The B1G 2015 Potluck is back! This year, I'll be guiding you fine folks through all the carnage with themed meals focused on the ins and outs of each school in the B1G. With this week bringing Purdue to the table, I decided a good old fashioned train theme was appropriate. Today's questions cover a wide range of topics including Coach Hazell's viability, Purdue's QB situation, the Boilermakers' potential on defense, and Star Trek transporters. It was a good potluck, and as always, we invite you to give your own thoughts on the courses. Just like all of those potlucks of our youth, there's plenty here to take in, but you're not cool if you aren't bringing something ridiculous to the table.
Oh, and before I forget, I invited our good friend Travis Miller from the great Purdue site here on SB Nation, Hammer and Rails, to join us in the fun. It was great having him, and now that we've gotten you all so interested in all things Boilermakers, go ahead and check out their site and give Travis a follow on twitter @JustTMill Got it? Great. Let's get started.
Appetizer - Coal Fired Pizzas
Well, here we are again. It’s time for the weekly B1G 2015 potlucks and what better way to start than with a big helping of Boilermaker. Wait, not the drink… although I am sure there are some who would prefer that. Anyhow, in honor of our Train-centric friends from West Lafayette, let’s get started with a little talk about tracks. Specifically, what will being ‘on-track’ look like for Purdue in 2015. Is there a specific number of games they have to win? Improvement on offense and defense? Four wins overall?
Travis Miller - I always think that six wins and a bowl game should be a reasonable goal for any Big Ten program. When you can essentially schedule four wins and (in our case) you get Illinois and Indiana every year that should be enough for hope. I think Purdue needs to break through and stop dick-tripping at home to MAC teams. We have been embarrassed two years in a row and Bowling Green is more than good enough to be a third. Winning at Marshall won’t be easy, either. Then you have Virginia Tech. Last season they were the only team in America to beat the National champion, but they also lost essentially a scoreless tie to Wake Forest, who was one of the few Power Five teams that might have been worse than Purdue.
I’d love to get three of the first four (Indiana State is a given because no Big Ten team ever has a valid excuse to lose to an FCS team) in order to set the tone. It is difficult, but not impossible if Purdue is, indeed, better and shows some of the promise it had last year. In the conference there are not a ton of overly difficult games. Yes, beating Nebraska or Wisconsin will be tough, but a bad Purdue team has played Michigan State tough two years in a row. Purdue probably should have beaten Minnesota last year (a dumb penalty on 3rd and long kept alive the game-winning FG drive), and I can see Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, and Iowa as beatable.
At minimum, Purdue probably needs to win five and bet competitive against some bigger opponents. Getting to a bowl is a big step forward and definitely can happen.
LincolnParkWildcat - I don't know how long Morgan Burke will keep Darrell Hazell around, or what he considers progress. I think they need to win 5 games. And maybe lose some of those seven games closely as opposed to getting blown out. And have more people in the stands. Also, I’m not sold on having John Shoop, the worst Chicago Bears offensive coordinator of all time as the train conductor of Purdue’s offense.
Thomas Speth - Purdue has a kind of murderball schedule but he better win at least 4 games. Purdue is Purdue and Hazell is cheap so I have a tough time seeing him get canned if he goes 4-8 and they're improving, but he's going to be on a pretty warm chair going into next year. If that doesn't happen and they go 3-9 again or worse he's gone and Tim Beckman will have outlasted him and that is hilarious. Of course that assumes Illinois doesn't do something like go 2-10 this year. Totally possible #illinoisfootball.
Andrew Kraszewski - There are scenarios where Purdue could repeat its 4-win total or only get to 5 and Hazell would still be OK. Say, for example, they faceplant in the non-con, but win 2 or 3 of those last 4 (very manageable, by the way- their last 4 opponents are Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, and Indiana), and the non-con opponents like Marshall and Bowling Green go on to win their conferences or something. Get the Bucket back and appear to be improving down the stretch, even if it's against weaker opponents than you play in October, and Burke will gleefully shelve the buyout checkbook. As for whether that would have you on track- well, what do Purdue fans demand of their program? If it's to hover in the bowl eligibility conversation, then sure, even that middling outcome would be a step in the right direction. Is that really enough, though?
