We're counting down the weeks until kickoff by profiling a different Big Ten team each week. Today, Tiller's Last Stand is up.
Joe Tiller is entering his final season as the head coach of Purdue's Basketball on Grass and one of the Big Ten pioneers of the spread offense may end up relying on his running game to ensure a winning record.
COACHING: Joe is lucky this is his last year, as the recent trend of mediocrity would have him squarely on the hot seat to start the season. His replacement, Danny Hope has been named and is returning to Tiller's staff after a head coaching stint at Eastern Kentucky. I know announcing the replacement early will help the transition, but I have a hard time believing there are not some philosophical differences that may come into play.
OFFENSE: Purdue returns 6 starters, including Curtis Painter, who needs just 3,030 passing yards to become the all-time leader in Big Ten history. Painter lost 4 of his 5 top receivers from a year ago, but the Boilermakers return their top 3 running backs, Kory Sheets (168/895 yards, 11 TD's), Jaycen Taylor (107/576 yards, 4 TD's) and Dan Dierking (42/193 yards, 2 TD's). Each back averaged better than 4.3 yards a carry, with Sheets and Taylor topping the 5+ mark.
Painter will get his attempts and most of them should go in the direction of Greg Orton, who caught 67 passes for 752 yards and 3 touchdowns last year. As mentioned, Tiller might be better served utilizing his running backs a bit more this season. I know he loves to sling it, but controlling the clock when October and November hit is key to winning games within the conference. This could be one of the coaching differences I mentioned.
DEFENSE: Purdue returns 6 starters on the defensive side of the ball, lead by Anthony Heygood, a popular pre-season pick for all-conference honors. They lose 5 of their top 6 tacklers from last year, but luckily return most of their defensive line. Their line has to create early havoc and control the line of scrimmage, while the Boilers break in two starters at both linebacker and defensive back.
KEY GAME: It is not as much a key game, as it is a key stretch for Purdue. After a home game against Oregon on Sept. 13th, the Boilermakers will face off at Notre Dame on Sept. 27th, then battle Penn St. (at home) and Ohio State on the road the following two weeks to open up conference play.
BEST-CASE: If everything goes right for Purdue and I mean everything, they could end up 7-5. I continue to hope the Big Ten teams take care of business OOC, but I don't see Purdue going better than 4-4 within conference play. Playing for a coach in his last season could carry some weight this year as wll.
WORST-CASE: It may take a while for Purude's new starters to get going, so I don't expect an undefeated OOC schedule, as a matter of fact I would not be surprised to see them lose to both Oregon and ND. Follow that up with losses to Penn State, OSU, Michigan, at MSU, at Iowa and it is looking like a sub .500 season for Purdue.
Purdue is going to be one of the wild cards this year, their offense always has the ability to score a ton of points, but their defense likes to give up just as many. Tiller's philosophy has not worked in recent years, as Purdue has been ranked once in the last 32 polls. It is going to be interesting to see what direction this program goes in and it could start with a tough season in 2008.