to receive on it.

Team's top Twitter follows: Sophomore offensive lineman Jason King (@Jason72King) provides his view from the trenches and has been updating fans on training camp. Tight end Justin Sinz (@JSinz84) isn't afraid to weigh in on other sports, and recently informed his followers about his graduation. Defensive end Ryan Russell (@RKRelentless) is always good for some inspiration, and the official team account (@BoilerFootball) provides no shortage of behind-the-scenes footage.

They said it: "Obviously we didn't finish as well as we'd like to last year. There's a lot of things for improvement. But I think this is the time where you rip off the rearview mirror and you take a look at what's in front of you and all the things we need to do to be successful in this 2014 season." -- Purdue coach Darrell Hazell.

Stats & Information projection: 3.56 wins.

Wise guys over/under: 3.5 wins.

Big Ten blog projection: 4 wins. The rebuilding job is going to take time, and Purdue hasn't made up much ground on the rest of the conference quite yet. The Boilermakers should be able to put themselves in position to top that over/under from the wise guys thanks to a modest, manageable nonconference schedule -- excluding the matchup with Notre Dame in Indianapolis. It will come down to knocking off another program trying to find the way up in the Big Ten, a team like Illinois or in-state rival Indiana, if Purdue is going to get over the mark. If the program is truly taking a step forward this season, it should win one of those league games.
Changes were necessary, there was no way to deny that.

A single look at the standings was enough evidence to see that Purdue Boilermakers could use a few fresh approaches, though after living through the string of losses that ultimately added up to 11, coach Darrell Hazell didn't exactly need the reminder.

[+] EnlargeDarrell Hazell
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCoach Darrell Hazell says Purdue's staff and players are hoping to rebound from a 1-11 season in 2013.
The Boilermakers already had something of a head start in the remodeling job as it prepared for the future, making a few minor adjustments during the disastrous season a year ago to help lay the tracks down the road for Hazell's second campaign with the program. But once the 1-11 season was over, the heavy lifting officially started with a top-to-bottom examination of every aspect of the program looking for problems, areas to improve -- and ways to fix it all.

"[Losing is] hard, extremely hard," Hazell said. "You have no idea how hard it is. But you keep working, keep looking for solutions to get through it and find ways that give you the best chance you can have to win.

"It's A to Z. We looked at everything coming out of the season, literally. We talked about how we coach them, meetings, what we eat, everything you can imagine. You've got to reevaluate. And you can say, 'This is fine, but this is not fine and we need to tweak it here.' But you've got to look at everything."

The Boilermakers did just that, but for all the adjustments they may have made behind the scenes, one thing remains unchanged. Hazell hasn't lost any faith he can get his program turned around and out of the lonely Big Ten cellar, and his consistency as a leader appears to be having an impact on a roster trying to rebound from a season that only included one victory celebration.

Initially there might have been some resistance to his systems and his message from the Boilermakers, which isn't exactly uncommon during coaching transitions. But with more time with the players, more familiarity with the schemes and perhaps more veterans frustrated with all the losing dragging along the stragglers, one other thing Hazell apparently hasn't had to compromise is a high level of expectation for his team.

“For teams to be successful when you come off a season like that, you need guys on the team to step up and take ownership,” senior linebacker Sean Robinson said. “That’s one thing our room and our coaches have preached, just to take ownership over what you’re doing with the team. If some people hadn't bought into the coaches and what they're preaching, it's up to us to make sure they do.

"It's our responsibility to keep guys in line and let the younger guys on the team know that we're not good enough to come in and not put in maximum effort. The reality of it is, we're a 1-11 team. We have to focus on everything we do."

The importance of paying attention to even the smallest details hasn't been lost on the players, who know full well what the results look like when things go wrong. And they're not the only ones taking responsibility for what happened a year ago, with the top of the organization in Hazell standing in line to accept blame and figure out the best way to repair the issues that plagued the Boilermakers last season.

Purdue gave up 38 points per game last season and finished No. 10 in the conference in total defense, but there are nine starters returning on that unit and no shortage of experienced leaders alongside Robinson. The Boilermakers had their share of troubles putting up points as well with the lowest-scoring attack in the Big Ten, but Danny Etling returns as the starting quarterback after getting tossed in the fire as a true freshman last season, and he should benefit from what appears to be a much deeper group of skill players to work with -- including a potential game-breaker in speedster Raheem Mostert.

That side of the ball has 10 returning starters, leaving Purdue with few holes to fill in the lineup ahead of the season opener. And while all of those players have felt the pain of continuous losing, they also have plenty of incentive to figure out exactly how to avoid it.

