It's pretty interesting, we're hearing from tons of outlets that Purdue's a darkhorse to win their division this fall and make the 1 hour trip South to Indy for the league championship. To that idea, I have a couple responses: First, if everyone is saying a team might win a division, they're no longer a darkhorse. Second, I just don't get it.
|Google gave me this when I looked up "Darkhorse"...so I went with it.|
I'm the optimistic one of the two founders of this humble, yet amazingly-awesome website...and I don't see Hope's boys making it to Indy. But, that doesn't mean I'm down on the team by any means. In fact, I think this season can be a pretty fun one...but as J soberingly pointed out, there are quite a few variables in this equation that make a winning season far from a slam dunk.
But since he's already focused on why there's reason for trepidation, let me tell you why this off-season is different.
The QB Battle Can (Should) Be a Positive
We're not in agreement that a 60/40 split of snaps is a good way for a team to handle the quarterback position. In fact, outside of some Wildpete mixed in with the starter, it should be one guy's job. As of now, that guy is Caleb TerBush. It's probably tough for Hope to argue with TerBush's production- he did take the coach to greater heights than he had ever reached in this division...but I don't think it's good enough.
TerBush was a fine game manager...but never showed the ability to quickly drive the team down the field when it was absolutely needed. Plus, not one part of his game strikes fear into the hearts of opposing DCs. All that said, he ran the read option in a surprisingly-effective manner- He's deceptively fast and elusive between the tackles...and I said to myself over and over again last year, when he runs the option, I don't worry about what's going to happen; he makes good decisions. But, his good decisions in the running game become slow and conservative in the passing game. The end result was that he took too many sacks and didn't seem to see the field too well before the snap.
He's a team captain, is 7-6 as a starter, and generally doesn't get into trouble. For TerBush to be the starter in front of a healthy Marve, the Purdue defense needs to be the best we've seen in nearly a decade.
|Is Marve the key to success?|
Robert Marve is our guy, in case you didn't already know. We like him so much we lost money printing shirts in support of him a few years ago...and Purdue's Athletic Dept. expressed its support by sending us a cease and desist letter (thanks, by the way).
But what we say last year, and probably even in '10 wasn't a completely-healthy Marve. It doesn't matter to whom you speak in the sports med field, doctors and trainers generally say it takes around 18 months to heal from a torn ACL. In '10, Marve had been healing for 16 months...in '11, he had been healing for 11 months. Both times, he didn't really complain...but he wasn't right. One of those injuries led to a re-injured ACL...the second led to a visibly-hobbled quarterback who wasn't in great shape and couldn't practice for most of the off-season.
Coming into '12, it's different. Marve is completely-healthy. His legs are stronger as he's been able to lift and run on them for the entire off-season...and his arm has always been howitzer-like. But, the knock on Marve for most Purdue fans isn't his body, it's what's between the ears. Many Purdue fans wrote him off last year after dumb plays in limited action. As a #9 apologist, I chalk that up to simply wanting to make the play in limited action...and that mentality, coupled with his abilities is why I think he should be the starter in the fall. But he will not be starting, at least in the first game, if TerBush stays healthy.
Marve is 8-7 as an NCAA starter. He's a guy that says the right things in the media, has a sketchy past as a Hurricane (but says it's all behind him and we've seen nothing to contradict that) and has about every physical gift imaginable. But, his tendency to make snap decisions often gets him and the team in trouble. All that said, he's a strong-willed, fiery leader...and has the ability to move the offense down the field quicker than either of the other two QBs, and can make throws they simply cannot.
Rob Henry is a fan and teammate favorite. Like Marve, he's a tremendous huddle and sideline leader. He was a captain last season and is the best athlete of the three. But, like Marve, he's also torn his ACL...and his tear was suffered last August. And, unlike Marve who is a pass-first QB, Henry's strength is running the ball. So, to say that I have doubts in his ability to take the majority of snaps is a massive understatement.
All that said, I think he'll still play a role this year, in one, or many ways for the offense...even if it's not as the starting QB. He's too important and too athletic to keep off the field, if healthy. Perhaps he can take Justin Siller's role as Wildpete QB...and even play a little slot receiver...but I don't see him starting unless an emergency should arise.
Henry is 2-4 as a starter (but he was thrust into the role following Marve's injury). He's an all-around good guy who is so much of a leader that he wanted to lead the student body. He has a career completion percentage of 53.1%, but his damage is done primarily with his feet.
So why did I spend so much time talking about the QBs? Because it matters...and, like many positions, Hope has never had this type of experience returning at a given position. Last season Hope had but one option for the starting QB coming into the season, and it was a guy that had never started a game. The season before, his starter was coming off of transfer and ACL injury...the season before that, the starter hadn't ever started and was coming off of a shoulder injury. The embarrassment of riches behind the center is something that is a big plus IF Hope is willing to make the difficult decision and name an outright starter/offensive leader.
He no longer needs to play a back-up to have him ready in the case of injury...the back-ups already know their roles. Will he be able to make that decision is the question.
On top of healthy/experienced QBs, Hope has a solid RB corps (even with Bolden on the IR), fast but undersized receivers, an experienced OLine corps (but recovering from injuries), a monstrous defensive front and the best group of DBs that we've seen at Purdue in the last 20 years. The only real question mark is the linebackers...and while that is a large question, two of the starters are returning; depth is the real issue.
Purdue is one of the most-experienced teams in the league. And, unlike in many years in recent memory, this isn't experience that you might not want to see return. In this group, there are a few guys on national watch lists (Short and Allen) and some others that are known around the league to be big-play guys (Beckford, Edison, Shavers, Mostert, Gaston, Russell and Johnson).
Experience matters...talent matters...speed matters. Purdue has all of these this season. The question mark that most Purdue fans have is at the top, with Danny Hope. His poor game management, head-scratching decision making, a team that makes more penalties than almost anybody in the league, and OF COURSE, his team's recurring issue of dropping an early game to a team that they have no business losing to. I think you could also talk about an overall problem with the defense coming off of last season. BUT, he made some pretty big changes in the off-season in the coaching staff...I appreciate that and think that will yield dividends.
Even the Hope detractors might want to give the guy some credit- he's trying to change things instead of simply accepting the situation as it lies. I know, I know, you don't coach college football to try hard, but to win...we're in agreement there. But this season, like last season, I think Purdue will win more than they lose- but just how many. Here are my somewhat-educated guesses:
2-3 in Leaders Division
A 2-3 record in the division doesn't really capitalize on a punished Bucknut squad or a PSU team that will probably be playing pretty distracted football...but like it or not, neither of these programs has been crippled by their respective scandals to the level that Purdue will be a hands-down better than either of them. And 7 wins, while good, and better than kissing your sister, isn't really something to burn couches about. But a trip to Arizona or Texas beats the pants off of a bus trip to Detroit any day...and twice in December.
As I told J just recently, I was really excited for the season a few months ago...but as we grow closer and closer to Sept. 1, I grow more and more nervous. And honestly, there are one or two games in my 7 wins that I'm less-than-rock-solid about. That said, I think it's pretty much imperative that Hope leads this team to 7 or more wins. Next year, Short, TerBush, Marve, Shavers, Bolden, Edison, Wright, Drey, Beckford and Johnson will all be gone. So, like it or not, next season there will be quite a few growing pains.