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PURDUE'S DANNY HOPE SOUNDS LIKE A CONSTRUCTION FOREMAN who sees his job running ahead of schedule. After the Boilermakers, who lost 11 starters, spent the off-season remodeling their offensive line and defensive secondary, the second-year coach says his team is poised to improve on a 5-7 campaign that was highlighted by an upset victory over the eventual Rose Bowl champion Ohio State Buckeyes. But there's still plenty of work to be done. One thing the blueprint calls for immediately is eliminating the mistakes that last season produced 29 turnovers, tying Minnesota for most in the conference.
"If you take the turnover margin last year and just cut it in half, we might have been one of the greatest success stories in all of college football," Hope says. "Even with all the turnovers, we were just a few plays away from winning seven to nine ball games."
Nevertheless the Boilermakers made a decent showing in their first season under Hope, who had previously been Purdue's associate head coach and offensive line coach. This season they have a deeper roster, talent at the skill positions and a sturdy front seven.
Replacing Joey Elliot at quarterback is Miami transfer Robert Marve, a player with what Hope calls "unbelievable talent," who made 11 starts for the Hurricanes in 2008 and completed 54.5% of his passes for 1,293 yards and nine touchdowns. While running back Ralph Bolden is a question mark after suffering a torn right ACL in the spring, the team's other playmakers—notably, wideout Keith Smith (91 receptions for 1,100 yards in '09) and all-purpose back Justin Siller (266 yards passing, 77 yards rushing against Michigan)—should do plenty to keep the offense afloat.
Purdue's spread offense has the potential to rank near the top of the conference, but other areas, like the youthful secondary, will need time to develop. That means All-Big Ten defensive end Ryan Kerrigan & Co. will have to compensate by putting extra pressure on the quarterback.
Surveying his team's development, Hope can't help but smile. While he envisions the Boilermakers returning to postseason play in 2010, he knows it may be a while before the makeover is completed. "We aren't reloading," Hope says, "we're rebuilding."
COACH Danny Hope (2nd year)
5-7 (4-4 in Big Ten)