WSR - I just look at that schedule and cringe. At first glance, it's ugly. Like "Gosh, at least we play Indiana State, what's supposed to be a MACrifice, Illinois, and Indiana at home so we've got a shot at 4 wins if things break right" ugly. But if they can get off to a good start (by that I mean .500 non-conf) and avoid injuries, there are some opportunities. Nebraska has a new coach, Northwestern and Iowa are, to be polite, stagnant, Minnesota and Wisconsin lost chunks of offensive talent, and Illinois and Indiana are stuck in B1G hell with Purdue. I don't believe they'll take advantage of more than one or two of these, but they could. Could we maybe count having a few thousand fans at the last home game that aren't wearing candystripes as progress?
GoForThree - I think they have to win 6 to keep Hazell's address in a West Lafayette zip code. I think they realistically win 5.
MNWildcat - Pick a QB and stick to him, win 4 games, and maybe even pick up a rivalry trophy somewhere along the way. Gotta start...[/sunglasses]...picking up steam here.
DJ Carver - They've been pretty awful but everyone has to have standards, right? Something has to give, and something is telling me if they don't get to bowl eligibility that seat is going to be white hot. The defense was getting manhandled last year, so that is as good a place as any to start.
babaoreally - I don't think there is a specific amount of games Purdue has to win, but to be 'on-track', they can't keep getting blown out. The offense has to be at least just "below average" and not "well below average." The schedule is tough, so I think this season will be another one that will see improvement if there are more "moral" victories, because I think looking for something like six "actual" victories is very unrealistic.
Aaron Yorke - It's tough to see more than four wins on the schedule right now unless Purdue sweeps its non-conference slate. Big Ten home games against Indiana and Illinois should be considered major measuring sticks, especially if this team doesn't show during the tougher road schedule. I think we can call it progress if the Boilers win more than the three games they won in 2014.
Mike Jones - It’s very easy to sit there and say "on-track" is winning more games but lordy Purdue needs to win more games. I think progress would be the anemic offense improving and the Boilermakers simply not losing games in embarrassing fashion. Getting blown out by Central Michigan and Northwestern? Not a good look. Not scoring more than 20 points in seven games is also not a good look. Going 3-1 in the non-conference would be a great improvement because hey, who wants to lose to Marshall amirite? After that…what can Purdue do? October is brutal. November is more manageable but they have to travel to Iowa City and Evanston and hell even Purdue can’t fill up Ryan field. How about beating Indiana? That would be an improvement.
Salad - Round and Round Pasta Salad
Purdue is often considered the Cradle of Quarterbacks with 15 NFL quarterbacks leading the Purdue charge over the years. While there obviously has been some sort of transcendent players over the years, it definitely doesn’t feel like the next Drew Brees is on the roster right now in West Lafayette. That being said, of the three QBs that look to be fighting for the chance to lead the charge - Austin Appleby, David Blough, or Duke Danny Etling - who do you see as the guy with the most upside? Moreover, what do you think is the realistic ceiling for this group? Will any of them bowl in their career?
Travis - I like Blough. For two straight spring games he has looked like the best of the three and with his stature and Central Texas background I can’t help but think of Brees. Obviously anointing him as the next Brees is very premature, but the way he carries himself and his accuracy have reminded me of Breesus a bit. Since we have 12 years to wait until the first Brees boy can come to West Lafayette we’ll have to make due for a bit.
Seriously though, I really like Blough and I think he could be the starter on day because I think he is also more elusive with his feet. I think there is still a strong case for Appleby too, as he has made some strides. Etling, at least in my mind, is probably third right now, but he does have the most game experience.
Of course, none of it matters if they don’t have an offensive line that can protect them.
LPW - I didn’t watch enough of Purdue football to honestly know which if any of their current quarterbacks would be good. I’ll have to defer to babaoreally for this one. Maybe I could tape three coins together and flip it and then give you an answer? I have no idea.
TS - Who cares if your QB is good? Or your wide receivers. Passing is for people that can't smash the ball down throats at will and is a sign of weakness. It's the punting of offense #wisconsinfootball
WSR - Whoever it is, I'm sure they'll do a magnificent job of throwing footballs to opposing DBs and LBs and occasionally DL before getting replaced by someone else who will throw footballs to opposing DBs and LBs and occasionally DL.
