By CLIFF BRUNT
I’m starting to believe this is the year for Purdue to do something special.
I want to make this clear. I am not a fan. I did not attend Purdue. I have covered the Boilermakers in an unbiased manner for the past seven years. I have watched several promising seasons go up in smoke. Most notably, Purdue started the 2007 season with a 5-0 record before losing five of its next seven, then squeaking out a 51-48 win over Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl.
But too many things are lining up.
We already know that Penn State is a mess and can’t play in a bowl game. Ohio State is banned from postseason play this year. Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State come to Ross-Ade. Purdue doesn’t play Nebraska or Michigan State.
So far, so good on the health of Purdue’s quarterbacks. Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry are doing fine.
Now, Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood has been suspended for the first two games of the season.
Our players are aware of the standards I set for our program, and that failure to meet my expectations will result in consequences, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in a release.
This is a big deal because Purdue travels to South Bend to play Notre Dame in Week 2, likely after rolling over Eastern Kentucky.
Wood had 20 carries for 191 yards last season in Notre Dame’s 38-10 win in West Lafayette. He led the Irish with 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground last year and entered this season as one of the nation’s top returning seniors. Two years ago, he torched Purdue for 122 all-purpose yards on 11 touches in a 23-12 Notre Dame victory in South Bend.
This is a highlight reel of Wood’s 2011 season.
So as you can see, