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PURDUE COACH DANNY HOPE PUTS A LOT OF STOCK IN momentum—and it's easy to understand why. Hope's Boilermakers finished last season winning three of their final four games, including the program's first bowl victory since 2007, and the coach hopes that roll continues into this season. The cupboard is stacked for the first time in Hope's four years in West Lafayette, as Purdue is bringing back more players with starting experience in '11 than any other team in the Big Ten. "A lot of key players are coming back, guys that have been really good for us the last couple of years," Hope says. "But now they're juniors and seniors, and that certainly makes a difference."
Arguably the deepest spot on the roster is at quarterback, where Purdue has three players returning, each with starting experience: seniors Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve and junior Rob Henry. TerBush solidified his status as No. 1 in the spring after starting every game in 2011, during which he completed 61.7% of his passes for 1,905 yards. But it was Marve's one-yard touchdown run in overtime that lifted Purdue over Ohio State in November. Boilermakers fans will likely see more than one quarterback throwing downfield to returning receivers Gary Bush, Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross. The lead back will be Akeem Shavers, the surprise MVP of the Little Caesars Bowl.
Purdue's defense, which Hope describes as having too many "not-so-good moments" over the last few seasons, will see a major overhaul with the hiring of Tim Tibesar as the team's defensive coordinator. Tibesar returns to the college game after three seasons with the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes, who last year had the top-rated defense in an offense-heavy league. Most of the Boilermakers' on-field personnel, however, remains the same. All--Big Ten tackle Kawann Short anchors the front. The secondary is reloaded with talent as well, with junior Ricardo Allen and senior Josh Johnson coming off big years.
Hope sees more than a repeat of last season's success. He asserts that a Leaders Division title isn't out of reach for the Boilermakers. "At the rate we're going," he says, harking back to that momentum motif again, "we think we can compete each and every Saturday."
COACH Danny Hope (4th year) 16--21 (10--14 in Big Ten)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Gary Nord
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Tim Tibesar
2011 RECORD 7--6 (4--4, 3rd in Leaders Division)