AK - Well, Appleby looked pretty damn good against MSU last year, but tailed off badly when Anthrop and Knauf went down. Etling, AFAIK, is the more physically talented guy, but hasn't been able to push past the limitations of the offense around him and he might have David Carr Syndrome after getting mashed into paste two years ago, even though Purdue's OL was a lot better last year. I don't think anyone knows much about what Blough can actually offer since he hasn't taken a snap in a game yet. I know the backup/freshman is always the most popular guy on campus, but barring transcendent, Braxton Miller-type talents, experience counts for a lot at this position. Having purchased it for two other guys at such a dear cost to the record over the last two years, I would read it as a sign of desperation if Hazell decides to let the QB experience ball roll all the way back down the hill before resuming the push to the top.
Candystripes for Breakfast - From everything I've heard (admittedly not much), Austin Appleby probably has the highest ceiling of this trio at the moment. What that ceiling is, I'm still not sure. Will any of them go bowling? I can't say what they'll be doing in their free time, but they've got a decent chance if Purdue can improve over the next couple seasons.
GF3 - I'd guess Appleby, but it's literally just a guess. I don't think we saw enough comparable circumstances among all three last year to know who's the standout favorite.
MNW - Like, actually give Blough a chance to develop, Purdue. Do yourself a favor. Go with the Duke of TDs, ride him out, and make the most out of this. Eventually you have to start building something.
DJ - I have no idea because it's hard to follow a team that doesn't exist, but I'm going with Blough. Am I the only one who did this? I saw somewhere that he impressed with his scrambling ability, and that might do enough to make a difference in a game or two so teams have to account for the dual threat from him.
babaoreally - Since we have seen Appleby and Etling in action, Blough ha the most upside. I don't know what the ceiling is for Blough, but I would be surprised if an Appleby or Etling led team made it to a bowl game. Blough scrambled somewhat successfully in the Spring Game, if that counts for anything (it doesn't).
AY - Both Etling and Appleby completed less than 55 percent of their passes, gained around five yards per attempt, and threw around the same amount of TDs and INTs in 2014. I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb saying that the redshirt freshman Blough has the most upside. If Hazell can surround him with enough talent, I see no reason why he can't get to a bowl game in the future should he prove capable.
MJ - The Duke of Interceptions is awful. Just awful. Like, Gigli awful. I think Appleby is the lesser of two evils in this situation because in all honesty I haven’t seen the third guy play. (I actually haven’t seen anyone play because I don’t want Purdue or games in general)
Side Dish - Train Wreck Potato
2015 marks year three of the Darrell Hazell experience and up to now, things have been uneven at best. A disastrous first year that saw Purdue lose to every FBS team they faced was followed up by marginal improvement albeit improvement nonetheless. One might say that Hazell seems to be a little in over his head to this point, but his past stops show he has the chops to coach. Do you think Hazell is the right man for this job and the situation is just that difficult to overcome or are there some obvious deficiencies that are showing up right now? Another way to look at it is do you think Hazell gets a year four?
Travis - I think he gets year four unless there is a huge step back. 2013 was an abject disaster. 2014 was better partially because we really could not be much worse, and partially because Purdue was a lot more competitive. It seemed like in 2013 we could only play with teams for a half, plus we had a very difficult schedule with Northern Illinois and Cincinnati both being awfully good in their own right. Last year we won more games and were still close in a few others. We lost by a point to Minnesota, led Indiana until the final minute, and had the ball trailing by a score with the football in the fourth quarter against Iowa and Michigan State. Combined with closer-than-expected games against Wisconsin and Nebraska there were definitely positives.
I still believe in Hazell because he knew this was going to be a long rebuild and he has stayed his course. This could be a major boost of a season because any success means a ton of promise for 2016 when Purdue has only 12 scholarship seniors. If you have watched closely you have seen slow, steady progress almost every week (with there being a big setback in the last two games last year after Danny Anthrop was hurt). There are some pieces there and with some clarity at quarterback and running back Purdue can get off to a good start.
