We conclude our preview of the Big Ten with Managing Editor P. Carl Giordano's look at the West half of the loop.  Teams are presented in order of predicted finish, with last year's staright up, spread, and over/under records listed...Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor 

by P. Carl Giordano, Managing Editor

WISCONSIN (SUR: 11-3; PSR: 7-7; O-U: 8-6)...Paul Chryst is the new/old face in Madison. Chryst takes over as HC for Gary Andersen, who bolted for Oregon State last December after going 19-7 in two seasons at Wisconsin. Chryst is a native of Madison and played QB for the Badgers from 1986-88. He served as co-offensive coordinator in Barry Alvarez’ last season as head coach in Madison and then was Brett Bielema’s o.c. from 2006-11 before spending the last 3 seasons as head coach at Pitt. Have to expect the “new” Badgers to look a lot like the old Badgers. That means running the ball brutally, effectively, and relentlessly and playing rock ‘em, sock ‘em defense.

Wisconsin has sent a parade of running backs and offensive linemen to the NFL, and it appears as if that talent train is still rolling. Although Melvin Gordon is now a Charger, jr. Corey Clement is poised to be the latest in a long line of prolific Badger running backs. As Gordon’s stand-in last season, Clement gained 949 yds. (6.5 ypc) and scored 9 TDs, and if he gets the lion’s share of the carries in 2015, it’s very likely he’ll become the sixth Badger to gain at least 1500 yards in the last 7 seasons. How Clement performs will be a direct result of how the OL comes together. Only LT Tyler Marz and C Dan Voltz return from that unit, and Voltz and projected sr. starting G Ray Ball both missed spring action due to injuries. The uncertainty contributed to 10 sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss being recorded in the spring game. Not to worry. There are plenty of beefy uglies just waiting for their chance to block their way into Badger history. Ball played in all 14 games last season, and RS frosh C Michael Deiter was listed second on the depth chart at his position all season, but was never needed, retaining a year of eligibility. Deiter was impressive working with the “2s” and will likely force his way into a starter’s role up front in the fall.

The QB situation is settled at the top, with fifth-year sr. Joel Stave, who isn’t flashy and has mediocre passing numbers. Stave is, however, 21-7 as a starter and has loads of experience. He briefly lost his starting gig to fellow RS sr. Tanner McAvoy last year, but when McAvoy faltered, Stave took over and led the Badgers to 7 straight wins. The versatile 6-6 McAvoy has moved back to safety, a position he played in 2013, so the question of Stave’s backup was on the front burner in spring. With a void waiting to be filled after Stave runs out of eligibility, there’s a fight brewing between jr. Bart Houston (a drop-back passer) and RS frosh D.J. Gillins (athletic runner, with a strong arm as well) for the right to be No. 2 and gain the inside track on the starter’s position for 2016. Both looked very capable in the spring. The receiving unit should be strong, with 2014 reception-leader WR Alex Erickson (55 catches, 772 yds.) back and the spring emergence of jr. Robert Wheelwright. Wheelwright, who looks bigger than his listed height of 6-2, had a pair of TD catches and was the talk of the spring game. Sr. TE Austin Traylor was the primary blocker at the position in 2014, which bodes well for the ground game.

Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda could have a one of the best defenses in the conference. Although the Badgers lost a pair of solid inside LBs from a team that ranked 4th in total defense, it was fifth-year sr. S Michael Caputo who led the team with 106 tackles, and Caputo, sr. CB Darius Hillary, and OLB Vince Biegel all made the Big Ten’s second-team all-conference list. With holdover starting CB Sojourn Shelton returning at the other corner and the switch of McAvoy back to safety, the secondary (allowed the 5th-fewest passing yards LY) should be primed to stifle opposing QBs again. The real secret to this defense will be a couple of youngsters who could be future NFL draftees. RS soph DE Chikwe Obasih is the leader on the defensive line and should provide plenty of pressure from the edge, and RS frosh T.J. Edwards could be scary good real fast. Oh yes, and Wisconsin might have the best kicking game in the Big Ten.

