The Season Ahead
They did it to you again, didn’t they? They sucked you back in. Just as we all knew they would. After last season’s performance, nobody wanted to see Purdue football for a while. Just go back to your room, Boilermakers, and think about what you’ve done. Then the spring came and Purdue basketball had us yearning for anything else to watch. And so we looked over at the spring game and, hoo boy, things weren’t looking much better. Goodness, put that away until August.
And then summer wore on and while there is a lot to love about summer, if you’re not a baseball fan there is little in the way of sports. Boilerdowd, for instance, did enjoy getting to watch so much futbol this summer, but those wonderful summers are always four years apart.
So as practices resumed and the Big Ten Network came out of hibernation (Up next! Will Gerry DiNardo ever learn the difference between a text message and twitter?), we began hearing the familiar noises. Practices, hits, coachspeak. Everyone worried about how Ross-Ade’s field looked in July, demands were made for artificial turf…but here we are, and the field is looking terrific. And isn’t seeing the lines being painted one of those things that just gets your blood pumping? It’s so close! Real football is almost here.
And so yes, they’ve drawn us back in. Over the past couple of weeks, many of you on twitter and in our comments are actually talking about bowl games and 6+ win seasons. God bless all of you. I sincerely hope the turnaround is that massive. Make no mistake, that would be a massive turnaround. This team was essentially noncompetitive for most of last season. So let’s get into what we see coming this year for Purdue Football (@BoilerFootball on Twitter – which still has Boiled Sports blocked).
We detailed last season how Darrell Hazell quickly passed nearly all Purdue coaches – even the awful ones – in 30+ point blowouts. By midseason, it was clear that 2013 was beyond a lost cause and that even winning one more game was going to be a challenge. How this team looks in 2014 will determine if the sacrifice and humiliation of 2013 was worth it. If Coach Hazell is the coach many of us believe him to be, we will see marked improvement this year.
How will we all define marked improvement? It’s safe to say that a bowl game should be hailed as a major accomplishment. And not in the Danny Hope way, either, when you knew there was enough talent to get a bowl game. No, if Coach Hazell takes his young guys to a bowl game, you will then have my permission to get truly excited for 2015 and beyond, because a lot of these guys will still be young and getting better, and that’s truly an exciting time – when your team looks good and is still clearly improving.
However, a bowl game isn’t the only mark of improvement to me this season. If Purdue wins 4 games, I think we need to acknowledge that is a worthwhile step in the right direction. If Purdue snatches a win away from a team they’re a considerable underdog to, then again, you can begin to dream. Wins like that will make these guys believe even more in what this hungry coaching staff is doing. Do we need to see a bowl appearance to make 2014 a success? No, not in my opinion. We just need to see improvement so that a bowl game next year is a reality and not a far-off wish.
At Kent State, Coach Hazell went 5-7 in his first year but began the season 1-6 with the one win being over a non-major (South Alabama) and even that only a 33-25 squeaker. Man, sounds familiar. His Flashes then went 15-2 over their next 17 games, including a 10-game win streak in 2012 that got him his current gig. The end of that 10-game win streak was Darrell Hazell’s last win over a FBS program. It was November 23, 2012 against Ohio. One day later, on November 24, 2012, was Purdue’s last victory over a FBS program. And even that was just IU. If Purdue wins on Saturday, that will be 646 days in between wins over programs in the D1-A or FBS level. Mercy. I don’t even want to look up if that’s one of the longest such streaks.
So we’re back to one thing I’d said at the start of last season – that the first game of the year means a ton. If Purdue were to lose this Saturday, there is true risk of another unwatchable season, though it’s hard to imagine it being worse than 2013. If that happens, there will be louder calls for Coach Hazell’s job, fair or not. However, if Purdue comes out and throttles Western Michigan, then they’re doing what they’re “supposed” to do to programs from weaker conferences and there will be some confidence built. If that happens, I won’t say the sky’s the limit, but I will say that dreaming of 6 wins will still be permitted in the halls of Ross-Ade and around the pub tables of Morgantown.