LPW - Darell Hazell did well at Kent State, but in all fairness that’s the MAC. The B1G west is a lot tougher. Hazell will get to year four if he shows some improvement, either by winning more games or losing then in close fashion instead of getting blown out. I’d have to compare his trajectory to that of other B1G coaches that have resurrected programs, like Gary Barnett at Northwestern, Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin, Joe Tiller at Purdue, Jerry Kill at Minnesota, and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. Also, it depends how much money Morgan Burke has to pay a buyout and how patient he is.
AK - Let's hit that last question first- Morgan Burke's legendary penny-pinching means Hazell gets another guy unless the team has a flat-out meltdown to the tune of 2 wins or fewer and/or major off-field catastrophe. I don't really know what to make of Hazell. No, his results aren't great, but Hope left him with a talent-barren roster and Purdue just isn't going to attract the caliber of players who can undo that overnight or even in two seasons. You do see some signs of progress; for the first time I can remember, Purdue's linebackers aren't getting dunked on by every tailback in the conference (just the good ones). The OL made big progress in 2014.
But, for every spot you see progress, there's another with huge questions. QB would be the biggest one, and when a single receiver- Anthrop- got hurt last year, the entire pass offense disintegrated. So far as I can tell, Hazell is taking a developmental approach to rebuilding instead of relying heavily on JUCOs like Tim Beckman has. That's fine, and will probably lead to a more stable program long-term, but if you're going to go that route, you've got to be able to do enough with what's on hand to buy yourself the time needed to develop those players.
Hazell's situation upon arriving in West Lafayette isn't entirely unlike what Dantonio walked into in succeeding John L. Smith: there was enough on hand to get better results than the predecessor did, and the reason Dantonio succeeded was because he bought himself enough time with decent immediate results to do what he wanted to do. Hazell certainly hasn't done much with Hope's guys, so he kind of needs his projects to speed up their development timeline a bit.
TS - Purdue was straight up awful when Hazell got there. Really his first class is juniors now, and I think it's a mistake to let a coach go in under 4 years if that reason is "not improving fast enough". I think Hazell gets his year 4 and I still think he's a better coach than Beckman. Illinois just had talent because that's what Zook does. Hazell's basically had to start from scratch and that's a minimum 3 year project. Improvement is key though. If they go backwards it's on him. That schedule though...
C4B - If Purdue wants to embrace chaos, then no, Hazell won't get a year 4 without a bowl game this season. If they don't want to turn into Indiana football, however, a year four is almost guaranteed as long as the program doesn't take two or three major steps backward this year.
GF3 - His past stops? Where? Kent State? One head coaching gig with decent success on the back of a team he didn't have to build himself isn't much of a mark in his favor. I don't know that he's in over his head so much as he inherited a burning barge o' tires and is facing a real uphill battle in rebuilding the program. College football has become an arms race and Purdue spent the better part of the last decade trying to design a better musket. I think if he wins six games he gets a year four. But at some point Purdue has to get its act together and not restart every three or four years (we like to call that the Army Football War Plan...just start over every three years until the earth falls into the sun).
MNW - Well, as Andrew noted, the obvious deficiency that Hazell has yet to overcome is the fact that he coaches at Purdue, led by Fearless AD Morgan Burke. I don't know if Hazell will be able to overcome that one.
Failing that, I think there's a chance Hazell and Purdue can be competitive if their defense improves marginally. 416 ypg (80th in the nation) and 192.1 rpg (91st in the nation) are not good things. I don't know what it is about the state of Indiana--maybe the Hoosiers and Boilermakers are taking "The Crossroads of America" too literally and letting people run wherever they please. You don't have to do that, Purdue!
Graham Filler - My highlight for Purdue football was the inexplicably close game against MSU. The offense looked clever and unpredictable…and all the playmakers touched the ball against a decent Spartan defense. Purdue almost won that game! That’s amazing!
So more of that, lots more of that. More unpredictable things, less of the "drop back and pray" passing offense, more quick reads and high percentage passes.
DJ - Obvious deficiencies? Well, besides the athletic department willingly turning a profit rather than sink money to better fund and equip sports programs, I would go with the talent on the field being the obvious deficiency. The recruiting has to improve if they want any chance to start contending with the middle tier of the B1G, and I wish I could laugh as I said that, but they're clearly the worst team the past few years and it's not that close.
babaoreally - It seems at this point that Hazell is more of a solid leader if a system and players are already in place, rather than a great program builder. He was successful with another coach's players at Kent State, but the cupboard was pretty bare at Purdue when he got here. Hazell will be back in 2016 barring a 2013-like disaster.