Summary...Paul Chryst and the Badgers have to be considered the favorites to win the Big Ten West again in 2015.

NEBRASKA (SUR: 9-4; PSR 8-5; O/U: 8-5)...Major changes are underway in Lincoln, where Mike Riley takes over after the tempestuous reign of Bo Pelini imploded. Under Pelini, the Cornhuskers never won fewer than 9 games, so it’s clear whether the athletic department and alumni have issued a mandate for a return to the elite echelon of college football. Pelini achieved what would be considered resounding success at all but a handful of programs, but he ran afoul of the press and administration. His terse, sometimes caustic interviews didn’t help his cause, and Pelini didn’t make enough friends in the administration to warrant keeping him on. However, it’s unclear if Riley will be able to improve on a nine-win season.

Riley’s 93-80 record at Oregon State wasn’t nearly as good as Pelini’s 67-27 mark with Nebraska. The always smiling Riley did a pretty good job of picking up the recruiting pieces after taking the UN job, convincing most of the Pelini commits to follow through and land in Lincoln. Riley and the whole defensive staff showed up on the doorstep of the Davis twins, Khalil and Carlos, after they decommitted when Pelini was fired. With the possible future of the Husker defensive line in the balance, Riley talked the family into sending their boys to Lincoln. Still, Riley will be relying on too many frosh “ifs” in filling out his two-deep this season, and the schedule is tougher than a year ago.

On the surface, Riley should have plenty to work with. Nebraska has 15 returning starters plus both kickers ready to go. However, super RB Ameer Abdullah, key WR Kenny Bell, and the Huskers’ outstanding defensive player, DE Randy Gregory, are now in the NFL. Offensively, new coordinator Danny Langsdorf has jr. QB Tommy Armstrong back as a key building block. In the transition from the read option to the pro style favored by Riley and Langsdorf, it will help immensely if Armstrong can improve his accuracy. Armstrong’s 2695 YP and 705 YR represents solid production, but he must do better than last year’s 53% completions and needs to cut down on his interceptions.

Abdullah’s replacement will be a tandem of sr. 240-lb. bull rusher Imani Cross and jr. Terrell Newby who combined for 681 YR (4.8 ypc) and 10 TDs last season. However, the Nebraska offensive line is in a state of flux, as that unit lost three starters, and its development was hampered in the spring due to injuries to T Zach Sterup, T David Knevel and C Ryne Reeves. Depth and quality is a worry up front despite the rapid development of soph C Paul Thurston. Although the receiving corp will obviously miss Bell, returning jr. WR Jordan Westerkamp (he of the behind-the-back, acrobatic catches) pulled in 44 passes, and Westerkamp and De’Mornay Pierson-El combined for 1068 yds. and 9 TD grabs. RS frosh Jariah Tolbert opened some eyes with a huge spring game, and sr. Jamal Turner has always been a threat when healthy (unfortunately, staying healthy has been an issue for him). TE Cethan Carter, expected to be a pivotal player in the new offense, was injured this spring, but should be ready for August workouts.

The defense returns 8 starters, but 4 of the top 5 tacklers are gone, including LB Zaire Anderson who had 103 stops. The LB corp is the biggest issue for the defense, as this is not a deep crew and returns a pair (Josh Banderas and David Santos) who were just part-time starters. Although the Cornhuskers likely won’t get the same push from the end position they enjoyed last season, they have one of the better DT combos in the conference with Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins. All-Big Ten S Nate Gerry is the top returning tackler with 88, and had 5 interceptions a year ago, and he leads a deep, talented 2ndary that should be the strength of the defense. Soph S LeRoy Alexander, a projected starter before being suspended for the year last August, is back and looked good in spring.

Summary...At the end of the day, considering all the changes coming with the Mike Riley regime, Nebraska is more likely to regress than to progress in the short term. The schedule is tougher, there’s a core of players that were very loyal to Pelini who might not buy in, and with new schemes comes an inevitable question: “How do I fit these round pegs into the square holes?”

IOWA (SUR: 7-6; PSR: 6-7; O/U: 7-6)...HC Kirk Ferentz has had his ups and downs at Iowa, the main downers being not making the Big Ten Championship game and leading the league in arrests the last four years.

Offensive coordinator Greg Davis was hired in 2012 after having served in the same capacity at Texas, but it’s difficult to see a huge difference in production. In the last three seasons under Davis, Iowa has scored 24.6 ppg and gained 362 ypg. In the four seasons preceding his arrival, the Hawkeyes scored 27 ppg and gained 365 ypg. Now Davis must replace an AA tackle (Brandon Scherff; first-round pick of the NFL’s Redskins), the starting QB (Jake Rudock transferred), the top RB (Mark Weisman), and five of the top six pass receivers. A daunting task, to say the least.

On the plus side, Rudock’s transfer might have been precipitated by the proverbial handwriting on the wall when he was yanked after a terrible start in the bowl game loss against Tennessee. But the fact is Rudock was starting for a reason, completing 62% LY with a 16-5 TD-int. ratio. Regardless of the why, the job falls to jr. C.J. Beathard, who completed 56.5% of his attempts for 645 yards with 5 TDs and 2 interceptions. Beathard had more success with his legs than Rudock last season, rushing for a 5.6 ypc mark in 28 attempts. The backup, 6-4, 222-lb. RS frosh Tyler Wiegers, who is a very bright kid with solid leadership, looked very nearly as good as Beathard at times in spring workouts.

The RB situation is a bit iffy. If speedy sr. Jordan Canzeri (975 YR, 5.5 ypc L2Ys) can stay healthy, the offense has a “Mr. Outside,” and 225-lb. jr. LeShun Daniels qualifies as “Mr. Inside,” even if his numbers are less than dazzing (191 YR, 3.7 ypc L2Ys). Canzeri is athletic and can catch the ball well, but has been injury-prone. The ultimate answer might be soph Akrum Wadley, who carried 33 times for 186 yds. in 2014 (5.6 ypc). The coaches are aware they don’t have the ideal situation and shuffled a few players around to give them a shot.

The offensive line can’t help but miss Scherff, and things didn’t go that well in spring tryouts. The lead replacement candidate is soph Boone Myers, who couldn’t block the Hawkeye DEs in the spring game. The leader of the OL group now is C Austin Blythe, who’s on the Rimington watch list, and both starting guards are back as well.

The receiver corps has one shining light and a bunch of holes to fill. Tevaun Smith is back after finishing 2nd on the team with 43 receptions last season. However, he dropped a few in the spring game and will receive a lot of double coverage this fall. Jr. Matt VandeBerg looks like a bigger target than one expects from a guy 6-1 and 185, and he could develop as a starter, as he’s a good route runner and averaged a team-high 18.3 ypc a season ago (albeit on just 14 receptions). RS frosh Jay Scheel has top-end speed. The real bummer for the receiving corps came when sr. starting TE Jake Duzey tore his patellar tendon in spring. After catching 36 passes (3 for scores) last season, he’ll be missed.

Iowa has seven defensive starters returning, but gone are three of the top four tacklers, including one of the best pass-rushers from last season. The DL should still be able to apply pressure, as DE Drew Ott had 8 tackles and 7 QB hurries along with 57 tackles and was named 2nd-team all-Big Ten LY. The other end is sr. Nate Meier, who can also rush the passer and had 57 stops. The DTs are new, but the coaches are extremely high on soph Nathan Bazata, who showed well in spring, and 310-lb. jr. Jaleel Johnson will be hard to move and should keep the offensive linemen off a solid LB corps.

MLB Josey Jewell and OLB Bo Bower earned starting jobs as frosh last season, and they combined for 89 tackles. Both made plenty of progress in the spring. Sr. Jordan Lomax is the top returning tackler with 92, and the Hawkeyes should get excellent coverage from holdover jr. starting CBs Desmond King and Greg Mabin.