As for what I think will happen, I could see Purdue winning a high of five games and a low of only two. I do not see a bowl game being possible, but I at least have the hope in the back of my head that we have a coach (and QB) who might be able to surprise us. I’ll go with 4-8 for the season.
And I can’t wait.
Aneesh the Swamy:
Apathy is the worst. It halts ticket sales, fosters writers block, and births long Netflix binges of early 2000’s TV shows that have me yearning for a better time. For a time when institutional bureaucracy never stood in the way of a truly charismatic maverick who wanted to make a difference. A time when a team strives towards the same goal, and truly becomes more than the sum of their parts. A TIME WHEN JED BARTLET BECOMES PURDUE’S ATHLETIC DIRECTOR AND PURDUE RUNS THE TABLE IN EVERY SPORT, AND I CAN FINALLY WEAR MY PURDUE FOOTBALL GEAR WITH PRIDE.
Uuh. Sorry about that. I’ve been watching a lot of West Wing recently.
But apathy takes over when you have nothing to cheer for. Since the mid-00’s, Purdue’s football expectations have taken a nose dive, finally producing what can easily be called the worst season in Boilermaker history. Coach Hazell’s inaugural campaign wasn’t met with cries of outrage as much as sighs of resignation, mostly because Purdue fans have learned to live with constantly tempered expectations. Eventually, the childlike fandom that sparked early-morning stadium treks becomes a distant dream, and your link to a team starts to rust.
That’s where I’m at with Purdue football, and the empty stands are a depressing reminder that I’m not alone. As much as I try to get excited about a promising recruiting commitment, or Twitter practice reports that Hazell is poised to take a significant step forward, I can’t help but think that they’ve shown us nothing so far.
But, we all yearn for a new beginning. And that comes this weekend, when we latch on to rumblings of a more creative offensive scheme built around a track-star speed demon, when we rally behind a coach that generates nothing but praise. So we come back, with some predictions more optimistic than others. Unfortunately, I can’t see it. Three wins (WMU, Southern Illinois, and one more wild card), and only the smallest step forward during Big Ten season is all I can muster.
Apathy doesn't lead to much inspiration. But all it takes is one solid block to open a huge running lane for Raheem Mostert, and that tingly hopeful feeling might come rushing back. Either way, I’ll be camped out in front of my TV, watching nonstop for a sign of life.
Final record: 3-9
Post-season plans: Petitioning the NCAA to get Drew Brees and Ryan Kerrigan extra years of eligibility.
I'll look at this in a bit more detail shortly, but for now, suffice it to say that a) 2013 was a bitter disappointment and b) 2014 isn't likely to be much better. It's hard to say at this point how much of last season was Hazell's fault, but the responsibility for fixing it is squarely on his shoulders, and it'll be a tough task to handle. The conference welcomes two mediocre teams, but both go to the East division and neither appear on the schedule this year, which is too bad, because Purdue could use a break.
The non-Irish part of the non-conference schedule is reasonably soft, but neither Western Michigan nor Central Michigan is the type of MAC patsy designed to pad Big Tenteen scoreboards. (The Broncos are probably a middle-of-the-pack MAC team, and the Chippewas have an outside shot at a division title.) Southern Illinois is probably stronger than many people expect; they were 7-5 last season in a tough Missouri Valley (headlined by I-AA national champ North Dakota State), beating playoff-bound South Dakota State on the road and losing a tough 2-OT game to intrastate rival Eastern Illinois (who finished 12-2). The Notre Dame game is in Indy instead of South Bend, which would be a small bonus for a better team but is pretty much irrelevant for this one (no doubt that's why the billboards scream NOTRE DAME and don't even mention their opponent; then again Purdue's 2013 outfit wasn't exactly a good draw).
The rest of the conference schedule is a bear: the easiest home game is against Northwestern, and that's only a reasonable matchup thanks to preseason injuries and transfers that have crippled the 'Cats again. Minnesota and Illinois make up the easy half of the road schedule, although this year's Boilers may be in no shape to take advantage of a weak Illini squad. (The Gophers are likely out of Purdue's reach in Minneapolis.)
