As we close the door on 2015, Saturday Tradition takes a look at each B1G team and how it projects in 2016. Yes, we realize that projecting 2016 records in January is silly. Take them for what you wish.
Coach: Darrell Hazell (three years, 6-30 overall)
2015 record: 2-10 (1-7 in B1G)
Biggest losses: Frankie Williams, CB; Danny Anthrop, WR; Robert Kugler C
Key returners: Markell Jones, RB; David Blough QB; Ja’Whaun Bentley LB
2016 recruiting class ranking (247sports): 69th (13th in B1G)
Top committed recruit: Austin Larkin, three-star DE (JUCO)
2016 strength: Running game
One of the silver linings of another frustrating season in West Lafayette was the emergence of young tailbacks Markell Jones and D.J. Knox, both of whom saw feature back work. Jones was the one who appeared to have the star power. As a true freshman, he rushed for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns behind a veteran offensive line. Unfortunately for the Boilers, they’ll lose their most experienced offensive lineman Robert Kugler, who along with Jones, earned All-B1G honorable mention honors. Purdue will also have to replace David Hedelin, which could be up to junior college transfer Jalen Neal. The unit that had plenty of success in 2015 will still have three starters back. If the Boilers could get off to some better starts, they’d be able to take better advantage of their improving ground attack.
2016 weakness: Front seven
Purdue finished last in the B1G against the run. As a result, it finished in the B1G basement. It certainly didn’t help when tackles leader Ja’Whaun Bentley went down with a torn ACL. Bentley, a guy who has torn his ACL twice, will be relied on heavily to be Purdue’s defensive playmaker. He and Jake Replogle have to stay healthy for this unit to make strides in 2016. Part of the reason this unit struggled against the run so much was because it only racked up 21 sacks. The addition of JUCO transfer Austin Larkin should help the Boilers get more pressure on the quarterback. They need to put themselves in more manageable third-down situations before they can really see improvement. This group had a lot of underclassmen playing big minutes last year, and until they show they can string together stops, the front seven will be Purdue’s Achilles heel.
Way too early 2016 projection: 3-9 (2-7 in B1G)
There is good news for Purdue. The Boilers don’t have a non-conference road game, and they miss the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. The bad news? Purdue still has non-conference showdowns against bowl qualifiers Cincinnati and Nevada, and it gets Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern and Wisconsin at home. Those B1G teams finished a combined 39-14 last year. Just winning one of those games could be a challenge for a group with one B1G home win in three years of the Darrell Hazell era. The Purdue coach will undoubtably be on the hot seat next year. Three wins wouldn’t be enough to stick around in West Lafayette.