Summary...Iowa HC Kirk Ferentz has posted just one losing record in the last 15 years at Iowa, but the results the last four seasons have been a bit disappointing. The Hawkeyes are 26-25 SU and just 23-28 vs. the number since 2011, including an 0-3 mark in their bowl games. This season might be another mediocre season in Iowa City.

MINNESOTA (SUR: 8-5; PSR: 8-5; O/U: 6-7)...Minnesota HC Jerry Kill’s Minnesota teams have made progress in each of his four seasons in charge. The stability and quality of the coaching staff have been major pluses, and the school’s investment in state-of-the-art athletic facilities has bumped up the recruiting level a notch.

However, there are holes to fill and work to do if the feel-good mood in Minneapolis is to continue. Offensively, the Gophers were 103rd in total yards and 119th in passing. Thanks to a +10 turnover count, that translated into a much more respectable 28 ppg. Jr. QB Mitch Leidner is the unequivocal leader of the team, but he needs to improve his passing in order to keep opposing defenses honest. Leidner is a powerful and shifty runner (10 rush TDs, 452 YR LY), but he completed just 51.5% of his passes and has lost four of his top five receivers. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover installed the no-huddle wrinkle in the spring, hoping to give the Gophers something to keep foes off-balance. Minny will still be a huddle team, but will have the ability to change things up.

The attack will have to replace David Cobb, who set the school record with 1626 rushing yards last season. The Gophers will use a committee system at RB this season, leading with sr. Rodrick Williams (5.0 ypc), who lost 20 lbs. (down to a svelte 229) and looked much quicker in spring work. Soph Berkley Edwards (4.7 ypc) will get a run as well, but the coaches really like RS frosh Rodney Smith, a bit of a recruiting coup for Kill, as Smith was first-team all-State after rushing for 2201 yds. and 26 TDs last season for a 5-A program in Georgia.

The receiving corps will miss TE Maxx Williams, who caught more than twice as many passes as any other receiver LY and then went to the Baltimore Ravens on the second round of the NFL draft. The wideouts will be led by sr. WR K.J. Maye (16 recs.; led team with 18.6 ypc), and a trio of players will try to fill in around him. RS frosh Jeff Jones was ineligible LY and shifted from RB to wideout and now figures to play a major role. 6-3 jr. Drew Wolitarsky (10 catches LY) and 6-4 RS frosh Isaiah Gentry are big targets, but Leidner must improve his accuracy.

The OL returns four starters (if you count sr. Jon Christenson, who started nine games in 2013 before suffering a gruesome broken leg). He made it back to the field in 2014 (12 appearances, 1 start). Jr. left tackle Ben Lauer was a frosh AA two years ago, and he, jr. RT Jonah Pirsig, and sr. G Josh Campion were keys to Cobb’s big season.

The defense got the best of the offense in spring thanks to what is the best 2ndary in the Big Ten. Both sr. CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun and sr. CB Eric Murray were named to all-Big Ten teams. Boddy-Calhoun had five interceptions last season, in part because Murray is an “island” cover guy who discourages opposing QBs from looking his way.

Foes had trouble moving in the air, so they concentrated on running against the front seven and had some success (4.7 ypc). The Gophers need to get tougher up the middle, and they should be able to do that. The addition of juco MLB Cody Poock is a plus, as is the return of jr. DT Scott Ekpe, who started the opener in 2014 but was injured and didn’t play again. Minnesota has had success identifying jucos who can contribute, filling an OLB slot last season with then-transfer De’Vondre Campbell, who’s the top returning tackler after making 75 stops LY.

Sr. DE Theiren Cockran was 2nd-team all-conference in 2013, but his production fell off to 23 tackles and 4 sacks last season. If Cockran regains form, the Ekpe brothers (Hendrick Ekpe will start at DE) perform as expected, and soph NT Steven Richardson (12 starts for S. Ekpe) continues to develop, the Gopher “D” will improve.

