Since quarterback Drew Brees led Purdue to a share of the Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl appearance four years ago, the Boilermakers have won with defense.
All eyes will be on that defense again in 2004. Not because it will be the team's strength, but because the ‘D' will be the Old Gold and Black's Achilles' heel and holds the key to whether Purdue makes its eighth consecutive bowl appearance.
The Boilermakers must replace eight defensive starters from last year's team that finished 9-4 overall, 6-2 in the Big Ten (tied for second) and played in their third New Year's Day bowl in the last five years.
"We're going to have to score more points [than last year]," said Joe Tiller, the second-winningest head coach in Purdue history (55-32 in seven seasons). "But don't misunderstand me, we're not going to have to average 50 points to win."
OffenseWith eight starters returning, Purdue's offense may be as good as it ever has been under Tiller.
Kyle Orton is arguably the Big Ten's best signal-caller, and one NFL assistant coach said Orton will be a mid-first round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. During his career, Orton has thrown for 6,247 yards and 32 touchdowns, completing 58.1 percent of his passes.
There is a bevy of experienced players at running back. Last year, Jerod Void clearly established himself as Purdue's top back, rushing for 13 touchdowns.
Wide receiver Taylor Stubblefield could eclipse several school and Big Ten records. He has caught 236 passes for 2,534 yards. Orton also will look to 6'9" receiver Kyle Ingraham. Tight end Garret Bushong could have a breakout year.
Robbie Powell and David Owen look to fill voids at center and right tackle, respectively. Tyler Moore and Matt Turner started every game last season at the guard positions, while left tackle Mike Otto started all 13 games in 2003.
DefenseThe Boilermakers lost a host of defensive stalwarts from the past four years, including defensive end Shaun Phillips, linebacker Niko Koutouvides and safety Stuart Schwiegert.
Ray Edwards has all the skills to be a great defensive end. Anthony Spencer could start at the other end position but will have to hold off junior college stud Jeremy Coley, who has 4.5 speed. Purdue is perilously thin at tackle, where Brandon Villarreal and Brent Grover will start.
The linebacking corps will be completely revamped as all three 2003 starters have moved on to the professional ranks. Stanford Keglar and Bobby Iwuchukwu will start on the outside and George Hall will get the nod in the middle. Iwuchukwu has the most experience, while Hall is the most vicious hitter.
Cornerback Antwaun Rogers, the only senior starter on defense, and strong safety Bernard Pollard return. New defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo will need Rogers and Pollard to emerge as the leaders of the secondary. Redshirt freshman Paul Long, who has 4.5 speed, was moved from cornerback to free safety in the spring and will start because of his size (6'2") and speed. The other starting corner will likely be Brian Hickman, who performed admirably in the Capital One Bowl.
SpecialistsPlacekicker Ben Jones was nothing short of sensational. He hit 25-of-30 field goals (83.3 percent), including all nine of his attempts from 40-to-49 yards.
Purdue will turn to true freshman Dave Brytus to handle the punting duties. Stubblefield is a reliable punt returner, while Jerome Brooks proved to be a very effective kick returner.
Final AnalysisPurdue has plenty of holes to fill on a defense that ranked third in the Big Ten in yards allowed. But as long as some rising stars can play up to their abilities and Purdue proves it can stop opponents consistently, Boilermaker fans will have plenty to smile about this fall. Purdue's offense should move the ball with regularity and score plenty of points, making an eighth straight bowl appearance likely. Plus, a favorable schedule awaits as only five of the 11 opponents played in the postseason last fall, not to mention the fact that Purdue gets Michigan and Ohio State in Ross-Ade Stadium.