The numbers don't lie. Purdue football is loaded. It has more returning starters (19) than any other Big Ten team. It has more talent than ever before under coach Danny Hope. It has speed (Hope said about 20 players run 4.5-second or faster in the 40-yard dash), athleticism and optimism from a bowl victory.
You'd better believe the Boilers are pumped.
“West Lafayette is vibing right now,” quarterback Caleb TerBush says, and just because that word isn't in the standard dictionary doesn't mean it isn't true.
“We're real excited,” TerBush adds. “We had a good summer. We had one of the best springs I've ever been around. The mindset is different. That positive momentum from the bowl game, to get there and win, well, we're looking forward to make it back to a bowl.”
The Boilers struggled in Hope's first two years before last season's 7-6 breakthrough. With All-America candidate Kawann Short at defensive end, All-Big Ten candidate Ricardo Allen at cornerback, a potentially powerhouse defensive line and enough quarterback depth for three teams, Purdue is poised to challenge Wisconsin for the Leaders' Division title and a berth in December's Big Ten title game at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We're a bowl hungry team,” Allen says. “We've worked so hard. Everything is falling into place.
“My first year we were 4-8. Last year we were 7-6. Every year we're gaining, getting bigger and stronger and better.”
Depth is also a plus, Allen adds. That includes the return of linebacker Dwayne Beckford, who was suspended for the bowl game, and who did not attend Purdue in the second semester, because of a December arrest for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
“We had to play like everybody on the team because of injuries,” Allen says. “Now everybody is healthy. We're mostly juniors and seniors and have experience. That's going to mean a lot.”
Purdue players opened camp with a pair of high-energy practices on Saturday in preparation for its Sept. 1 season opener against Eastern Kentucky. It also hosts Eastern Michigan (Sept. 15) and Marshall (Sept. 29), and plays at Notre Dame (Sept. 8), to wrap up non-conference play.
The Boilers have a challenging Big Ten opening schedule with games against Michigan and Wisconsin before a trip to Ohio State.
Their Leaders Division title prospects are helped by the fact Ohio State and Penn State are banned from postseason competition because of NCAA sanctions. That leaves just Illinois and Indiana to challenge for the division championship. That doesn't affect the Boilers' approach, Short says.
“We still have to play those guys,” he says. “We still have to win. It's the team that wins the most that advances to the Big Ten title game.”
As arguably Purdue's best player, Short understands he will bear a big leadership burden.
“I have to step up,” he says. “Everybody else is stepping up. Nobody is getting in anybody's (face) saying you have to do this or that. Everybody has been on the right page, staying out of trouble. The weight room numbers are going up. The 40-yard dash times are getting better. You're seeing that the guys are working to compete and get to Indy.”