The Predicto Returns, 2015 Begins, Marshall Awaits
Believe it or not, we now begin coverage of our tenth season of Purdue football. Aneesh was just in the 4th grade when we got started, and Dave and boilerdowd had hair. Ah, it was a magical time. And in that time we’ve now seen three separate head coaches of Purdue football. In our time as Purdue fans, we’ve seen even more and it brings us to a weird spot – our alma mater has a coach who we all genuinely like. We like him as a man, as an authority figure, as a leader of men, as a coach. We want him to succeed so badly and not just because we obviously want to see Purdue succeed. No, we also want him to succeed because we want this experiment, for lack of a better term, to succeed. Morgan Burke finally – sorta – listened to the alums and went after a hot coach who cost him a bit of money. Not top half of the conference money, of course, but more than bargain basement, which is a step forward for Purdue athletics spending. And I think we all know that if things don’t work out here for Darrell Hazell, the next coach will be of the clearance bin variety and it may be another couple of decades before Purdue football recovers – if it ever does.
So to say this season and the next are important to the future of the program feels like a bit of an understatement. But before we get any more dramatic or bring you down, let’s lighten to the mood a bit.
Some of you likely saw this if you spend time on social media, but a new Big Ten season means a new series of coach commercials. I don’t know who the Big Ten hired for these, but man, I think they should broaden their search. First, the Purdue one:
Okay, so that’s… not…..too bad. I mean, it’s a little silly and a little bit too easy to make fun of, but perhaps you need some context. I looked through them all and here are, by far, the two worst ones. First up, Kirk Ferentz in a nest. Seriously.
I can't watch that enough. It's so spectacularly embarrassing on so many levels.
Kirk, you have “f-ck you money.” Why are you tolerating this? It’s like an initiation prank or something. Also, the egg should have a Minnesota logo on it.
And here’s another awful one, brought to us by the trade school to the south:
“KEVIN’S ROCKS”? What the F is that? As a friend of BS said to us, “When you say ‘Kevin’s rocks,’ were they the rocks that Antonio Allen was selling in his free time or some other type of rocks?”
And finally on this subject… Am I the only one dying to see what the Tim Beckman one was like? I’m sure it was glorious and involved some screaming. Also...Northwestern missed a huge opportunity to have Fitz just scream "GO CATS!" in the middle of his.
So here we are on the doorstep of a new Purdue football season. And it’s time for the world-famous (in certain areas of the world) Boiled Sports Predicto. The boys did some good work here so while it may be a commitment to get through it all, I promise it’s worth it. Hey, print it out and give it a read on the john. Purdue’s game isn’t – weirdly – until Sunday anyway. You have time.
Last year, Marshall was two points away from a 14-0 record. They scored fewer than 35 points in just two games, both of which they won, and topped 45 points in seven games. This year, they're favored to meet Louisiana Tech in a rematch of last year's CUSA championship, which will in all likelihood be played in Huntington again. Football Outsiders gives the Thundering Herd a 1% chance to finish 8-4 ... and that's as bad as it gets. (They've got slightly more than a 1 in 4 shot of entering the CUSA title game 12-0.)
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the team Purdue will open against ... on the road. When people ask me why I don't predict much improvement for the Boilers this year, this is Exhibit A. While Purdue's peers in the football world are opening against the likes of Southern Illinois and Norfolk State, the Good Guys get a returning top-25 team that will score more often than a badly-stretched analogy in theBulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.
Last year, Purdue's defense was terrible in pretty much every FEI category except for Explosive Drives (drives that average 10+ yards/play), which is good, because Marshall is all about explosive drives. You don't average 45+ points per game by walking the ball down the field (sorry, Iowa). For a point of comparison, think of a poor man's Baylor: high volume, high speed, high efficiency. Sure, Marshall did that against a weak schedule (when Western Kentucky might be your toughest opponent all season ...), but then wouldn't Purdue have been a fitting part of a poor schedule last season?
This is, perhaps, an unfair test for Darrell Hazell. The two most likely scenarios for his career at Purdue right now are a) Hope left the cupboard bare and Hazell's just now restocking it properly, and b) Hazell is just as poorly equipped for this job as Hope was. In either case, this is hardly a game Purdue should expect to win ... but it's also entirely reasonable to expect Purdue football to be the kind of program that can go into Huntington or Ruston or Memphis and come away with a win. I believe they will reach that point again, but they are not at that point now.
Marshall 44 Purdue 17
Purdue will finish 3-9. There will not be a bowl appearance. Please don't make me guess which 3 they'll win: even Illinois ended up getting a better coach, and I was counting on Beckman throwing that game away.
We are assured of nothing as Purdue football fans, other than of course the overwhelming sense of uncertainty that undercuts any enthusiasm about our favorite football team. The late summer / early fall is indeed a perfect time to cherry-pick whichever morsels of information that fall off the table that support your favorite narrative. Think Purdue is a program on the rise? Why, look no further than the OL that is one of very few in Division-I football that return all five starters. Or, take a glance at our monster middle linebacker, fresh off a Freshman All-American season. Or did you hear about how the team collectively lost fat and gained muscle mass? That the JuCo ranks provided much-needed support at essential positions like wide receiver? Or perhaps that Austin Appleby seemed to take control of the QB#1 role and never seemed to waver?