AY - I can't say for sure that Hazell is the right man for the job, but we also don't have enough information to tell if he's wrong for the job. As we've seen many times over, it takes patience to build a program, and that means showing faith in a head coach even if he just marginally improves in his third year. I think this Purdue team wins four or five games and allows for hope of a bowl game in 2016.
MJ - Why does Darrell Hazell even have this job? He had ONE good year at Kent State. Note: he was at Kent State for two years. It’s also easy to improve when you go 1-11 your first season. I don’t see how Hazell gets another year. The attendance is laughable, the results are poor and the schedule this year is only going to make winning for a team hoping to improve that much more difficult. I think he’s in over his head and this year’s schedule won’t do him any favors. I just realized I said all these things about Tim Beckman.
Main Dish - Pitmaster T's Famous Night Train Brisket
Purdue has been pretty bad at defense for the past few years, finishing near the bottom of the conference in most all defensive categories. On top of that, they lose quite a bit of production at each level in Landon Feichter, Sean Robinson, and Ryan Russell. Still, if I am looking at potential alone, the Boilers’ DL looks to have a lot of nice pieces. Junior Jake Replogle - he of the Replogle lineage that frequented Bloomington - led the charge with 11 TFL last season and will be joined by Ryan Watson, Ra’Zahn Howard, and Michael Rouse as guys who played in at least 11 games last season. Do you think that they can be a changing of the tides for Purdue’s oft-maligned defense? Will they generate more than their 2014 B1G worst 9 sacks?
Travis - I think the bigger news is that Purdue has not one, but two real, live Big Ten linebackers in Danny Ezechukwu and JaWhaun Bentley. We have been light years behind the rest of the Big Ten for about a decade at linebacker and the defensive production has showed. Finally, we have a couple of guys that are at least as good as almost everyone else in the Big Ten as opposed to walk-ons, re-treads, and guys playing out of position.
The defensive line has got to generate more of a pass rush, however. The biggest problem right now is that Purdue is AWFUL on third down. We are so terrible at defending third downs I feel more confidence on stopping a third and 1 than a third and 35 because at least on third and 1 you’re probably facing a run and you can stuff the box. On third and 25 we’re going to leave the middle of the field open like we don’t even know a tight end can be an eligible receiver. It is just maddening.
LPW - With a team this bad I don’t know. One would think a year in the weight room would help them get stronger and faster, but time will tell. I’m a Cubs fan and believe in the maxim Hope Springs Eternal. Maybe they’ll get better, maybe not.
AK - Bentley is one of my favorite young players in the conference. He reminds me a lot of Greg Jones, and I thought he was an instant upgrade over Sean Robinson at MLB. Purdue's problem is they don't have enough guys like him, or even guys who could be on that level with reasonable year-over-year improvement. Bentley, Gelen Robinson, and Frankie Williams are the only guys on Purdue's defense who I'd even want on MSU's roster. I'm not big into projecting stats, so I have no idea on whether their numbers will improve, but Hazell threw a lot of these guys out there as freshmen, especially in the front seven. They've got the experience, they've had time in the weight room. If they're going to be better, they should be able to do it this year.
TS - I know almost nothing about Purdue's defense beyond Wisconsin runs for a lot of yards against it.
GF3 - Well, they can only go up....right?
MNW - "Changing of the tides"? What the fuck are you doing bringing ocean metaphors into an article on Purdue? TRAINS CAN'T RUN UNDERWATER, JESSE. [ed note: Hey man, I could only take this train thing so far...]
GF - No athletes, plus no known scheme, equals giving up 30 ppg (or more yearly). No change on that horizon do we see.
DJ - Well, stopping the run a bit more would be a start and any pressure they can generate on the QB is going to be a plus. Losing your best three players from the worst defense in the league, I'm not sure what difference that even makes since they don't really have any further down to go. The general thinking though is that if you can generate pressure you alleviate pressure on the secondary, so that is as good a place as any for Purdue to start making a difference
babaoreally - I have been pretty easy on the defense the past couple of years, because the offense has been so terrible. It's hard to have a good defense when you're out there for 90% of the game. I think the LB corp should be improved, and odds are they get more than 9 sacks, but the backfield is a big question mark for 2015.
