That’s the question that’s been rattling around for me for a while now, and in four days we’re going to possibly find out. It’s rare that a season feels as though it can be defined by a first game – and the very first game of a new regime, at that – but here we are. When first games do matter a lot, it’s usually because a coaching staff is desperately hanging on or it’s because a team has season-long aspirations that they don’t want destroyed in August (see any of Boise State’s undefeated or nearly undefeated seasons). But this is a little different.
There’s a lot of air in the balloon right now around Purdue football. I’m sure it’s mostly due to us getting you excited about the upcoming season, but at least some fraction of credit should be given to Coach Hazell and his staff. (Hope you’re sending my sarcasm about us being responsible for it…because I’m laying it on pretty thick.)
The program has generated excitement just by practicing with a new attitude and saying the right things. As Dave noted earlier in the week, some of Coach Hazell’s 11-win success last year at Kent State can be chalked up to luck and getting some breaks – breaks that stopped happening in the MAC title game and the subsequent bowl (otherwise we’re talking about a 13-win season for them and Coach Hazell’s price tag probably extends out of Purdue’s reach). But luck and breaks are exactly what’s needed at a non-traditional-power if they want to win and surprise people. Health, breaks, luck. Those are the things you can’t really control completely – but what you can control is your preparation, focus and drive….and those things seem to be well under control right now.
The Cinci game represents a gigantic hurdle for the 2013 Boilermakers. Lose it and it’s at least somewhat understandable – road game against a quality opponent with a QB who hasn’t been the starter in three years. But win it and suddenly anything seems possible. As Boilerdowd said to me, the Cinci game feels as though it means the difference between a six- and eight-win season being the best-case scenario for 2013.
If the Boilers come out of the gate and win, then you suddenly feel really good heading towards the home tilts with ND and Northern Illinois and knowing you have four of the next five at home. If the Boilers lose or look particularly discombobulated, then you begin to wonder if this team has found itself yet and, if not, how many more games it will take for that to be the case. In that scenario, you begin to worry very much about Notre Dame and, perhaps moreso, NIU.
If Purdue is going to make fans happy at all this year, the following must be wins: ISU, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana. That’s four there (and if those aren’t wins, then the wheels are on their way off and we’re looking at 2014). Then you have to take one on the road at either Cinci, PSU, or MSU. That’s five wins. And then they need either ND or NIU at home to bring themselves to the Hope-level of six wins, which I think everyone would agree would be a nice achievement with this team this year against this schedule.
The point is, Cinci is a big one. It sets the season’s mindset and likely means the difference between a decent, potentially fun season and a season where expectations are exceeded and everyone feels giddy about 2014.
Can’t wait over here. Choo choo, muthas.