Perhaps the sting of six consecutive losses to end last season hasn't abated at all. Who could blame you? The OL, while experienced, wasn't exactly amazing last year. That middle linebacker sure is impressive, and he got plenty of opportunities to showcase that last year, because the DL was one of the worst units in Power-5 football against the run (no word on whether Melvin Gordon ever got around to sending a fruit basket to Purdue defense as a sign of gratitude for supplying him with ample material for his NFL draft tape). Gaining muscle is great, but Purdue didn't lose last year because their bench press was lacking, and JuCo players are unproven, at positions where Purdue really needs some playmakers.
Which brings us to the QB#1 situation. While it's true that Appleby seemed to always be in front of his competition, it was never assured that he would stay there. And any time you head into August with the starting QB question left unanswered, you're really putting yourself in a tough position.
All points from either side are (mostly) valid and (mostly) respectable. And as much joy as the tedious debate between the two camps has been for the preceding nine months, it has accomplished little other than given me a distraction during those idle summer moments as I sit in airports, coffee shops, and couches browsing Twitter. Alas, the season has begun; go and throw away your preseason guides, your predictions, and your clever Twitter memes. Play talks and bullshit walks, and our feet are awfully tired.
What does it all mean? Little in the grand scheme of things, and only slightly more as you zoom in. But the truth of the matter is that there isn't much that could intelligently inform how these games might go. Marshall has made a killing in recent years taking in guys who had a chance at big time football but weren't able to make it for one reason or another. But Marshall has also made a killing running roughshod over a schedule so weak that, gazing upon it caused me to roll my eyes so hard I'm afraid they may never return. I'm firmly planted in the "you can only play the teams on your schedule and trying to project how a team would do in a different conference is stupid" camp, but come on. I won't apologize for being skeptical of a team that was held to its lowest point total last year by a team that shuttered its doors at season's end.
But by what measure do I show any deference to Purdue, when they have failed to prove any faith in them warranted over the past two years? Truly, history sets the context for the present. And it is within that context that I am found wanting for evidence supporting Purdue as favorites in this game.
Being as feeble in character as I am, I may try to get away with throwing out a line about how we won't know how to predict these games until after the first one is played, full stop. But J and Bdowd threatened to withhold from me access to the Official BoiledSports Party Bus until I firmly placed my foot on one side or the other of the "will Purdue win this game" line. Thus, my rational brain says Marshall wins, but as a nod to my heart I will say Purdue keeps it close, ultimately losing, 32-30, on their way to a 4-win season, and an ensuing revitalization of the sisyphean debate surrounding the trajectory of the Purdue football team's future.
Marshall 32 Purdue 30
Listen, man. My hopes and dreams for Purdue football aren't that unreasonable. I'm not looking for a 10 win season any time soon...I have no problems seeing a baby-step type season of progress, as long as that step is clearly forward. I have no problems with another bowl-less season, as long as the team is fun.
But, good lord, all I'm asking is for Purdue not to be a national joke anymore.
ESPN's Bomani Jones and SB Nation's Spencer Hall were talking on Monday's The Right Time about how small, untimely mental hiccups can derail a team's season, specifically talking about possible ways for Ohio State to mess this season up. Spencer says "A fight in the locker room can really mess with the team's chemistry long enough for, oh I don't know, Purdue to go up 21-0 on you when you have no business letting that happen."
Bomani: "I have to say, though, Purdue ain't going up 21-0 unless the first half is for a day and a half."
Spencer: "Nope. Not a day and a half, not two days, not a week."
Dammit. "Purdue" has become shorthand for "any shitty team in the country". That's not fun, and that shouldn't take a four year plan to recover from. All I'm asking from Coach Hazell is to make this team fun again. With Purdue's talent, that will require a lot more creativity than Hazell has shown recently, but I'm still holding out hope.
Now...predictions for this season have become ever-so-cautiously optimistic after I've stared at the schedule for a couple of weeks. Everyone is looking for at least two wins in the nonconference schedule, and pinning the success or failure of the season on how Purdue starts, but I have a slightly different concern.
Look at the beginning of Big Ten season:
@ Michigan State (L) vs Minnesota (L) @ Wisconsin (L) vs Nebraska (L)
That's a pretty tough middle stretch, to put it lightly. I might need a new case of Pepto. But look at how Purdue ends the season:
vs Illinois (absolute must W) @ Northwestern (50/50) @ Iowa (I could see literally anything happen during this game) vs Indiana (W, IU sucks)
If Hazell and Co. can pull two to three wins out of the noncon, dig deep and survive four losses to very good teams, and swing through the tail end of the season with some confidence...I dunno man. It's hard not to feel good in that scenario. Are 5 wins really out of the picture?
