After three consecutive seasons of last place finishes in the B1G, the 2016 season will be crucial not only for the sake of the program but also for the sake of head coach Darrell Hazell.
Under Hazell, Purdue has compiled a 2-22 record within the conference, and a 6-30 record overall. Mike Bobinski has taken over for Morgan Burke as the Director of Athletics at Purdue, and this season will be Hazell’s audition for his new boss. Coach Hazell is squarely on the hot seat heading into the season and will need to show vast improvement from his first three seasons in order to remain at the helm. It may be bowl or bust for Hazell heading into 2016. That being said, what can Boilermaker fans expect this year?
The biggest concern heading into this season has to be the number of question marks. Markell Jones and Ja’Whaun Bentley are the only certainties on this Purdue squad. Jones is fully entrenched as the starting running back heading into the season and will look to build off of a stellar freshman campaign. Bentley missed seven games last year due to injury but still managed to finish seventh on the team in tackles and third in tackles for loss. He was a standout performer as a freshman and was having a great sophomore season prior to his injury. All indications are that he will be back in full force this season.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 29, 2016
Aside from Jones and Bentley, question marks abound. There are big question marks at quarterback, offensive line, and defensive back specifically. Consistent play at quarterback has been one of the biggest issues in the Hazell era at Purdue, and finding a productive signal caller will be paramount for the Boilers. David Blough looks to start the season at quarterback after winning the job from Austin Appleby midway through the 2015 season. Blough’s freshman season was a mixed bag as he showed flashes of greatness, but also significantly struggled in other games. Should Blough falter, Elijah Sindelaar is waiting in the wings for the Boilers.
Relying on two fairly inexperienced players at the most important position on the field is not ideal for Purdue, but protecting whomever is at quarterback might be just as critical. In Darrell Hazell’s first three seasons, the Boilermakers have failed to consistently protect the quarterback and that has in part been critical to their struggles on offense. Jason King and Jordan Roos will look to anchor an offensive line with lots of potential holes and not much depth. Purdue was 13th in the B1G in 2015 in rushing and will need to improve its offensive line play in order to better those numbers in 2016.
— Purdue Athletics (@PurdueSports) September 1, 2016
On the defensive side of the ball the Boilermakers will be looking to replace two NFL-caliber cornerbacks in Anthony Brown and Frankie Williams as well as improve on their rushing defense. Despite two lock-down corners, Purdue still finished 10th in passing yards allowed per game and 12th in pass defense efficiency. The Boilers will not only have to replace talent in their defensive backfield, but will need to also find a way to increase productivity.
Purdue boasts plenty of experience at defensive line and at line backer, but that experience has failed to bring results thus far. The Boilers ranked dead last in rushing defense last year and were gashed on the ground by Illinois and Minnesota last year—two teams that ranked 14th and 11th respectively in the conference for rushing in 2015. Finding a way to stop their opponent’s ground game will be key for Purdue in 2016.
The coaching staff will also be a big question mark heading into the 2016 season. Aside from four new position coaches, Purdue will have two new coordinators in Terry Malone, who was promoted from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator, and Ross Els who was brought in to coordinate the defense. In Malone the Boilermakers have a coach who won a Super Bowl in 2009 with the New Orleans Saints and a National Championship at Michigan in 1997, but Malone’s last stint as an offensive coordinator took place at Michigan in 2005. Ross Els last worked as a defensive coordinator in 2004 at New Mexico State. He coached linebackers for four seasons at Nebraska under Bo Pelini, but was coaching high school football last year. Darrell Hazell is hoping his coordinators can shake off the dust quickly in 2016.
— Purdue Football (@BoilerFootball) September 1, 2016
Here is the good news for the Boilermakers as they head into the 2016 season: their schedule is incredibly weak. Not only do Purdue’s three non-conference opponents (Eastern Kentucky, Cincinnati and Nevada) look to be down, but they begin conference play with games at Maryland and at Illinois. They also avoid Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State on the schedule. Purdue will need to win at least four of their opening five games to have any chance at making a bowl game and will most likely need to win all five. They finish their conference slate by playing home games against Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern, and Wisconsin; and traveling to away games at Nebraska, Minnesota, and Indiana. Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana, and Nebraska will all pose challenges to the Boilers as they all finished in the top half of the conference in rushing in 2015. Wisconsin should also provide a tough challenge on the ground after a down year. If the Boilermakers are able to win at least four of their first five games, they will just need to find a way to pull out two more victories down the stretch in order to qualify for a bowl game.
My prediction for this team is that they will fall short of their bowl aspirations. Between all the question marks on both the roster and the coaching staff and Purdue’s inability to play consistently under Darrell Hazell, I don’t foresee this team winning six games this year. A six game win total would match the win total in the Boilermakers first three seasons under Hazell. I think this team will win four games this year. I think they will win three of their first four games, but will fall short over down the stretch winning only one of their final eight games. I could see them playing close games with Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Indiana in their final eight games, but I believe the lack of depth on this team will ultimately cost them. I hope for the sake of the program that the Boilers are able to turn things around. I just don’t see 2016 being the year.