For our 2nd preview of the day we return to the Legends division and it's the sneaky Purdue Boilermakers turn on our 2012 Spring Football merry-go-round. 2011 was a strange season of inconsistency both in the roster and in the results for the Boilermakers who became bowl eligible by winning their final game against rival Indiana in Bloomington. It also meant they made the Hoosiers winless in the Big Ten, so there was a sense of double-your-pleasure from the Purdue faithful.
Wisconsin fans will look back and remember the domination of the Boilers in the 62-17 variety from last November. But we also owe them a debt of gratitude as they responded the next weekend with a huge win over Ohio State that really set the stage for the Badgers to make it to the Big Ten Championship game.
The question is can this team take the steps needed to become a top tier team in the Leaders division or do they just not have enough pieces to be on par with the likes of Wisconsin, OSU, or Penn State in 2012?
Let's dive right in to the battles, positions to watch, and all that other fun stuff that we'll be watching for and you should be too!
2011 Record: 7-6 (4-4) - 3rd Leaders Division
Postseason: Little Ceasers Pizza Bowl - W 37-32 vs. Western Michigan
Head Coach: Danny Hope: 16-21 (4th year); 51-43 (8 years overall)
Returning Starters: 19 (9 offense, 9 defense, 1 special teams) *includes part-time starters
Spring Game Info: April 14th @ noon CT (BTN2Go, BTN Digital Network & delayed on BTN).
Spring Outlook: The first thing most will wonder, what's the injury report? Thankfully for Purdue fans it's a case of just a few bumps and bruises, not ACL tears and hamstring pulls as as been the case in the past few seasons.
The defense was the strong suit of this team last year (hard to believe if you only saw the Wisconsin game, but an indication of how good the Bader offense was in 2011) and will continue to be so in 2012. Returning 9 players with starting experience will do that though.
Ricardo Allen is one of the best returning cornerbacks in the Big Ten, but opposite of him should be a fun and interesting battle between Josh Johnson and Normondo Harris that likely won't be over until Sept. 1st or even later, but watching to see if one separates from the other in front of a live crowd and a higher level of competition than just practice.
The front four also features a great player in defensive tackle Kawann Short, but they need to find a bit more consistency alongside of him and their hoping a battle between Bruce Gaston and Brandon Taylor will produce that consistency. The defensive ends need to produce a lot more pressure to help the linebacking corp that will be trying to replace 2011 leading tackler Joe Holland. So watching those positions and the linebackers as a whole should be a priority on the defensive side of the ball this Saturday.
One of the areas that will need the most attention is the punter and kicker spots as all-Big Ten P/K Carson Wiggs is off to the NFL. Cody Webster is replacing him at the punter position and has experience doing it in a collegiate game.
The number one spot of contention this spring is at QB1 as both Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve both return and are completely healthy for a change. TerBush had the better of the numbers completing 61.7% of his passes for 1,905 yards and 13TDs/6INT's last year, but Marve wasn't terrible either as he completed 56% of his passes for 633 yards and 4TD's/5INT's and both will battle to see if they can separate to earn the full time starting roll this season. Watching the command and the confidence will be vastly more important than the numbers in the Spring game between these two dispite the inevitable numbers comparison.
They will be throwing to a group of wide receivers that have experience, but also have major holes in their games. The biggest example is O.J. Ross, who was 3rd on the team with 33 receptions last year (356yds, 3TD's), but also ran bad routes and gave up on plays way to often for the coaching staff and fans liking last year. Antavian Edison is the leader of the threesome of returning players at the position the most likely to have a breakout year due to being the most consistent of the bunch.
Because of the lack of consistency overall the players to watch this Spring should be Shane Mikesky, a speedy receiver who could be a matchup nightmare as a redshirt freshman, and Raheem Mostert who's been mentioned quite a bit as someone popping on the radar of the coaching staff already this Spring.
Running back is a position that no one in the program should be worried about that much as they have three quality players there, it's more a matter of getting better up front that will really help this group. Hopefully a year of game experience and being pushed in the Spring will help a group that sees three players with starting experience back this year.
If the Boilermakers can prove to be more consistent and tough coming out of spring they well could be a team to watch in an upside down division this year. I know I'll be watching this one on Saturday.