"Everybody, the whole organization feels the sting when you lose like that," Hazell said. “You just have to put your blinders on and go to work.”

Hazell went back to work right away trying to find the right formula for the Boilermakers, both on and off the field. Now it's almost time to see if those changes show up in the standings or if bigger adjustments need to be made during the next offseason.
Purdue is hoping for dramatically different results in Year 2 under Darrell Hazell after a 1-11 stinker in 2013. Not surprisingly, it will try to achieve those results with the same quarterback.

Hazell on Monday named sophomore quarterback Danny Etling as the starter for the Aug. 30 opener against Western Michigan. Etling, who started the final seven games last season as a true freshman, held off sophomore Austin Appleby and, to a lesser extent, freshman David Blough for the top job.

[+] EnlargeDanny Etling
Zach Bolinger/Icon SMISophomore Danny Etling earned Purdue's starting quarterback job with a strong offseason.
Appleby appeared to provide a nice push for Etling during spring practice and through fall camp, which can only help Etling's development going forward. Although Purdue's offensive struggles and Etling's understandable inconsistency as a freshman caused the quarterback job to remain open in the offseason, Etling raised his level of play during the offseason. He gave the coaches no reason to make a change.

Hazell summoned the quarterbacks to his office around 8:15 a.m. Monday for individual meetings. He informed Etling that he would lead the offense for the opener.

"You're never too sure about anything," Etling told ESPN.com. "You want to be grateful for whatever happens and be prepared for whatever challenge if it isn't. I was lucky enough [to be named the starter]."

Appleby has had a good attitude about the competition and told reporters Monday that he's at Purdue "for a reason" and has no intention of transferring. Hazell said Blough, like Etling a decorated high school recruit who enrolled early at Purdue, will redshirt the season. So barring a change, Etling and Blough will be separated by two years on the eligibility chart.

Etling improved down the stretch last season and ended things on a very strong note at Indiana (485 passing yards, four touchdowns). He'll operate an offense that should be more explosive with speed in the backfield (Akeem Hunt, Raheem Mostert) and more depth on the perimeter (DeAngelo Yancey, Danny Anthrop, Dan Monteroso, B.J. Knauf).

The big question is whether Purdue's line can hold up. The Boilers were overmatched up front in 2013, rushing for just 67.1 yards per game and allowing a league-worst 38 sacks. No quarterback has a chance if those numbers don't improve.

It will be interesting to see how Etling performs with another full offseason in the system. He talked Monday about not overstepping his boundaries as a young player, but quarterbacks have to do that no matter their age.

"The expectations and the energy around this building are very high," Etling said.

Purdue has a good situation at quarterback with Etling, Appleby and Blough. Continuity at quarterback makes sense for an offense that did very little well in 2013.

Now it's about getting others to step up, especially the linemen.
CHICAGO -- Purdue tailback Raheem Mostert nodded. He knew the stat.

The Boilermakers averaged just 14.9 points per game last season. Only four teams in the FBS fared worse. But Mostert just smiled Monday when asked about the offense's ceiling this season.

"Thirty-something points a game," Mostert said during Big Ten media days. "We feel really confident that we're going to score a bunch of points on opponents."

Easy follow-up question: Are you crazy?

"No, I'm not crazy at all," Mostert said with a laugh. "Just confident."

Despite a disastrous 2013 season, confidence was the theme of the day for the Boilermakers, as player after player talked about how Purdue was moving forward this season. Defensive end Ryan Russell even made mention of Big Ten title hopes, while linebacker Sean Robinson praised the freshmen along with sophomore quarterback Danny Etling.

That swagger came as a bit of a surprise considering Purdue's lone win last season came against FCS opponent Indiana State. The Boilermakers haven't beaten an FBS squad since Nov. 24, 2012, against Indiana. But players insisted those struggles are in the past.

"Last year, we didn't know what we were doing on offense. We didn't understand what was going on," Mostert said. "Now that we have that year and we've settled on what plays work, that's really going to help us in the long run -- understanding what we have to do and what our jobs have to do for us to score a lot of points."

The offense was admittedly young and inexperienced last season. Etling and his top target, DeAngelo Yancey, were true freshmen. And it didn't help that coach Darrell Hazell was trying to turn around a program in Year 1. But this season Purdue is hoping to take a step forward -- and Mostert isn't shy about aiming a little high.

"The confidence level is through the roof -- we're looking forward to scoring a lot of points," Mostert said. "We didn't have that last year."
Unlike the ACC or SEC, the Big Ten hasn't taken an official position on an early signing period. Many Big Ten coaches see the benefits, but there has been no united front.

