OSIPOFF: Despite formidable schedule, Hazell has Boilers on right track
By Michael Osipoffmosipoff@post-trib.com or 713-2485 August 26, 2013 9:36PM
Jeffrey D. Nicholls/Post-Tribune Post-Tribune sports writer Michael Osipoff
Updated: September 29, 2013 6:29AM
They’re going to get there.
Now, exactly where “there” is located remains to be seen. Will it be the Rose Bowl, or at least contending for it, on a fairly regular basis? Well, again, that’s to be determined.
But there’s little doubt that Purdue is back on the upswing, toward annual postseason participation, in relevant bowl games.
That’s the sort of confidence first-year coach Darrell Hazell has instilled, in and around the program. He has breathed renewed life into the Boilermakers since he arrived in West Lafayette after a successful two-season stint at tradition-light Kent State, including the Golden Flashes last season making their first bowl appearance in 40 years.
In addition to the where, the when, too, for the Boilermakers remains subject to debate.
Because it’s almost assuredly not going to happen this season, even just basing it on their daunting schedule (with, oh, uncertainty surrounding, including but not limited to, their skill position players and linebackers).
Their three FBS non-conference opponents — Notre Dame, Northern Illinois and Cincinnati — posted a combined record of 34-6 last season. Of course, the Irish played for the national championship, and the Huskies broke through to reach the Orange Bowl, with the Bearcats taking a share of the Big East title. Even FCS opponent Indiana State went 7-4.
And Purdue’s first four Big Ten games? At Wisconsin, vs. Nebraska, at Michigan State, vs. Ohio State. Yikes.
In all, the Boilermakers play four teams ranked in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll (No. 2 Ohio State, No. 14 Notre Dame, No. 18 Nebraska, No. 23 Wisconsin) and four more receiving votes (Michigan State, Northern Illinois, Cincinnati, Penn State).
On paper, their schedule abates in the final third, with three of the four games against that “I”-team trio — Iowa, Illinois, Indiana — the same group against which they salvaged their bowl-eligibility last season.
But this season, by the time the Boilermakers hit that stage, their record very well could be beyond repair.
Hazell and the staff already have made headway with Purdue’s 2014 recruiting class, with verbal commitments from players such as Lake Central’s Gelen Robinson, Elite 11 quarterback David Blough, mammoth offensive tackle Denzel Ward and safety/linebacker Drue Tranquill (pending what happens with Notre Dame).
But if Purdue were to reach 6-6 for the third straight regular season, it would have to be considered an accomplishment.