As the 2016 college football season draws closer, we'll be taking a closer look at each team in the Big Ten Conference to see how they stack up with Lovie Smith and the Fighting Illini.
Our look the Purdue Boilermakers concludes this morning with some help from our friends over at Hammer and Rails. Site manager Travis Miller joins us for a Q&A on the team's season expectations, strengths, and weaknesses. You can view our first Purdue post -- which compares the history of the program to Illinois' -- right here.
Darrell Hazell, man. Purdue's fourth-year coach will likely be at least 30 games under .500 before the end of the year. What's his job status like in West Lafayette? Would there be enough support to make a coaching change after the season?
What scares me the most is not his job status, but that of Morgan Burke. The long-time athletic director is retiring at the end of June next year and for many fans it cannot come soon enough. He has done a lot for Purdue's overall facilities, but in general many fans view him as well past his prime and as the primary architect of Purdue football's downfall since the heights of the Tiller years.
It was originally hoped that his replacement would be named before camp started in August. Now there are whispers of that being pushed back, as there are no definite candidates to replace him being named. There is not a soul who wants him to have anything to do with hiring a replacement for Hazell, and my greatest fear is that Hazell goes 0-12 and stays on because Burke's replacement is not found by December.
There is also the fact that Purdue is notoriously cheap and we would still owe Hazell $4 million after this season. While many thought his hiring was a good one at the start, it has clearly been a disaster. I would think he need to at least win 4-5 games and show marked improvement in other losses to stay, but who knows. With the AD position up in the air for now he is relatively safe.
Purdue has hired new coordinators on each side of the ball. Were you a fan of the moves? Are any scheme changes anticipated with the new leadership?
Terry Malone as Shoop's replacement has simplified the offense and, in general, the players seem to be grasping what he wants to do a lot better. In the spring game the offense went to "semi-competent" from "Complete and utter shitshow". Anything has to be better than Shoop. If Malone can actually get the offense to do something the defense should be better just by not being on the field as much.
Freshman RB Markell Jones and junior WR DeAngelo Yancey are both coming off pretty nice seasons. Do you envision any other offensive playmakers emerging alongside them?
I am a big fan of Markell Jones. We were recruiting him with Ke'Shawn Vaughn and both guys look to be pretty good. Jones ran for 875 yards and 10 scores while catching 34 passes for 239 yards and another score. He was a big play threat in every game and I definitely want to see what things will be like with him as the main back.
As for Yancey, he has nee up and down his career. 48 receptions for 700 yards and 5 TDs is good, but with some of the "wow" plays he is capable of it often feels like he should do more. Drops have been an issue as well as getting separation from defenders. Oh, and after having a 32-546-2 season as a true freshman in 2013 he pretty much disappeared for all of 2014.
Ultimately, Purdue is only going to go as far as David Blough (or maybe Elijah Sindelar) carries them. Blough had some moments last year as a redshirt freshman, but Purdue needs someone to step in and stabilize the quarterback position. Part of it was Shoop, who never let his quarterbacks play to their strengths. Still, we haven't had a quarterback start every game of a season since Joey Elliott in 2009. You're not going to win a lot that way.
Purdue's defense really struggled last year (No. 112 in oPPG), and while they have returning experience in most areas, it looks like the cornerbacks will be huge question marks. Will the secondary be the unit's Achilles heel in 2016?
I can see that, but there were a lot of games where the defense played well at first only to wilt because the Shoopfense couldn't stay on the field and let them rest. It will be interesting to see who emerges at the corners because we have some promising freshmen and incoming JuCos who deserve a good look. David Rose, Evyn Cooper, and Mike Little all redshirted last season and have some promise. Kamal Hardy also looks good as a JuCo transfer. Ultimately, you're asking unproven guys to prove something though. That's the story of Purdue football.
Do the Boilermakers expect any newcomers to make big impacts this year? If not, what are some of the names we keep in mind for later meetings?
I am not expecting a ton out of a recruiting class that was not heralded at all. I really like Terrance Landers Jr. out of Columbus, OH as a big receiver. He may not play a lot because Purdue has a lot of seniors there, but he has some talent. Jack Wegher is a speedster from IMG Academy that could play immediately too. Lorenzo Neal and Alex Criddle are some big defensive tackles that might contribute immediately too.
As for down the line, I like the potential at offensive tackle for Grant Hermanns out of New Mexico. He needs a redshirt year to bulk up, but he could be a very nice 6'7" 300 pound tackle in the future.
What would you consider to be Purdue's best-case and worst-case scenarios? Where do you realistically see them finishing in the West Division?
The best case is probably something like 7-5 because honestly, the schedule is not that strong. The first five games against Eastern Kentucky, Cincinnati, Nevada, Maryland, and Illinois (sorry) are not a murderer's row. A good team goes at least 4-1 against them. With no Ohio State, Michigan State, or Michigan the overall slate is weak enough that a team where multiple players make a leap and improved coaching from new (hopefully competent) coordinators should be able to win 6-7 games.
Unfortunately, there are those numbers staring at me. 6-30 overall. 3-30 vs. FCS teams. 2-22 vs. the Big Ten. 1-13 on the road. 5-16 at home. 1-11 at home in the Big Ten. Hazell has been dreadful overall. Because a dynamic player in Maty Mauk from Missouri ended up at Eastern Kentucky I can see a disaster scenario of 0-12 happening. It is not so much that Purdue was 2-10 last year. It was that Purdue got absolutely boatraced by Minnesota, Virginia Tech, Illinois, and Indiana all at home when those four were .500 at best teams. We weren't even close last year, and I don't so we get much better.
Thank you to Travis for answering our questions! You can follow him on Twitter at @JustTMill, and his Purdue #content can, again, be found over at Hammer and Rails. If for some reason you're looking for even more information on the Boilermakers, make sure to check out their 2016 SB Nation team preview.