Confidence is the key, and more than that it's playing a competitive and entertaining brand of football. This is where I don't have much confidence in Hazell...his creativity on either side of the ball has been minimal, and Appleby hasn't necessarily been a freewheeling quarterback.
The entire thing hinges on a great start to the season. The Marshall game is key, especially for a display of confidence. Because, even after all the typical summer bravado, I think the team doesn't really believe in itself just yet. Marshall is a very good team with a powerful offense, and Purdue going toe-to-toe with a nearly undefeated 2014 team might give them the confidence to weather that storm of a middle four games. Let's just hope injuries and quarterback changes don't define yet another Purdue football season.
Marshall 42 Purdue 34
I’ve been watching Purdue football for far too long. I also know and learned long ago that until this program actually shows me something, there is no reason at all to expect something different from what your first glance tells you. Purdue loses to good teams nowaways, regardless of conference. I am dying for this team under Coach Hazell to change that… and not just because wishing for things is what I do. It’s because I actually do think it’s possible. There are precedents. Joe Tiller took a moribund Purdue program to the 9-win plateau instantly. Darrell Hazell took a moribund Kent State team to 11-win land almost immediately. We all know that Purdue needs breaks and things to “fall right” (things like not facing Ohio State) to have an above-expectations season. But we also know it can happen. We can feel it. It’s there….juuuuuuust out of reach.
Or maybe it’s not just out of reach. Maybe I’m deluding myself even thinking there is a chance of this. But I should stop there because whenever we apply logic and live in reality, we invariably have people chiding us for not being more “optimistic,” as though that’s our charter or something.
Let’s just say that there are a number of things that concern me about this season and this Marshall game in particular – not the least of which is how amped the players and fans must be to have a major conference opponent in their house. But hey, how about Coach Hazell literally saying that “all our eggs are in this basket….but we’re calm,” almost as though he caught what he was saying as it came out of his mouth. The story about having each player have an egg and that they need to write something on it about what they’re going to contribute… I mean, I don’t know, man. That’s the kind of thing that, if it gets out, makes Purdue even more of a laughingstock. Let’s focus on assignments and execution and not ask the players to make up what they’re going to do on Sunday.
I also worry that the mentality does not allow them to come back from a defeat. They may not have had the egg metaphor going in 2013, but this feels to me a lot like the departure for the Cinci game in Hazell’s first season. There was a lot of excitement and it’s hard to remember it now, but people were pumped. Then Purdue got absolutely freight trained and they never recovered. I don’t mean to subscribe to the ol’ Tiller “never too high, never too low” mentality, but when you’re a program trying to dig out of the depths of the basement, you do need to be steady about things. Don’t you?
If Purdue loses this game – as I think they will – I am very concerned for focus after it. They are starting the conference season 0-4 barring something big changing that I don’t yet see. If they get whipped at Marshall, I think the non-conference then leans towards 1-3 rather than the 2-2 or 3-1 so many optimists are now seeing. That starts the runaway train of sadness early and becomes too much to overcome. If they roll into those final four, semi-winnable games at 1-7, how much pride will they have left to play for? I think for me, an ideal Bucket game at this stage would be for both Purdue and IU to come in at 5-6 and be ready to tear each other’s throats out to go to a bowl. Despite my pessimism here, I do think that’s possible – just not likely. 2015 starts with a loss.
Marshall 24 Purdue 16
Boilers go 4-8, incremental progress is made.
Prognostication, especially early in the season is more than tricky, it's uneducated. Personnel change in the off-season, coaches change and chemistry changes.
Prior to Hazell's first season at Purdue, the fanbase was excited, on board and optimistic. Since that first shellacking at the hands of Cincy, excitement has been at a minimum.
Two straight years of lousy football and hanging with a fanbase in the crapper can steal your mojo...break your spirit. But as both J and Michael talked about a few years ago, a sense of reluctant optimism bubbles up from the loyalists during the off-season...and I've got some of it.
I think the team that Hazell has this year is starting to look like he wants a team to look like. Sure, it's not chocked-full with blue chips, but there's talent, speed and experience in key positions. A returning starting QB, a few very good DBs and a world beater Oline can go a long way to helping decide a team's success.
I don't think the season will be great...but I do think, that for a few weeks, we'll get to enjoy not losing.
I believe 5 wins is where I land, but to get there, the good guys need to do what I think they're capable of right away: establish the run on offense and don't give up big plays on defense.
Marshall will be struggling to find its identity on Sunday in the wake of tons of change for the Herd in the off-season...so it's the right time for our Boilers' to sneak up on them.
My head really doesn't believe the good guys will come home 1-0, but my heart wants to...so I'm ignoring my brain (quite smartly, mind you).
Purdue wins its first road game in the pre-con in years...and gets a jump on the season.
Purdue 33 Marshall 30
They go on to a season of 5-7 as another baby step is taken by the program.
It goes better if: Appleby is consistent and brings some gun slinger mentality a few times/season, the o line is as good as I think they can be and Knox flirts with 900 yards in the season while Anthrop crosses 1000.
4 wins or less if Appleby doesn't take a step forward and injuries plague the depth chart.