Top 50 Countdown: No. 40 Purdue

Coach: Joe Tiller | Staff
In 2006: 8-6, 5-3; Lost to Maryland 24-7 in Champ Sports Bowl.
Returning starters: Offense: 9. Defense: 9.
Key losses: OT Mike Otto; DE Anthony Spencer, LB Al Royal.
2007 breakdown: Top 10 players | Outlook | Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule

Breaking down the offense

Overview: Curtis Painter is an efficient quarterback that makes good use of the tools around him, including receiver Dorien Bryant and running backs Jaycen Taylor and Kory Sheets. They all helped contribute to a productive offense that ranked 13th nationally in 2006 and averaged more than 400 yards per game. The Boilermakers could be just as good or better this season, provided they can adequately fill starting vacancies in the offensive line.

PURDUE TOP 10
Kory Sheets will battle Jaycen Taylor for the starting RB job.

1. WR Dorien Bryant
2. OG Jordan Grimes
3. TE Dustin Keller
4. DE Cliff Avril
5. QB Curtis Painter
6. WR Greg Orton
7. RB Kory Sheets
8. OT Sean Sester
9. C Robbie Powell
10. RB Jaycen Taylor
Best player: Bryant. He is one of the top receivers in the Big Ten and plays in the right offense to showcase his skills. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound senior caught 87 passes for 1,068 yards last year.

Most overrated: Painter. He's the latest in a strong quarterback tradition at Purdue, however, Painter isn't yet at the level of a Drew Brees, Bob Griese or Len Dawson. He led the Big Ten in passing by more than 1,300 yards, but he also threw 19 interceptions.

Most underrated: Taylor. Taylor split carries with Sheets last year and enters the season fighting for carries again. He ran for 677 yards in 2006 and was one of Purdue's best special teams players.

Must step up: The offensive line. The Boilermakers are solid offensively, but will have two new starters.

Impact newcomer: OL Elliot Hood. Hood started at Vanderbilt last year before transferring to Purdue. He was granted a hardship waiver and will be eligible immediately at Purdue. He could start at tackle or guard.

Position battle: Taylor emerged as the Boilermakers' starting RB in the bowl game after splitting carries with Sheets throughout last season. Sheets responded to his demotion by having an excellent spring. That competition figures to go on all season..

New in 2007: The left side of the offensive line. The Boilermakers must replace fifth-year seniors Mike Otto at tackle and Uche Nwaneri at guard.

Grade the units:
QB: B. Painter should again put up big numbers in this offense. He has talented players at receiver and tight end.
RB: B. Sheets and Taylor are nice complements for one another.
WR/TE: B+. The top seven pass catches - including four who had at least 580 yards last year - return in 2007.
OL: C. Vanderbilt transfer Hood will help on a line that lost both starters on the left side.

Breaking down the defense

Overview: As good as the Boilermakers were offensively in 2006, they struggled on defense. They ranked 114th nationally and allowed more than 30 points six times. But three starters return in the line and the secondary, which was afflicted with various injuries a year ago. The unit now has several experienced players, so there is reason to anticipate a better showing in '07.

Best player: DE Cliff Avril. Purdue was thin on the line last year and moved Avril from outside linebacker to end. He responded with six sacks and 84 tackles alongside first-round NFL draft pick Anthony Spencer. Avril is expected to improve with more experience at the position.

Purdue Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 at Toledo
Sept. 8 Eastern Illinois
Sept. 15 Central Michigan
Sept. 22 at Minnesota
Sept. 29 Notre Dame
Oct. 6 Ohio State
Oct. 13 at Michigan
Oct. 20 Iowa
Oct. 27 Northwestern
Nov. 3 at Penn State
Nov. 10 Michigan State
Nov. 17 at Indiana
Most overrated: LB Dan Bick. Bick led the team with 95 tackles from his middle linebacker spot, but he wasn't a playmaker. The run defense was the worst in the Big Ten and Bick finished with only one sack and one interception.

Most underrated: DL Alex Magee. The junior is slated to start somewhere on the line this year. He could start at tackle, but he's athletic enough to play end.

Must step up: FS Brandon Erwin played OK as a freshman, but needs to be better because a defense which ranked 104th against the pass desperately needs an effective free safety.

Shoes to fill: DE Mike McDonald faces the daunting task of replacing DE Anthony Spencer, who posted 10 sacks last season and was a first-round draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys.

Impact newcomer: LB Anthony Heygood converted from RB and had a tremendous spring. He was so good, in fact, he was rated Purdue's best linebacker. If he proves as effective in the fall, linebacker becomes a position of strength.

Position battle: CB Brandon King was an academic casualty last year and Aaron Lane broke his shoulder in the second week of the season. Now, they're trying to reclaim starting spots from Royce Adams and Terrell Vinson. Lane figures to move to safety.

New in 2007: There is experience in the secondary. Injuries and academic issues left the Boilermakers with two junior college transfers and six freshmen playing there in 2007. Last year's newcomers are this year's veterans.

Grade the units:
DL: C. The unit lost star DE Anthony Spencer, but fellow end Avril is starting to come into his own.
LB: C. Coaches hope the shuffling from last year (Avril from OLB to DE, Heygood from RB to OLB) will pay off this season.
DB: C. All four starters return - Is this a good thing or a bad thing? - to a unit that ranked 104th nationally against the pass.

Breaking down the special teams

Overview: The kicking game ranged from sublime to ridiculous a year ago. P Jared Armstrong has a booming leg and averaged 43 yards per attempt. However, kicker Chris Summers converted only eight of 20 attempts and his job is in danger. Sheets is exciting on kickoff returns, averaging 22.2 yards with a long return of 56 yards last season. On the flip side, the Boilermakers' punt return unit needs some work.

Season outlook with bowl forecast
Despite ending the season with back-to-back losses, Purdue enjoyed a rebound year in 2006 after missing the postseason in '05. The Boilermakers appear to be poised for a return to a bowl game. Depending on how the BCS shakes out, Purdue could go to a mid-level Big Ten bowl such as the Alamo, Champs Sports or Insight.
Best player: Armstrong. He was a junior college All-American in 2005 and translated that to success in the Big Ten with 43.1 yards per punt last season.

Grade the units:
K: D. Summers was awful last year, converting only six field-goal attempts from more than 30 yards.
P: A. Armstrong will be one of the top returning punters in the conference.
KR: B+. Sheets is an excellent returner but the unit ranked a ho-hum seventh in the Big Ten last year.
PR: B-. Primary returner Royce Adams comes back to the team, but he averaged only 6.4 yards per return.

Breaking down the coaching

Overview: Eleven years ago, Joe Tiller brought a wide-open offense and some hope to West Lafayette. Now, with a 10-win season he could be the most successful football coach in school history. However, his teams at Purdue have never managed more than nine victories in a season, and some fans are wondering if he can take Purdue from good to exceptional. To do that will require a better defense, which puts some heat on coordinator Brock Spack.

Grade the coaches:
Head coach: B. Tiller turned the program around when he came to Purdue, but the program has stalled of late.
Offense: B. Purdue consistently has one of the best offenses in the Big Ten and should again with most of the talent returning for coordinator Bill Legg.
Defense: C+. The Boilermakers were among one of the worst defensive teams in the country last year. Plenty of experience returns, so there is a chance for improvement.

Special teams: C. This group was inconsistent in 2006 but should rebound in 2007 with many of the key players returning.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 50. Coming tomorrow: No. 38.

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