Summary...Kill and the Gophers will never compete with Alabama, Florida State or Ohio State for the elite four-star prospects, but Minny is taking baby steps in recruiting. Still, there is a ceiling for the program, and it might’ve been reached with last season’s New Year’s Day appearance in the Capital One Bowl. The schedule is tougher this season, and it’s unclear if the Gopher offense will be able to achieve at last year’s levels.

ILLINOIS (SUR: 6-7; PSR: 5-8; O-U: 6-7)...There is far too much wrong with Illinois to think Tim Beckman can fix it and save his job. Beckman is 12-25 SU in his first three years in Urbana-Champaign, although an argument might be made that last season’s bowl appearance is a sign of a nascent turnaround. Don’t be fooled! There is bowl eligible, and there is bowl eligible. Illinois beat Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State in a 3-1 start, and needed to upset Penn State (on a FG with 8 seconds remaining) and Northwestern in its final two regular-season games in order to qualify for the Heart of Dallas Bowl, a 35-18 loss to Louisiana Tech. The Illini are wafer-thin on both sides of the line, and the distractions and negative publicity generated by ex-starting LT Simon Cvijanovic’s tweets critical of Beckman have taken a toll.

The offense hasn’t been able to run the ball effectively, allowing defenses to tee off on QB Wes Lunt. The return of sr. RB Josh Ferguson (735 YR, 5.0 ypc, 8 TDs LY) gives the Illini a weapon, and he’s coming off the best spring of his career. They’ll need Ferguson to stay healthy, as high school star Dre Brown, who was in for spring and was expected to make a contribution right out of the gate, tore his ACL. On the plus side, the offensive line should be improved, with three starters returning. The coaches feel good about soph tackles Christian DiLauro (7 starts LY) and Austin Schmidt (started L4Gs LY), and C Joe Spencer was steady in his 12 starts LY, but sr. G Ted Karras has a history of injuries and was hurt again in the spring. The coaching staff turnover in recent seasons has slowed the development of the OL, and that in turn has hurt both the passing and run games.

Lunt was very effective last season, as the ex-Oklahoma State Cowboy completed 63.5% and threw for 1763 yds. with 14 TDs and just 3 interceptions in 8 games. He enters August workouts as a clear No. 1, with talented RS frosh Chayce Crouch his backup. However, the team’s best offensive weapon from last season, WR Mike Dudek (76 catches, 1038 yds., 6 TDs as a true frosh) will be lost for most, if not all, of the season after he also tore his ACL in spring. Sr. Justin Hardee stepped up with 6 catches for 124 yds. in the spring game, and 6-4 sr. Geronimo Allison and 6-3 soph Malik Turner are big targets who combined for 66 catches 854 yds. and 6 scores LY. Soph wideout Marchie Murdock also made a big play in the spring game (71-yard TD catch), but Dudek’s Wes Welker-like reliability will definitely be missed.

The defense is again likely to be a problem. The Illini were 115th vs. the run LY (239 ypg, 5.0 ypc) and have given up 34 ppg in Beckman’s three seasons in charge. The unit returns 7 starters, but Beckman knew the DL needed help and hired in Mike Phair to coach that platoon and act as co-defensive coordinator. The front returns a sr. leader in athletic DE Jihad Ward, who’s one of the best physical specimens Illinois has recruited up front in the last few years at 6-6, 295. However, the remaining quality support is in the back seven.

OLB Mason Monheim (111 tackles) and MLB T.J. Neal (98) were the No. 1 and 4 tacklers last season, and S Taylor Barton (109) made a lot of plays, but the Illini gave up a lot of points and a lot of yards (456 per game), so there were plenty of tackles to be made. Hopefully, from Beckman’s standpoint, the secondary will improve quickly. Sr. Starting CBs V’Angelo Bentley (46 stops LY) and Eaton Spence (55) are both at least decent, but the reason Illinois had a reasonable pass defense (47th in yardage) is because it was so easy to run on the Illini.

Summary...Let’s face it, if David Reisner didn’t make the late kick against Penn State back on Nov. 22, Tim Beckman would’ve been fired. He’s metaphorically “just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” to try to rally his men. However, the hornets’ nest caused by criticism from ex-players concerning their treatment under his watch has him hanging on by his fingernails. Unless QB Lunt gets a really hot hand this fall, Beckman will be gone by 2016.

