2010 record: 4-8 (2-6)
Coach: Danny Hope (third season, 9-15)
Series: Purdue leads 70-37-6
For the first time since 1997, IU will defend the Old Oaken Bucket at home. IU broke a six-game losing streak in West Lafayette with a comeback, overtime victory over Purdue that wasn't enough to save Bill Lynch's job. Purdue struggled in Danny Hope's second season, in no small part because of season-ending injuries to the Boilermakers' starting quarterback and best wide receiver and running back. There has been some "hot seat" talk about Danny Hope, but I'm not sure I buy it. It's hard for me to imagine that Morgan Burke will pull the trigger after only three years on a coach that he himself hired. Purdue fans can correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe that Burke ever has had to fire one of his own hires in football or men's or women's basketball. I doubt he will admit failure after only three seasons, absent something absurd like a 1-11 record.
Still, the gap between the IU and Purdue programs is the smallest it has been since Joe Tiller arrived at Purdue. Purdue's last bowl appearance was in 2007, the same year as IU's last appearance, which means that both programs risk graduating a senior class without playing in a bowl game. Over the last four years, Purdue has gone 21-28, while IU has gone 19-30. That is a bit misleading because of the tougher non-conference schedules that Purdue has played (IU is 6-26 in Big Ten play during that time, while Purdue is 11-21). In the mid-2000s, Tiller could justifiably tell recruits that if they chose Purdue, they would play in a bowl game nearly every year, while if they went to IU they probably never would. While IU's bowl fortunes haven't gotten any better, other than the single Insight Bowl appearance in 2007, Purdue's have declined considerably. With the facilities improvements, with Kevin Wilson's Oklahoma pedigree, and with Gunner Kiel on board for 2012, IU seems better positioned than in a long time compared to Purdue. Unlike in basketball, where both schools can and have coexisted as top-of-the-Big Ten programs for much of their histories, football is closer to a zero sum game. Given the dearth of in-state football talent in Indiana, it's very difficult for either IU or Purdue to be above average, let alone for both programs to be above average at the same time. Because of this, the Bucket game and the performance of Purdue's program always will matter to IU more than Purdue's performance in basketball.
So, what can we expect from the 2011 Boilers? Last year, thanks to a pre-conference knee injury to Miami transfer Robert Marve, Rob Henry took most of the snaps for Purdue at quarterback. His overall passing numbers were pretty pedestrian: 53 percent completion rate, 8 TDs, 7 INTs. On the other hand, Henry is a very effective runner. He ran for 500 yards, averaged 4.8 per carry, and was sacked only three times. It's not clear what will become of Marve's injury- and controvery-riddled career. As most of you know, Marve was recently implicated as one of the players who received improper benefits from Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. Last week, Purdue issued a statement: "Purdue University has been in communication with the NCAA regarding Tuesday’s media report that mentions Robert Marve. There are no issues with Purdue or eligibility issues with Robert. Purdue will have no further comment on this matter." If I were a Purdue fan, I probably would want to know more than this. Does it mean that Marve has been cleared, permanently, of any possible sanction related to the Miami scandal? Or does it simply mean that Purdue is allowed to play Marve without running the risk of vacating wins or other hassles? Of course, it may be academic, because Marve continues to struggle with knee problems. Sean Robinson played when Henry was hurt late in the season, and he was a less effective passer than Henry without the running ability. Hammer and Rails reports that he is likely to redshirt this season. Caleb TerBush (not a made-up name) was academically ineligible last year but may be in the mix this season as well.
At running back, Ralph Bolden missed all of the 2010 season with a knee injury. As a sophomore, Bolden had a solid year, running for 935 yards and 9 TDs and averaging 4.7 yards per carry. In his absence, Purdue relied more on the legs of QB Henry and fullback Dan Dierking, who is gone. The leading returning running back, other than Bolden, is, believe it or not, Reggie Pegram, who ran for 7 yards in 2010. Antavian Edison ran for 114 yards in spot duty as an RB, but is expected to be a full-time receiver in 2011. It's very strange to look at Purdue's 2010 stats. Over the last decade, Purdue's offense has been so pass-heavy that even the far-from-great Curtis Painter left as the Big Ten's all-time yardage leader. In 2010, however, no Purdue receiver broke the 500 yard mark. Edison, mentioned above, is the leading returning WR with 316 yards and 4 TD. OJ Ross gained 51 yards as a freshman.
On defense, although Purdue lost its best defensive player, Ryan Kerrigan, the Boilers return nearly everyone else, including CB Ricardo Allen, DT Kawann Short, and LB Will Lucas. Last year, Purdue ranked a decent #62 in total defense, which helped offset one of the worst offenses in FBS (it was the first time since 2003 that Purdue's defense was ranked higher than its offense). Based on the above, I think it's fair to say that Purdue will need an even stronger season from the defense.
Purdue is a very strange team to read. There are question marks all over the field, and on the sideline, where Danny Hope certainly hasn't yet proven himself as an FBS head coach. Today, Off Tackle Empire made its "closing arguments" post on Purdue, and the 11 OTE writers predicted records ranging from 8-4 to 1-11. It wouldn't surprise me if both IU and Purdue were in the hunt for bowl bids when the Bucket games rolls around, and it wouldn't surprise me if it's another "Bucket or bust" year for both programs.