AY - Yes, they will sack the quarterback more than nine times in 2015. That's a given even if nothing changes. Even if it just means the offense is better, which forces the opponent to drop back more. I don't think the tide really needs to change; the defense needs to continuously improve until it's good enough to slow down some contenders. After allowing 6.23 yards per play in 2013, Hazell's team allowed just 5.58 yards per play in 2014, so another step in the right direction would be nice.
MJ - I don’t understand anything that you just said.
Image/Recipe via OMG Chocolate Desserts
Dessert - Choo Choo Chocolate Birthday Cake
Purdue’s mascot is literally a train. If you were to replace your mascot with a mode of transportation, what would it be? For our Purdue friends, feel free to change from the train... You know, for fun.
Travis - We’re engineers at Purdue, so I am going to choose Star Trek transporter. As far as I know there is nothing in the football rule book that says you cannot transport into the end zone as long as you start in the backfield.
LPW - This is easy. I’d replace Willie the Wildcat with the Chicago El if I had to go with a mode of transportation. Also, I would make the Purple Line Express run on gamedays from Fullerton or Belmont to Central Street so I can get to games faster. It takes a frigging hour to take a bus, then the red line, then the purple line to a game. I can drive their in a half hour, but I dont want to drink and drive
AK - Oldsmobile was formerly headquartered in Lansing and R.E. Olds' name is on MSU's Engineering building, so one of the classic Super 88s from the 50s would make a lot of sense, or maybe a '66 Cutlass Supreme. You could have an anthropomorphized Rocket V8 walking around as a mascot, use an engine-rev and tire squeal sound over the loudspeakers for touchdowns, etc. Point is, cars would be the obvious choice.
C4B - Probably an Indy Car. Not for any good reason, just because it would be a cool thing to have around.
TS - A surprisingly quick bulldozer. A red one wearing a number 6 jersey. Maybe name it Corey Clement... In seriousness, probably a space shuttle just to piss all the Purdue people off and start constant flame wars... In actual seriousness, a dairy tanker truck. I mean obviously
GF3 - The M1A2 Abrams tank. Made in Ohio, dominant everywhere. 72 tons of Buckeye quality, courtesy of Lima Army Tank Plant.
WSR - Well crap, there goes my idea of using the M2 Medium Tank for Minnesota because it was good enough offensively & defensively and top of the line in the 1930's. [ed note - actual comment made and I'm putting it in here because, yes, it does make sense]
GF - MSU needs to change to the Michigan State University Particle Accelerators. Unsure if that’s really a mode of transportation, but everyone’s super excited around here about this in East Lansing.
As for the Wolverines, much has been made of the lack of a Wolverine prowling the sidelines…So if you’re going Michigan centric, let it be a Michigan-made automobile. If you’re going Ann Arbor-mentality, let it be a Tesla or maybe a Prius.
Or maybe just this Solar Car
InsertName - Minnesota already has the Fighting Sexboats in the NoFunLeague so not that. A spaceship shaped like Prince's symbol would be pretty fucking sweet.
DJ - Well, this is obvious but a crab, because reasons. I don't think I really need to explain this one.
InsertName - Maryland has the best tasting vehicle
DJ - ah fuck, mode of transportation
C4B - I mean, you could totally ride a crab, right?
DJ - Since we're going with things made or found in the state, I'll go with an F-35, because well it's the best thing out there. Modes of transportation blow around UMD, so I've reached out further into the state for this one.
AY - I think the folks at Black Shoe Diaries would be upset if I said anything but a flaming bus. Sure, that's supposed to be more of a basketball analogy but have you seen Penn State's "offense" lately? Flame on.
MJ - A Hawkeye is a bird you moran. They can fly. That’s a mode of transportation. Flight.
Jesse - Yes, I get the last word on this potluck. If Nebraska is changing their name to any mode of transportation, it's the Mastodons and I will not hear any dissension on whether that is - or rather isn't - a mode of transportation because obviously it is.