NORTHWESTERN (SUR: 5-7; PSR: 5-7; O/U: 5-7)...At one time, Northwestern scaled the heights of the Big Ten, winning three conference championships in six seasons. Those days are long gone for the Wildcats. The reality is that in the last nine seasons, Pat Fitzgerald’s team is just 60-53, and only 10-14 in the last two years. Northwestern is an attractive landing place for many recruits, but the demanding academic schedule eliminates a large segment of those candidates. The Wildcats consistently get some players who can compete, but just don’t have the depth to overcome injuries or suspensions. Such was the case last season, when the Wildcats lost their most dynamic offensive player (RB/WR/KR Venric Mark; suspended, then transferred) and best WR (Christian Jones; torn ACL) before the first game and finished 104th in total offense. Availability is a very underrated quality.

This season there are dozens of questions and very few sure things when analyzing the Wildcats. The QB situation is a three-way crapshoot that will likely be won by RS frosh Clayton Thorson. The most experienced candidate is sr. Zack Oliver, who has the strongest arm but isn’t mobile enough (unless he sheds a few inches off what appeared to be a thick midsection during spring drills). Soph Matt Alviti is quick, but has no experience. Thorson has the best combination of arm strength and escapability, and escapability is a key attribute considering that Wildcat QBs have been sacked 70 times in the last two seasons.

The running game last year was the worst for NU since 2009, gaining just 137 ypg and 3.4 ypc in 2014 due to an inconsistent offensive line. Although three starters return, the OL is in a state of flux, as players were shifted around during spring. Offensive line coach Adam Cushing needs to find an answer at the important center position, and right tackle is up for grabs despite the return of jr. Eric Olson, who had nine starts LY.

Soph RB Justin Jackson was a bright shining light for the offense last season, gaining 1187 YR and scoring 10 TDs as a true freshman. Jackson had what appeared to be a minor knee injury during spring and missed the majority of workouts. Jackson is the type of special player Northwestern occasionally corrals and could be another Tyrell Sutton if he stays healthy. If he isn’t 100%, NU will test its shaky depth. Soph Solomon Vault (might move to receiver), or RS frosh Austin Anderson (a highly-recruited Texas prep who was injured in high school and fell into Fitzgerald’s lap).

The receiving corps could be fine if 6-3 Christian Jones returns from his knee injuries. Yes, injuries (plural), as he had another knee operation that kept him out of spring work. Sr. SB (“Super Back,” which is equivalent to an H-Back or slot in most offenses) Dan Vitale is the top returning pass catcher with 40, but he’s far from explosive (just 10 ypc). Sr. WRs Cameron Dickerson and Miles Shuler combined for 47 catches, but had just 1 TD between them.

The defense has eight starters returning, but the biggest playmaker graduated (LB Chi Chi Ariguzo; 104 tackles). The defensive line has a chance to be good, with all four starters returning, three of them seniors. DE Dean Lowry had a great spring and is the best pass rusher, and a few younger players also showed spark in the spring, but the team must be tougher up front after ranking just 70th against the run and getting only 17 sacks.

The LB corp will rely on soph MLB Anthony Walker, who was solid in his seven starts, making 51 tackles, but the outside starters will likely be vulnerable again. The secondary is experienced and of high-quality. Sr. CB Nick VanHoose was named 2nd-team all-Big Ten LY. Sr. FS Traveon Henry is the top returning tackler with 73. Jr. CB Matthew Harris had 70 stops and broke up seven passes. This is a solid crew that ranked 29th in pass efficiency defense.

Summary...Having an iffy QB situation is a problem. It’s very unlikely Thorson or Oliver will match the production of Trevor Siemian or Kain Colter, much less Dan Persa. Those are the NU QBs over the last four seasons who pushed the Wildcats to a 26-24 mark. The good news is that Ohio State and Michigan State are off the schedule again this season, so six wins and a bowl bid aren’t out of the question.

