So I’m already on record as predicting that Purdue beats Notre Dame this year. Last year, during the summer, I had a gnawing awful feeling that Purdue was going to underwhelm even the modest “expectations” that people were talking about at the time. I looked at the schedule and said I saw maybe a 5-7 season. I knew where the breakdowns would be, almost precisely. This doesn’t make me some kind of soothseer, of course – Danny Hope teams were very predictable in the aggregate. That is, you knew what kind of season you’d have. Predictable wins and losses, plus one or two wildly unpredictable ones. The game at OSU was obviously on its way to being the predictably unpredictable victory until that last 50 seconds happened. But again, accept it and move on, because if it doesn’t turn out that way, he’s almost certainly still the coach.
This year, everyone is talking about the schedule being a mother and I guess they’re right – but I just can’t help seeing the optimistic side of things. I’m walking on the sunny side of the street for the first time in years. Obviously, the difference is Coach Hazell and the Hazellnuts on his staff. (Yes, John Shoop has the crazyeyes, but let’s remember – Ron Zook had insanely crazy eyes, face, nostrils, etc., and he could recruit like a beast.)
Coach Hazell has many people believing anything is possible – and at this stage, anything really is possible. Is this team going to contend for anything realistically? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. This is a man who believes winning immediately is possible because he’s just seen it happen – one 5-7 year at morbound Kent State was followed by an 11-1 season. Yes, I realize so many things are different and there’s no comparison for the most part. But the reason this man believes so genuinely in the power of potential and hard work is that he has seen it with his own eyes and recently. And under his tutelage and approach.
So let’s run through this season’s schedule quickly so I can tell you what I can see happening, even if it isn’t likely....
8/31 @ Cincinnati
Cinci has experience coming back, but they, too, have a new coaching staff. And their transition wasn’t like Purdue’s – they weren’t looking to get rid of their guy. This is a program that has been thriving of late, so this is no doubt a huge challenge. However, Darrell Hazell and the boys seem like they’re welcoming challenges these days. Cinci is a double-digit favorite, which I’m more than fine with. Overlook our boys. We’d love for you to do that.
9/7 vs. Indiana State
Purdue will win this one handily. Of course, in the Hope Era, they would have known they were going to win handily and would have barely shown up.
9/14 vs. Notre Dame
You already know my thoughts on this one. It can happen.
9/21 @ Wisconsin
Purdue simply does not beat Wisconsin anymore, particularly in Madison. I’m all for a change here, too, but even if this season were a magical, 11-1 ride, this would be the one loss. Sharpie it.
9/28 vs NIU
I know, I know, they were in a BCS bowl. They also lost their coach and will be playing their third road game in four weeks. The Boilers exceeding expectations would absolutely include winning this game. Almost guaranteed loss under Danny Hope, as the team would have come out flatter than flat.
10/12 vs. Nebraska
One of those programs where people see them on the schedule and just the name Nebraska adds to the “wow, tough schedule” thinking. That said, they should be tough this year so this one will be difficult no matter how well the season is going to this point. Only bonus is it’s not in Lincoln.
10/19 @ MSU
You never know. MSU is one of those programs Purdue plays tough. Unlike with OSU, though, the Boilers are rarely able to notch the victory. I think this is one of those overlooked key games for this team. MSU will be semi-vulnerable, I think, and if Darrell Hazell is going to have a signature road win in his first season, this could very well be it. I also think it lines up well to be a potential BTN Saturday night game if both teams are off to good starts.
11/2 vs. Ohio State
Strangely, Purdue does not seem to fear Ohio State, regardless of the coach. They’ll be happy to have OSU in their own building and they’ll remember the way a huge potential victory was snatched away from them last year. On the other hand, I can’t imagine Urban will let the Bucks forget how close that day was to being a really horrible day for the Buckeye faithful. And who knows, maybe Urban will still be undefeated at OSU and the Boilermakers will get another chance to hand him that first L.
Now we get to the final third of the season, which goes vs. Iowa, @ PSU, vs. Illinois, @ IU. Does it sound like crazy talk that Purdue could get through the first eight games at 4-4? I know it’s not an easy schedule, but do I sound like a Shoop-eyed, crazy person to “dream” of a 4-4 start? I hope you’re saying, “Of course not, Uncle J, you only sound crazy at other times.”
If they were to pull off such a feat (and it says something about the program where a .500 start to the season is a “feat”), then I firmly believe an expectation-exceeding season is in the works. Because those last four are all winnable games.
11/9 vs. Iowa
Iowa was not good last year and they lost Vandenberg. Does Purdue lose to teams they shouldn’t? Of course, it’s part of their DNA. But they won at OMHR last year so saying they should win this one at home is not a stretch at all.
11/16 @ PSU
I choose to believe (hope) that this is the year the sanctions begin to actually hurt Penn State. If they do and the Nittany Kittens have no meow left by mid-November, this could be a much-needed road win.
11/23 vs. Illinois
Are the Illini getting better? Perhaps. Should Purdue still beat them in Ross-Ade? Absolutely.
11/30 @ IU
IU, always beatable. And even if IU were better (I know!), this is a rivalry game that the guys are always up for and if it means a bowl or a better bowl are on the line, this is a victory.
So in my best case, rose-colored glasses world, that works out to an 8-4 season. No, in my heart, I don’t really think that is going to happen. But does Darrell Hazell have me believing that anything is possible? He surely does. If they win four, like many expect, I won’t be shocked at all. But the fun part about 2013 so far is that I also won’t be shocked at all if they win eight.
Two weeks to go. Choo choo, muthas.