Here's a bit of advice: The Big Ten coaches should band together about an urgent recruiting item, but not the early signing period.

The Big Ten must campaign for official visits to be moved up. No other league is affected more by population shifts that have created dense pockets of top recruits located far from its footprint. The Big Ten is expanding its recruiting reach, especially to the Southeast, but its proximity to many talent bases remains a significant obstacle.

If the Big Ten can't get prospects to its campuses before decisions are made, it will continue to fall behind in the recruiting race.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikEarlier official visits would be a boon to Bo Pelini and Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers have to recruit nationally because of a limited local talent base.
"The first thing we have to do is get kids on campus earlier," Michigan coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com. "I'm sure our friends in the Pac-12 and the SEC would rather not that be the case. They'd rather have kids come in to Ann Arbor if it's winter.

"But I think it would help the guys from distance and the guys from those climates to come on campus to see what it is like."

NCAA rules state that prospects can't begin taking their five official visits -- paid for by the schools -- until the start of their senior year in high school. But many recruits make their college choices much earlier.

The accelerated recruiting cycle has minimized the significance of official visits. Many prospects commit after taking unofficial visits, for which they pay their own way. But the distance between Big Ten schools and the highest concentrations of elite prospects makes it challenging for recruits and their families to fund long, expensive trips.

"Since the trend is for early commitments, it makes sense that it favors schools located in population bases that produce a lot of players," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at Indiana, LSU and Vanderbilt. "So how do you combat that? How does a kid from Atlanta get to Lincoln, Nebraska, in the summer on their own expense?"

DiNardo views Nebraska as the FBS school most impacted by accelerated recruiting cycle. Nebraska always has recruited nationally because of its small local population base, but former coach Tom Osborne -- "a tireless recruiter," DiNardo said -- capitalized on the fact that recruits made their choices after an official visit to Lincoln.

Huskers coach Bo Pelini acknowledges earlier official visits "would help us."

"When you take official visits away from the equation, it really hurts a place like Nebraska," DiNardo said. "So early signing day has to be partnered up with official visits in a prospect's junior year.

"If just the date moves up without official visits, it sets the Big Ten even further behind."

DiNardo notes that a program such as Ohio State is less affected by the official visits timetable because it has a large local talent base that can easily reach its campus. But other Big Ten programs must cast a wider recruiting net.

It's especially true for programs in the western part of the league: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"It gives some of the schools that aren't surrounded by a lot of schools or a lot of places, it gives us a chance," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "But I don't know if that's going to happen or not. People in Texas aren't going to vote for that because they never have to leave Texas."

Most Big Ten coaches interviewed by ESPN.com favor earlier official visits but want clear guidelines. One question is timing.

Several coaches mention late May or early June as the ideal time because many recruits already are touring schools unofficially and most staffs are conducting on-campus camps.

"With the way people are traveling around right now, it might be good to afford a prospect to take a couple of visits in June," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Also, I think it'd be great to afford at least a parent the opportunity to join that prospect and make it part of the official trip."

Coaches say the parental component is critical.

"Sometimes kids just don't have the means to be able to get here, and they definitely don't have the means to have their parents come," Pelini said. "Hopefully, they'll change that. It's too big of a decision for a 17-year-old or 18-year-old kid to make without his parents or somebody being there."

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio wants an early official-visit period, but would prefer for it to be in a limited window instead of spanning the entire spring and summer.
Both Pelini and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio want a limit on the number of official visitors schools could have in the spring. FBS teams can provide up to 56 official visits, but Dantonio rarely uses more than half of the allotment.

"It's not just carte blanche," Dantonio said. "I would make it a two-week window and cap those numbers."

Allowing 10-20 early official visits could work. Dantonio and Pelini also think prospects should be allowed to take multiple official visits to the same school.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen favors an earlier signing date in December, but he needs more clarity on official visits -- when they would take place, and for how long.

"I have to look at quality of life for my coaches," Andersen said. "Are we willing to take 4-5 weeks away in the summer? I don’t want to do that."

Added Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: "You lose your life. The month of July, you need a little bit of decompression time."

The first two weeks in June makes the most sense. Create a dead period in July so coaches can take time off.

It also doesn't mean official visits in September and October will stop. Andersen can talk about Wisconsin's "Jump Around" and show videos, but, he said, "there’s nothing like being there."

Big Ten teams still will have the chance to showcase their stadiums, facilities and campuses during football season. But they can't afford to wait that long for far-flung prospects to arrive, especially when they can afford to bring them in sooner.