While Hazell tries to fix a broken team, the rest of the conference (aside from Rutgers) moves forward. Indiana's now a legitimate bowl contender, thanks largely to a high-paced, high-powered offense that can fix a lot of problems their defense gives them. Minnesota's also in that 5- to 7-win range. Penn State is well on their way to recovery (on the field, at least). The one other team that might be struggling is Illinois, and even their outlook is brighter than that of the Good Guys.
Football Outsiders gives basically even odds that Purdue goes winless in conference play; thankfully, an 0 for 2014 seems extremely unlikely, but splitting the non-conference games isn't out of the question, and the Boilers just aren't in a position to pick up an extra win here or there. This is Hazell's chance to lay the foundation for a comeback in 2015 ... but if that doesn't happen, he may not be around in 2016.
what is this thing you call a bowl?
Hazell has been brilliant in helping us all by not setting us up for a heartbreak. Literally no Purdue fan that I've talked to, with the exception of your pal from H&R, thinks Purdue will or can go to a bowl game. So for once, when the coach speaks and says no one believes in them but the guys in the locker room, he's almost correct...their mothers and Travis also thinks they're pretty swell.
Youth is youth...and lots of it is once again on the docket for our Boilers. Not only did they show their age last year, our Boilers showed their lack of physical maturity in '13. The metallic beige and black were down 14-0 time and again last season in the first quarter because they simply couldn't compete in the trenches...so they will improve from that painful memory...and as we all know, the schedule was hellaciously-brutal last year. Not so much this season; at least in the early going.
We all look at the schedule and see opportunity that we didn't see in the pre-conference last season...and many think 3-1 should be all but a guarantee to begin the season; I don't see it that way. 2-2, with one loss because of the young o-line is the way I think it will go...Then it gets harder.
After the pre-con, Purdue will probably only be favored in one game for the rest of the season...I think Illinois will be bad and this will be Beckman's swan song season. Perhaps a mid-season loss at home to a bad Purdue team will be the final nail. After that, I see Purdue stealing one versus Northwestern or IU...and that's the list.
Improvement doesn't mean the season will be good or acceptable, but the good guys will compete a lot more than a year ago.
4-8 No post-season play
The Railroad Tie (rrt1):
There isn't much I can say about last season that hasn't already been said. Suffice it to say, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth last fall, as is befitting a 1-11 record. But as lame as it sounds, it really wasn't so much that Purdue lost, but how they lost (ok fine, it was at least a little bit that they lost). The team looked disinterested and frankly, out-matched at every position. You didn't get the feeling that more than a handful of Purdue's starters could go to any other B1G team and start for them too. The team had major, systemic problems. Purdue's 3rd-and-long defense was a joke, mostly because no one up front could get any pressure on the QB, and the LBs were just abused in space. It was a minor miracle when the offense managed to get a first down, and scoring a touchdown seemed like an impossible dream. The team was out-matched, and perhaps new coach Darrell Hazell was a little out-matched himself. It was a rude awakening for all.
But this year is a new year, and the attitude around the program has shifted slightly. Last year the team was plagued by rumors that the upperclassmen weren't buying in to the new system; those players are gone, and everyone seems on the right page this year. Of course that's easy to say when you haven't played a game yet, but after a 1-11 season, you have to grasp for any positivity you can. How do I think the season will go? I think a combination of an easier schedule and a year's worth of experience under a new coaching staff will pay dividends. This team isn't a bowl contender yet, but four wins is a reasonable expectation. I do think Coach Hazell is the right guy for this program, and Etling is the right quarterback. The rest just needs to fall into place (/end hand-waving). And by "the rest", I mean: 1.) the offensive line needs to be able to give Etling more than a second or two before his life is in danger 2.) the LBs need to model their tough, early-2000 brethren, 3.) The D-Line needs to be able to put pressure on the QB out of their base package 4.) The secondary has to keep Purdue's opponents in front of them 5.) the talented freshman class needs to grow up quickly and limit mistakes 6.) Something needs done with the kicking games, etc...,etc...,etc... I'm mentally steeling myself for a rocky, up-and-down season, but as long as it appears Purdue is moving in the right direction, I'll be satisfied. Prediction: 4-8.