Purdue is coming off a 7-6, the program’s first winning mark since 2007. That has some people in West Lafayette thinking big, as the program aims for back-to-back bowls for the first time since 2006-07 when Joe Tiller still was the coach.
Danny Hope’s fourth Purdue team is loaded with veteran talent, including a defense that could end up being one of the better units in the Big Ten. And an offense that is endowed with an abundance of options at quarterback could make strides after ranking seventh in the Big Ten in scoring with a 26.9-yard average in 2011. With that, I present 10 reasons for Purdue fans to be excited about the 2012 season.
1. Experience. Purdue ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten in returning starters with 15. That’s why many are calling this perhaps Danny Hope’s best team yet as he enters his fourth season in West Lafayette. It will be vital for that experience to reap dividends for a program that needs a breakout season to energize the fan base and fill Ross-Ade Stadium.
2. Kawann Short. The senior may be the top defensive tackle in the Big Ten. He’s a force on the interior who excels with equal aplomb as a run stuffer and disrupter in the backfield. The 6-3, 310-pound Short ranked among the Big Ten leaders in sacks and tackles for loss in 2011 and considered turning pro. But he opted to return and now will anchor a strong line that is buoyed by a corps of good tackles in junior Bruce Gaston and senior Brandon Taylor, the son of Lawrence Taylor.
3. Ryan Russell. Purdue has become a “den of defensive ends,” producing the likes of Shaun Phillips, Rosevelt Colvin, Chike Okeafor, Anthony Spencer and Ryan Kerrigan in recent years, among others. Russell looks to be the next great one. The 6-5, 264-pound sophomore has a quick first step and explosive strength. He’s ready to blossom.
4. Quarterbacks. The Boilers have not one, not two, but three quarterbacks on the depth chart who have started games. Caleb TerBush is back after starting in 2011. Fellow senior Robert Marve received a sixth year of eligibility, while junior Rob Henry (who may play a variety of positions this fall) was the 2010 starter who missed last season with a knee injury. It will be interesting to see how this sorts out. BTW: Another quarterback who has started games (Sean Robinson) is now a linebacker.
5. Ricardo Allen. The diminutive cornerback is a playmaker and one of the most underrated players in the Big Ten, already running back three interceptions in his career for a touchdown. The 5-9, 176-pound junior possesses lightning quickness with underrated strength and a knack for playing the ball. Bottom line: Allen is a difference maker who will form a nice corner tandem with senior Josh Johnson.
6. Defense. Yes, the numbers from 2011 weren’t great, as the Boilermakers ranked ninth overall in the Big Ten (395.9 ypg). But the potential looms for a strong unit. Back are playmakers like tackle Kawann Short, end Ryan Russell, linebacker Dwayne Beckford and cornerback Ricardo Allen. Fueling more optimism is a shuffled defensive staff that has a new coordinator in Tim Tibesar, who came from the CFL and has been a coordinator with Kansas State. He will run a 4-3 that can morph into a 3-4.
7. Big mo. Purdue actually has a bit of momentum, coming off the program’s first bowl since the 2007 season. And playing in a Leaders Division that will have two teams ineligible for bowls and the league title in Ohio State and Penn State further enhances the Boilermakers’ chances to make a run at the division crown and decent bowl bid.
8. Antavian Edison. The 5-11, 175-pound senior was in peril of not returning after an offseason arrest. But the incident in Florida was cleared up and Edison is back for one last hurrah as Purdue’s unquestioned leader at wideout. Edison has the experience and ability to inject much-needed big-play ability into an offense that needs a lift.
9. Raheem Mostert. He was a revelation as a true freshman in 2011, leading the nation with a 33.5-yard kickoff return average. The 5-11, 180-pounder, who ran back a kickoff for a touchdown in the Little Caesar’s Bowl win over Western Michigan and had four returns of at least 70 yards, is back to continue to be a threat, while also looking to fill a bigger role as a receiver.
10. Tight ends. The staff is excited about this position, which will be led by senior Crosby Wright and junior Gabe Holmes. Also, keep an eye on Carlos Carvajal, a 6-7 true freshman who enrolled early via a prep school as one of the team’s most touted recruits. He could be special for a position that teems with potential.
BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.
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