"It would help everybody," Hoke said. "The other conferences aren’t just staying in their region, either."

That's true, but the Big Ten has the most to gain, and pushing for change won't be easy.

"If that thing ever goes to a vote, everybody is going to say is that the Big Ten is just complaining," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "They'll keep rallying their troops because they want to keep those kids at home."

The Big Ten coaches must rally, too. Otherwise, the recruiting gap will widen.
Who's the fastest man in the Big Ten?

Several players can make that claim, but only one has the gold medals to back it up. Purdue's Raheem Mostert swept the 100- and 200-meter sprints at the Big Ten outdoor track and field championships in West Lafayette last week, adding to the two conference sprint titles he won earlier this year during the indoor season.

[+] EnlargeRaheem Mostert
Zach Bolinger/Icon SMIRaheem Mostert hopes to translate his track success onto the football field.
It doesn't qualify as news that the Boilermakers senior is swift of foot. He led the FBS in kick return yardage as a true freshman in 2011, after all. Other than that, though, Mostert's biggest accomplishments at Purdue happened on the track this year. Football coach Darrell Hazell would like to change that.

"He's an elite, elite track runner, and he's going to be an elite football player for us this fall," Hazell told ESPN.com. "We're crazy if we don't have him touch the ball 20-plus times a game."

You might consider it, then, a brief bout of insanity that Mostert has touched the ball on offense only 44 times in three years, including just 12 times in 2013. That doesn't make much sense on the surface for a team that was starved for playmakers as much as the Boilers were last fall.

But Mostert, Hazell said, was miscast as a slot receiver last offseason and didn't move back to his more natural position of running back until the end of fall camp. He got just 11 carries last season for 37 yards and one catch for six yards. His season highlight came on special teams, where he had a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown against Penn State.

"I was down on myself," Mostert said. "I switched from wide receiver to running back so late that I literally had to work my way up.

"I have a little chip on my shoulder. I want to show my coaches that they missed out on me last season. But they weren't the only ones. Everyone did. I just want to turn it around."

Mostert, who didn't run track a year ago because of a knee injury he suffered in the 2012 football season, went back to work as a sprinter this winter with Hazell's full blessing. The schedule between the two sports works out well, as running track helps Mostert's conditioning for football and football helped keep him in shape all spring. He had to miss a few early-season track meets because of spring practice, and Hazell let him take it easy some days during spring drills when a big weekend meet loomed.

There was also some unexpected overlap. After Mostert tasted victory in the indoor season -- he won the Big Ten 60- and 200-meter titles -- he gained confidence in himself that he carried over into football.

"After winter track season, he looked and walked and talked like a different guy in spring football," Hazell said. "He looked so much more comfortable, and that's because he did experience so much success."

Track is often a solitary sport that requires discipline and focus when you're crouching in the starter's block waiting for the pistol blast. Mostert said honing those skills helped him concentrate more in meeting rooms and before taking carries on the field in football.

He'll join another blazer in the Boilers backfield, as senior Akeem Hunt also has sprinter's speed and comes from a family of track athletes. With those two on the field at the same time, Hazell hopes the offense can create some matchup problems and improve on last season's paltry 2.5-yards-per-carry mark, which ranked second-to-last in the FBS.

Mostert also insists he's not just a fast guy. At 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds, he prides himself on being a physical running back who can pound the ball between the tackles as well.

"He's a football guy running track," Hazell said. "You can see it when he puts his shoulder down and his foot in the ground -- he knocks people backwards. I think he's a little more powerful than people think."

While football remains Mostert's top priority, track season isn't over yet. He'll run in next week's NCAA East Regionals in Jacksonville, Florida, with a goal of making the nationals. His times in the 100 (10.25 seconds) and 200 (20.66) rank among the top 14 of qualified runners in the East Regional.

"Raheem can be as good as anyone in the nation," Purdue men's sprints coach Norbert Elliott said. "He's got a huge upside. He's a little raw in terms of mechanics. But if he were to spend full time doing it, there's nothing that couldn't be improved and sharpened up.

"There's no doubt he's got the strength and all the raw tools to go very far in track. Of course, I'd like to see him playing football on Sundays, because he's got those skills as well."

Mostert said he would like to try and make the U.S. Olympic team one day if football doesn't work out. But his goal is to have a big senior season for the Boilermakers, then hopefully impress speed-obsessed NFL scouts.

"I don't think people realize how fast 10.2, 10.3 (in the 100 meters) is," Hazell said. "That's a different type of fast."

The challenge for Mostert and Purdue is figuring out how to make sure the fastest man in the Big Ten becomes one of the league's best football players, too.

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