Boilermakers expect to make big jump in 2012

Purdue coach Danny Hope has learned how to cope with the

unexpected.

In 2010, he lost his starting quarterback four games into the

season. Last year, he lost his new starting quarterback one week

before the season-opener.

So when rain washed out most of Friday’s traditional media day

festivities, Hope refused to let the precipitation dampen the mood

for a football team that is suddenly brimming with confidence. He

looked straight into the cameras and kept right on talking.

”I like where we’re at right now, I think we’ve made great

progress in the program,” Hope said. ”A program that produces

championships doesn’t just come in a snap of the fingers.”

That certainly hasn’t been the case for Hope, now in his fourth

season at Purdue.

The Boilermakers finally figured out how to overcome some big

obstacles by rallying late last season, without quarterback Rob

Henry, to end a three-year bowl drought.

That was enough to get Hope a two-year contract extension, and

the Boilermakers celebrated a four days later with a 37-32 victory

over Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. It was only

Purdue’s second bowl win since 2003.

But last year’s success and a combination of other factors have

certainly raised expectations in West Lafayette.

With Ohio State and Penn State both facing postseason bans, only

four teams in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division are eligible for

postseason play including the conference championship game in

nearby Indianapolis.

The schedule-makers also have given the Boilermakers a big

break. They’ll play five home games in the first six weeks and

won’t travel outside their home state until they visit Ohio State

on Oct. 20.

By then, the future could look as bright as the players’

hopes.

”We hang our hat on Ross-Ade,” versatile receiver Antavian

Edison said Friday. ”So if we go undefeated at Ross-Ade, we’ll be

in good shape.”

The Purdue coach understands, however, that there’s a lot more

to success than just winning home games.

A rash of injuries, including the torn ACLs that cost

quarterback Robert Marve most of the 2010 season and quarterback

Henry all of the 2011 season, created major obstacles for a program

looking to transition from the beloved Joe Tiller to the colorful

Hope, one of Tiller’s coaching prodigies.

And the Boilermakers still have some major concerns.

Ralph Bolden, the team’s top rusher in 2011, continues to

recover from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee – his

third such surgery since his senior year in high school. It’s still

unclear when Bolden, a fifth-year senior, will be ready to

play.

Without Bolden, Hope has only four other halfbacks on the

roster. Those four have combined for 152 carries and 876 yards,

including a career-best day for junior college transfer Akeem

Shavers (22 carries, 149 yards) in his bowl-game MVP

performance.

There are other options. Edison, a versatile slot receiver,

could see time in the backfield.

Hope also has to choose a starting quarterback from a group that

includes two former starters, Marve and Henry, and the incumbent

Caleb TerBush.

”If (the opener) would be tomorrow, it would be Caleb,” Hope

said. ”If all three do well in practice, it would be hard to

reshuffle the deck. But if one quarterback is performing better,

there could be a change on the depth chart.”

If Henry doesn’t win the quarterback job, he, too, could become

a candidate at running back.

But the biggest factor this season may be a new attitude.

Hope has sold his players on getting the program back to

national prominence, and the coach believes this is the

Boilermakers’ best chance yet.

Even if it did rain for only the second time in two decades on

media day.

”I think the main thing is starting fast, going out there with

the confidence we’re supposed to have,” Edison said.