Every Tuesday we take to the dais to spark a point/counterpoint debate. Since the last two installments have focused on coaching competence, I thought we'd head in a slightly different direction this week.
Translation: we're heading into inflammatory waters to tackle a topic that has no answer. Still, it's a relevant question that gives us a chance to go beyond the box score.
Point: Rising passing efficiency will lead Purdue to a bowl game in 2011
Ask any Purdue fan what went wrong in 2010 and they'll point to a devastating flurry of injuries that sidelined key playmakers and forced Danny Hope to paste together a two deep that looked something like a kidnapping ransom note. But limit the discussion to on the field performances and one damning stat stands out. Purdue ranked dead last in the Big Ten in passing completion percentage, yards per pass, pass rating, yards per game, and total passing yards.
Mind you, that's in the Big Ten, a league that ain't exactly known for passing proficiency. But the stat gets worse when you realize that this is the same Purdue that finished first in all of the aforementioned categories as recently as 2006, second in conference as recently as 2008, and third in conference in 2009. Put another way, the Boilermakers had not finished outside of the top 3 statistical passing offenses in conference for four straight seasons before last year's aberration.
So what gives? Everyone's knee-caps. Purdue suited up for most of its games in 2010 without All-American caliber wide receiver Keith Smith, transfer quarterback a la mode Robert Marve, and star running-back Ralph Bolden. After their number two quarterback (Sean Robinson) went down with a hand injury, the Boilers were left with inexperience at the majority of skill positions.
That was then. This is now. After Danny Hope smartly stretched spring practice out to give his players more time to recover, Purdue sits primed to return a wealth of experience on the offensive side of the ball. Sure, Keith Smith was unfortunately denied a sixth year of eligibility, but the Boilers have enough veterans in place to move the needle in the air and on the ground.
Throw in a fairly accommodating early schedule, with home visits from Middle Tennessee, Southeast Missouri State and Notre Dame and a trip to Rice, and Purdue should be 3-1 entering Big Ten play. Their first conference test is a home date with Minnesota, a team that finished in the bottom 3 in the Big Ten last year in almost every defensive category that matters. Purdue wins a shootout in West Lafayette to grab the fourth win. Then things get interesting.
I don't think the Boilers win the second weekend in October on the road against Penn State. Nor do I think a young defensive front will handle an Illinois team whose stock is rising. But they'll get their fifth win in Ann Arbor, against a Wolverine secondary that's a Greg Mattison defense in name only. Losses at Wisconsin, against Ohio State and Iowa will kill a bit of momentum, but then there's a brilliant silver lining in the form of a season finale in Bloomington.
Think Purdue's going to be fired up to avenge last season's embarrassing loss to the Hoosiers and grab a season saving sixth win in the finale? You better believe it.
A 6-6 record gets Danny Hope to the postseason, the ultimate benchmark for a struggling program.
Counterpoint: Purdue's passing attack is a paper tiger, and injuries will lead to another bowless season
Fact: In four years of college football Robert Marve has played in just 15 games, so counting on him to make it through an entire season in tact is like counting on Lindsay Lohan to stay out of trouble.
Another fact: Running back Ralph Bolden's status for the fall is still entirely undetermined.
Sure, Rob Henry gives Purdue a little insurance behind center, but an uncertain ground game will haunt the Boilermakers again in 2011.
Purdue will drop at least one home game they should win when their rushing attack gets stuffed and they try to force things through the air. No one doubts that Tim Brewster left Minnesota with talent on both sides of the ball, and the Golden Gophers notch their first signature win of the Jerry Kill era in West Lafayette.
Even if Purdue makes it into November on track, there's still no guarantee that six wins gets them a coveted spot in the postseason. Try as I might, I just can't find a seventh win, and questionable in-game coaching might make six wins unattainable.
Hope sinks, and Purdue fans start looking forward to basketball season a month ahead of schedule.
TUESDAY | Point/Counterpoint
WEDNESDAY | 4th and 3
THURSDAY | OTE Potluck
FRIDAY | Keeping the Enemy Close - Rival Blogger Interview