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Purdue is our Big 10 football Pur-don’t

BY SCOTT MILLER | AUGUST 20, 2009 7:05 AM

After last season’s 4-8 campaign, former Purdue head coach Joe Tiller retired, riding off into the sunset with his fishing pole in hand and his Wyoming home in his sights.

In his place remains Danny Hope, who came back to Purdue for a second time in 2008 (he was first an assistant from 1997-2001) with the understanding that he would take over after Tiller retired at the end of the season.

“I was glad to have him around last year and get to know him,” senior wide receiver Keith Smith said. “By the time spring came along, we felt we already transitioned, everything was over and done with, and we had his plan in progress.”

But other than Hope, Boilermaker fans don’t have too much to be hopeful about.

Quarterback Curtis Painter and playmaking wide receiver Greg Orton are gone. So, too, are running back Kory Sheets and Anthony Heygood, who had 114 tackles as a senior linebacker, good for fourth in the conference. In total, only 11 starters return — only four are on offense — leading to some low expectations in Hope’s first year on the sidelines.

“Contrary to popular opinion of the experts and some of our peers, I think we can field a very good football team in 2009,” Hope said at Big Ten media days in Chicago in July.

Perhaps it’s senior quarterback Joey Elliott that is raising Hope’s expectations for the season.

Though Elliott has thrown only 49 passes in his career at Purdue, the coach has had nothing but positive things to say about his probable starter behind center.

Elliott became the clear favorite for the job after sophomore quarterback Justin Siller was dismissed from the team in the spring for violating the team’s academic policy.

“Looking back on last season, I thought [Elliott] was a heck of quarterback, and he competed with our No. 1 quarterback, Curtis Painter, for his job,” Hope said. “He legitimately competed with Curtis, and Curtis was a record-setting quarterback at Purdue and a draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts. I’m a lot more comfortable with the quarterback scenario with Joey Elliott than most people would realize.”

With that said, questions still surround Elliott because of his limited experience and the Boilermakers’ patchwork receiving corps. Even Hope called it the team’s “biggest question mark.”

The loss of Orton and Desmond Tardy leave Aaron Valentin and Smith — the only two returning wideouts that played last year — on the edges, with converted cornerback Royce Adams also expected to start. Senior running back Jaycen Taylor, who missed all of last season and the entire spring with a torn ACL, is expected to take some pressure off Elliott and the passing game.

“We’re excited about getting [Taylor] back, but he has some competition,” Hope said, mentioning junior Dan Dierking, senior Frank Halliburton, sophomore Ralph Bolden, and true freshman Al-Terek McBurse as possible backups.

One bright spot is the secondary, which returns three starters from last year’s squad that was atop the Big Ten in pass defense. Safety Torri Williams, who was 11th in the conference in tackling last season, received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and will be back in West Lafayette for one more year.

“Don’t misunderstand me, we still have a lot of work to do, but we anticipate having a special season in 2009,” Hope said. “A lot of people say, what do you mean by that? Well, we didn’t have a winning season in 2008, so a winning season in 2009 would be one way to start off having a special season in 2009.”


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