Purdue quarterback Danny Etling returns to help lead the Boilermakers' offense. (Pat Lovell / USA Today Sports / September 28, 2013)
The Orlando Sentinel's college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2014 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 128 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 115: Purdue Boilermakers
Coach: Darrell Hazell (1-11, entering second season; 17-21 overall)
2013 record: 1-11 (0-8 in Big Ten Conference, sixth in Leaders division)
Look back: No one wants to use the word rebuilding, but there's no better description for what's taking place at Purdue. The Boilermakers were a young team last season — playing 19 freshmen — and it showed. The team finished at the bottom of the Big Ten in many statistical categories, including total offense (282 yards per game), and averaged less than 15 points per game. The Boilermakers suffered through their worst season since 1993.
Offensive starters returning: 10
Offensive starters lost: 2
Defensive starters returning: 8
Defensive starters lost: 3
Key losses: CB Ricardo Allen, DT Bruce Gaston, DE Greg Latta, LT Kevin Pamphile, RT Justin Kitchens
Top returnees: QB Danny Etling, RB Akeem Hunt, WR Justin Sinz, WR DeAngelo Yancey, CB Frankie Williams, S Anthony Brown
Strengths: If there was an encouraging sign offensively for this team, it was at quarterback. As a true freshman, Danny Etling thrived while sharing time at quarterback with Rob Henry. Etling played in eight games — starting the last seven of the season — and passed for 1,690 yards and 10 touchdowns. As one of 19 freshmen to play last season for Darrell Hazell, Etling will have the luxury of playing alongside some familiar faces during the upcoming season. The offense returns nine other starters, including the top five receivers from last season. Purdue team also returns its top three rushers led by Akeem Hunt. The senior rushed for 464 yards and a touchdown for a rushing offense that ranked last in the league, managing just six rushing touchdowns.
Purdue showed more promise on defense. The Boilermakers ranked sixth in the Big Ten in pass defense (224 yards per game), with the secondary tallying 13 interceptions.
Weaknesses: One of the biggest challenges facing Hazell this offseason is bolstering the offensive line. The group returns three of the five starters from last season, but it allowed a league-worst 38 sacks last season. On the other side, the defensive line wasn't much better. The group also ranked last in the Big Ten in sacks with 14. Defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, who led the team in sacks (3.0), is gone, as is defensive end Greg Latta (32 tackles). Another concern has to be stopping the run. Purdue gave up 28 rushing touchdowns last season — third most in the Big Ten. In the secondary, Purdue must find a way to replace CB Ricardo Allen, who was credited with nearly half of the team's interceptions.
The special-teams unit's performance was a mixed bag last season. On one hand, the Boilermakers ranked first in the conference in punting (43.5), thanks to Cody Webster, but on the other hand, the team finished last in field-goal percentage (.500). Webster is gone, which means finding a suitable replacement and improving the kicking game is a must.
Outlook: There are going to be growing pains for Purdue as the players continue to adapt to Hazell's style of play. Both sides of the ball need major improvements, but having 18 returning starters can only help. It will take time for Purdue to rack up more wins, especially with a league schedule that features Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
Aug. 30 Western Michigan
Sept. 6 Central Michigan
Sept. 13 Notre Dame