PURDUE BOILERMAKERS Head coach: Joe Tiller Last season: 8-5 overall, 3-5 in the Big Ten; won 51-48 over Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl. Spring practice: March 26-April 19.
Purdue coach Joe Tiller is entering his final season, and he needs two victories to become the Boilermakers' winningest coach. How soon he gets those wins may depend on the progress made this spring at wide receiver, offensive line and linebacker - all areas of great concern for the Boilermakers. On the plus side, quarterback Curtis Painter and a good defensive front return, so there is a measure of optimism that Purdue could make a run at its 10th winning record in 12 seasons under Tiller. Here's a look at the Boilermakers as they prepare for spring drills.
Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter gives the Boilermakers reason to be optimistic.
Painter should be one of the most productive quarterbacks in the nation. He has passed for more than 3,800 yards in each of the past two seasons and threw 29 touchdown passes to just 11 interceptions in 2007. Sheets and Jaycen Taylor have been the Boilermakers' top two rushers the last two seasons, and both are back at tailback. All five defensive tackles who were in the rotation last season return, and now they're all upperclassmen.
HELP IS NEEDED
Robbie Powell's graduation leaves a big hole at center. Former walk-on Cory Benton could move in there, but nothing is assured. That position is so wide open it's not out of the question that a backup defensive lineman could get a shot. Three of the Boilermakers' top five wide receivers from 2007 completed their eligibility and another was suspended. Orton is proven, but that's it. At linebacker, Heygood is a converted running back who made his way into the starting lineup last season. Now, he's the only returning starter.
KEEP AN EYE ON
DE Nickcaro Golding: The big sophomore already has drawn comparisons to Purdue standouts of the past. A starting job is open opposite Brown, and Golding has a great shot to take it.
OT Ken Plue: A massive (6 feet 7, 361 pounds) early enrollee, Plue comes in at a position of need. Only one true freshman has started on the offensive line during Tiller's tenure, but Plue could become the second.
WR Aaron Valentin: A mid-year transfer who has one season of eligibility remaining, Valentin set 13 school records at Erie Community College in Buffalo and figures to settle into the starting lineup in West Lafayette.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Orton has caught 125 passes over the past two seasons, but he's always been the third or fourth option. This season, he's going to have to prove he can excel as the go-to guy.
Injuries already are an issue at Purdue, so just getting through the spring without enduring more might be considered a success. But finding someone ready to step into the starting lineup in the offensive line, at linebacker and defensive end would be even better. Should a punter surface, that would be a bonus.
Olin Buchanan is the senior football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.