COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
Big Ten Leaders PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Darrell Hazell, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Shoop | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Hudson
Four years of mediocre football and declining fan interest cost coach Danny Hope his job. Enter former Kent State coach Darrell Hazell, who wants the Boilermakers to be a more physical bunch. For starters, the quarterback probably will line up directly under center most of the time — a shock for a generation of Purdue fans reared on the spread.
At quarterback, Hazell says he won’t name the starter until two weeks before the opener at Cincinnati on Aug. 31. Rob Henry is a good runner and the most experienced candidate with seven career starts, but none since 2010. Redshirt freshman Austin Appleby and true freshman Danny Etling are getting long looks and may have an edge if Hazell and his staff decide they want a better thrower.
“We’ve got three capable guys at the position,” Hazell says.
Purdue also may rely on the run a little more than in recent years. Akeem Hunt had 134 yards rushing in Purdue’s spring game and a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD against Ohio State last year. Hunt stands just 5'9" and weighs 184 pounds, but Hazell believes he can be an every-down back.
“I think he’s a marquee guy in this league because he does have some balance,” Hazell says. “He has some in-line quickness and top-end speed to take it the distance, and he is showing some toughness.”
The offensive line returns three starters, the key one being Robert Kugler. The son of new UTEP coach Sean Kugler will move from guard to center, and the coaching staff believes he can be one of the Big Ten’s best. Purdue has a collection of solid if unspectacular receivers, led by Gary Bush, who scored seven touchdowns on only 41 receptions, and Dolapo Macarthy.
Purdue lost standout defensive tackle Kawann Short to the NFL, but the strength of the defense remains up front. Ryan Russell has the talent to continue Purdue’s tradition of stellar defensive ends. Hazell raved about the play of tackle Bruce Gaston during the spring after he returned from a thumb injury.
“He makes a world of difference inside,” Hazell says. “He’s just extremely strong at the nose position.”
Overall, eight defensive starters return — which may not necessarily be a good thing considering Purdue was 11th in the Big Ten in total defense and 77th nationally. That includes middle linebacker Joe Gilliam and former quarterback Sean Robinson on the outside. Cornerback Ricardo Allen has NFL-quality cover skills but was slowed by injuries last season and during the spring. Former walk-on Landon Feichter became a ball-hawk from his safety spot last year with four interceptions.
“I think we have more depth than we’ve ever had since I’ve been at Purdue,” Allen says.
Cody Webster averaged 42.3 yards per punt in 2012 and will be one of the Big Ten’s best punters. But the placekicking was inconsistent at best, and there’s no consensus on who will handle it going into fall camp. The Boilermakers led the Big Ten in kickoff return average (22.9), in large part due to Hunt and wide receiver Raheem Mostert.
Hazell and his staff weren’t left with an abundance of talent, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. The non-conference schedule is difficult with home games against Notre Dame and Northern Illinois in addition to the trip to Cincinnati. We’ll get an idea if Purdue has a chance to be any kind of factor in the Big Ten when it plays its conference opener at Wisconsin on Sept. 21. A winning record equals a successful season. Make that very successful.