As the Big Ten enters its nine-game conference schedule, the Land of 10 examines each school before its league opener:
ANALYSIS: When the Boilermakers aren’t proverbially shooting themselves in one foot or the other, they can be dangerous offensively. Quarterback David Blough goes into the weekend second among Big Ten passers in yards per game (315.3) and first in total offense (334.3 yards per game). Receivers Domonique Young (77.3 yards per game) and DeAngelo Yancey (75.3) can stretch opposing defenses vertically while tailback Markell Jones (105.2 rushing yards per game) does the dirty work on the ground.
The problem? The Boilers tend to shoot themselves. A lot. Purdue heads into Big Ten play last in the league in turnover margin (minus-2 per game) and tied for the bottom in total giveaways (10, with seven coming on Blough’s interceptions). The Boilermakers turned the rock over five times at home in a Sept. 10 home loss to Cincinnati, and Big Ten brethren figure to take full advantage — painful advantage — of any charity offered.
KEY GAME: at Illinois, Oct. 8.
Coach Darrell Hazell’s reclamation project (Year 4) should be further along than Lovie Smith’s (Year 1). Or, at least, it better be, and this is the chance to prove it. A victory here could give the Boilers a little shot of confidence heading into an unkind stretch of tests that includes visits from Iowa (Oct. 15) and Penn State (Oct. 29) and a trip to Nebraska (Oct. 22). And the Big Red haven’t forgotten the 55-45 stunner the Old Gold and Black dropped on Mike Riley last fall.
KEY PLAYER: David Blough, QB
In the four Purdue wins since September 2015, the sophomore from Texas has completed 74 of 117 passes (63.2 percent) for 819 yards, 7 touchdowns with just 2 picks and a passer rating of 138.4. In the 11 losses, Blough’s numbers dip to 173-for-306 (56.5), 8 scores, 13 interceptions and a passer rating of 103.4.
FIRST MATCHUP: at Maryland (3-0), 3:30 EST, Saturday, Maryland Stadium, BTN
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Blough and Jones hang on to the ball, the defense is able to get off the field when it counts, and a surprising four league victories — including a shocker at rival Indiana on Nov. 26 — set the table for the program’s first bowl bid since 2012.
WORST-CASE SCENARIO: More of the same. A tough setback in College Park, Md., raises old questions, and a loss at struggling Illinois only underscores them. Two Big Ten defeats become four. Then six. Then eight. And, suddenly, the showdown for the Old Oaken Bucket is the only thing between the Boilers and a winless league slate.
REALISTIC SCENARIO: Thanks to a more explosive passing game, Purdue finds a way to make most weeks interesting, even if they aren’t all winners. And the Boilers find, as they did with Nebraska a year ago, a way to take out an “old-money” program at Ross-Ade (Iowa? Penn State? Wisconsin?) that shocks the world. A postseason bid might end up out of reach (again), but a win at Indiana could bring back some much-needed pride — and bragging rights — to a beaten-down fan base.