Danny Hope is in his fourth year as Purdue's coach, and counting his year as coach in waiting, is really in his fifth year of building his own program. Every player on the roster signed with Purdue knowing he would be the head coach. Despite that, I have no clear read on Hope. In some respects, his record is good: he has finished 4-4 in the Big Ten twice and is 2-1 against Ohio State and has a win over Michigan. On the other hand, he has one bad non-conference loss each season so far (Toledo, Northern Illinois, and Rice, in chronological order) and is 0-3 against Notre Dame, so he's managed just one Motor City Bowl bid despite a respectable conference record. This strikes me as a pretty important season for Hope's long-term fortunes.
At quarterback, Purdue has three guys with meaningful experience as a stater. Caleb TerBush seems to be the pick as the starter, as he was last season, although Robert Marve, who returns as a sixth year senior, saw more than typical action for a backup. TerBush was solid, completing 61 percent of his passes and throwing 16 TDs to 7 interceptions. Marve was spottier, completing 56 percent of his passes and throwing 4 TDs and 5 interceptions. He did play well in Purdue's upset of Ohio State. Rob Henry, who was pressed into duty as a starter in 2010 because of injuries and then missed 2011 because of his own injuries, remains on the roster as well. Henry is more of a rushing threat, gaining 547 yards and scoring 4 TDs in 2010.
At running back, Ralph Bolden tore his ACL in the Bucket game last year, his third such tear overall and second at Purdue. Bolden has already been ruled out for the season opener, but may play this season. Akeem Shavers, a junior college transfer who also ran for 519 yards and 6 TDs last season, looks to be the starter in Bolden's absence. Akeem Hunt had a solid freshman year, averaging 8.7 yards per carry in limited action. At receiver, Antavian Edison, who led the team with 584 yards and 3 TDs, is back, as are OJ Ross and Gary Bush and tight end Crosby Wright. Purdue returns a reasonably experienced group on the offensive line.
On defense, there are some losses, but Dwayne Beckford (91 tackles, 3 sacks), and Will Lucas are solid at linebacker, Kawann Short on the line, and Ricardo Allen in the secondary are the standouts on a reasonably experienced defense.
As I said above, I have no good read on Purdue. There aren't any gaping holes in the Boilermakers' experience, but there aren't really any superstars, either. They have three quarterbacks with experience, but none good enough to put the quarterback issue fully to rest. It seems like an important season for Purdue, the sort of season that will decide whether Danny Hope ultimately succeeds there. As bad as IU was last year, the Hoosiers played a fairly even Bucket game that was in doubt in the final minute and ended on an interception that looked quite a bit like a simultaneous possession situation. I think the direction of each program will be a bit more clear by the time this year's Bucket game rolls around. Purdue is the subject of quite a bit of Leaders Division talk. With Penn State and Ohio State ineligible for the postseason or the conference title, with Illinois under a first year coach, and with IU in the early stages of rebuilding, then by default Purdue seems to be everyone's pick as the team that might challenge Wisconsin for the trip to Indy. To come close, Purdue will have to develop consistency and an ability to take care of business as a favorite that hasn't yet been evident under Hope.