NCAA Football Preview - Purdue Boilermakers

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Updated: 8/20/2013 9:54 am

To their credit, the Boilermakers managed to regroup with three straight wins over Iowa (27-24), Illinois (20-17) and Indiana (56-35) to become bowl eligible. However, they were paired up with Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year's Day and wound up getting throttled, 58-14.

Darrell Hazell, the former Kent State head coach and Ohio State assistant, took over Purdue's head coaching reins in December. Hazell was named the 2012 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year after bringing the Golden Flashes within one game of a BCS bowl berth.

2013 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: Only four starters return on the offensive side of the ball for Purdue. The battle at quarterback is between senior Rob Henry and true freshman Danny Etling. Henry is more mobile and boasts more experience, although he is a holdover from the previous staff.

At the Big Ten Media Day, coach Hazell said he envisioned picking a starter about halfway through camp.

"In about two weeks after we start practice, we'll make a decision and have that guy have ownership of our football team going into our first game," he said. "And I think it's obviously critically important because number one component for that guy is to take care of the football. Number two is to get us in the right place, number three to be tough enough to stand in there on third and five and take a shot. And we need a big play"

Getting that big play will be a bit tougher without O.J. Ross, who was slated to be the leading returning receiver before getting kicked off the team over the winter. However, Gary Bush returns for his senior season after catching seven touchdown passes a year ago.

In the backfield, Akeem Hunt moves to the top of the depth chart after averaging a whopping 8.0 yards on 42 carries as a junior. He scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns against Indiana to help secure a bowl bid. Three starters return along the offensive line.

DEFENSE: Although the defense returns plenty of experience, the Boilermakers must try and find a replacement for All-Big Ten defensive tackle Kawann Short. Ryan Russell will assume one of the bookend spots, as he is the team's leading returner in sacks (4.0) and tackles for loss (8.5).

All three starting linebackers are back, led by junior middle linebacker Joe Gilliam, who was fourth on the team with 57 tackles (41 solo).

The secondary lost only one starter after holding every Big Ten opponent under a 60-percent completion rate and two or fewer touchdowns. That starter, however, racked up a team-high 16 pass breakups and picked off three passes (Josh Johnson). Senior cornerback Ricardo Allen is on the Nagurski Trophy watch list and holds the school record with four interceptions returned for touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks do not look his way often, and for good reason. Safety Landon Feichter is back after notching a team-high 80 tackles and tying for the Big Ten lead with four interceptions last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Cody Webster is on the Ray Guy list for the best collegiate punter. He averaged a healthy 42.3 yards on 70 punts last year, with 17 of those traveling over 50 yards, including a long of 72. He also landed 29 punts inside the 20 and had only seven touchbacks. The kicking game is another story, as Sam McCartney (5-of-7) and Paul Griggs (4-of-7) split time last year and entered camp in a four-way battle with Thomas Meadows and Tyler Murray. Hunt had a 100-yard kick return touchdown but may have to cede that role with the increased workload in the backfield.

OUTLOOK: Coach Hazell certainly does not inherit an easy job here. He laid out a detailed blueprint for rebuilding Kent State's program, and it will likely take just as long, if not longer, to turn Purdue back into a winner.

The Boilermakers have suffered through losing seasons in three of the last four years, and 2013 is poised to be another. On a positive note, the team did manage to close the 2012 regular season with three Big Ten wins in a row for the first time since 2006.

Coach Hazell is trying to build on that success and change the image of the program.

"One of the first things that I said to our team, very first team meeting on that Sunday night, was Purdue was always a team that's perceived in the middle of the Big Ten," Hazell recounted. "Never up here, never down here. And I told them it's going to take a lot of work but we're going to climb ourselves out of the middle and we're going to put this program on national prominence for a long point in time."

The roster returns 14 starters, including nine on the defensive side of the ball. The schedule looks like a murderer's row of opponents, particularly early with the likes of Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Wisconsin all on the docket before October. Things ease up a bit on the back end, but by then the damage may already be done.

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