Yeah this is a little bit cliche for a football team that has been bad and is trying to rebuild, but I’m typing this around midnight and all of the “out of the basement” or “out of the cellar” YouTube clips are terrifying, so forgive me. Purdue did actually start pretty close to the bottom though, at least among Power 5 teams, as a matter of fact there were some FCS teams that graded out higher than them according to the Sagarin ratings.
A behemoth offensive line with five returning starters is quite literally the biggest reason to believe the offense could take a step forward in 2015. It is also worth mentioning that they have a backup guard listed at 420 pounds. Center Robert Kugler is the leading man in the experience department with 31 starts, but three more linemen have double digit starts. Plus, David Hermelin and Cameron Cermin combine for 13 starts at left tackle.
Austin Appleby also returns at quarterback, but he needs to take a major step forward if that’s going to be a net positive. Appleby passed for just under 1,500 yards and threw one more interception than touchdown. He also completed a mere 53% of his passes. That won’t cut it for a team wanting to compete at a Big Ten level.
Danny Anthrop should provide a reliable deep threat for Appleby to get the ball to come fall. Anthrop caught 38 passes for over 600 yards last season. The receivers behind Anthrop are less proven, but have looked decent in limited opportunities. DeAngelo Yancey, Cameron Posey, and Gregory Phillips all topped 100 yards receiving on fewer than 20 receptions in 2014.
The Boilermakers want to be a pass-first team, and there is nothing returning at running back that’s going to make them rethink those desires. Keyante Green is the only back on the roster who touched the ball last year, and while he was efficient in his 27 carries, that is a fairly small sample size and he failed to put the ball in the end zone on any of those carries.
Defensively, the Boilermakers should be strongest in the middle where they return all three starting linebackers from a season ago. Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jimmy Herman, and Danny Ezechukwu combined for eight tackles for loss, two interceptions and two forced fumbles last year. Those aren’t great numbers, but considering that Bentley and Ezechukwu were freshman and Herman a sophomore, those numbers are at least something to build on.
Anthony Brown returns at corner and Freddie Williamson returns at safety to form a duo that was good in coverage last season. Williams picked off three passes and broke up seven, and while Brown did not intercept any passes, he did have ten pass break-ups to his name. Leroy Clark is expected to make the move from safety to cornerback this season, and Robert Gregory to step in at the other safety spot. Both of those guys are relative unknowns though, so it remains to be seen how they will stack up with their more proven counterparts.
Outside of Jake Replogle, the defensive line has plenty of work to do to become a Big Ten quality line. Replogle had 11 tackles for loss and three and a half sacks on the inside at defensive tackle last season. Ryan Watson also showed some ability at nose guard with 5.5 tackles for loss and four sacks, but pretty much everyone else failed to measure up. No other defensive linemen had more than four tackles for loss and two sacks, and if it weren’t for Gelen Robinson those numbers would have been 1.5 and one, respectively.
Purdue is creeping back towards bowl eligibility, but it probably won’t happen this year. The non-conference schedule features a pair of mid-major teams who, quite frankly, have been better than Purdue the last few years in Marshall and Bowling Green. If you clicked on the link or read earlier in the summer, I’m not as high on the Falcons, and actually think the Boilermakers have a good chance to beat them. However, I don’t think they beat Marshall on the road, nor do I think they beat Virginia Tech at home. That leaves them 2-2 entering conference play where everything gets progressively harder. The Boilermakers best shots to get their first conference win in two years all come in November with home games against Illinois and Indiana and a road date with Northwestern.