PURDUE (SUR: 3-9; PSR: 6-6; O-U: 6-6)...Just a few years ago HC Darrell Hazell was the bell of the coaching ball, having led Kent State to an 11-3 record. Now he enters his third season at Purdue with a 4-20 SU mark with the Boilermakers, and the team has to show signs of turning the corner or he might be looking for a new gig.

Purdue’s offense was 108th last season (121st in passing efficiency), so the changes will start at QB. RS frosh David Blough and for Austin Appleby came out of spring in hot contention, prompting former part-time starter Danny Etling to transfer. Blough is mobile, and the bar was so low in the Boiler passing game last year his arm and accuracy should be an improvement. Appleby threw more interceptions than TD passes and completed just 53%. The ultimate answer at QB might eventually be true frosh Elijah Sindelar (6-4, 200; Mr. Football in Kentucky LY), who was in for spring but couldn’t do much beyond go to class and attend meetings, as he was recovering from an ACL injury suffered in his sr. season.

The OL should be much-improved, with all six players who started returning and an infusion of several quality RS frosh (Martesse Patterson in particular), plus a few more true frosh who can potentially contribute immediately. Sr. C Robert Kugler made some all-conference teams LY, and hopefully this OL will be a team strength.

The offense improved from a woeful 15 ppg in Hazell’s first season in West Lafayette to 24 ppg LY, but if the improvement is to continue, he has to find some playmakers at the skill positions. Purdue loses RBs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, who gained 1478 yds. and scored 9 TDs last season, and is hoping soph D.J. Knox, Keyante Green (199 YR, 7.4 ypc LY), and true frosh Markell Jones can approach those numbers as a group.

The receivers lacked a true deep threat, as Hunt led the team with 48 catches, and 3 of the top 4 receivers averaged single-digit yardage on their receptions. Jr. WR DeAngelo Yancey is a candidate to step up and give the passing game a target that can stretch defenses. Yancey averaged 17.1 ypc as a freshman before suffering through a sophomore slump and catching just 12 balls for 147 yds. in 2014. Sr. Danny Anthrop is the top receiver, with 38 recs. for 616 yds. LY, but he tore his ACL last November, missed spring, and will have to prove he’s ready to go in August.

The defense is in much the same situation as the offense. Eight starters return to the stop unit, including four of the top five tacklers. The bad news is that the defense was 97th in points allowed (32 ppg) and ranked 91st against the run. Sr. NT Ryan Watson was named the most improved defensive player in spring, and perhaps he can help the front seven improve on their 4.9 ypc allowance in the last two seasons under Hazell. MLB Ja’Whaun Bentley was impressive last year as a true frosh, making 76 tackles after winning the starting job in preseason. Fellow soph Danny Ezechukwu was handed a starting spot last year, as ACL injuries took two starters out around midseason. Must note that the front seven could be short a player, as projected starting soph DE Gelen Robinson was arrested for OWI in June. That’s his second alcohol-related legal issue since arriving at Purdue, putting his availability in doubt.

The 2ndary is led by a pair of solid corners in seniors Anthony Brown and Frankie Williams. Williams had bone spur surgery in the spring, but is expected back at full speed in August. The safeties will be new, but should be solid, as jr. Robert Gregory has been voted the team’s hardest hitter in each of his first two springs in West Lafayette and fellow jr Leroy Clark made four starts and 42 tackles the last two seasons.

Summary...In 2013, Purdue had its worst winning percentage since going 0-5 in both 1906 and 1907. That lowered expectations to the point that last year’s 3-9 mark looked like a solid improvement. However, sure wins on the Boiler schedule are hard to find. Indiana St. was an FCS playoff team last season, and this year’s homecoming game vs. Illinois is no cupcake...Wes Lunt burned the Boiler 2ndary for 322 YP before being injured in the 2014 meeting. Hazell needs Blough, Appleby or Sindelar to cure the QB problems, and he needs some youngsters to make big plays if he is going to hang onto his job.

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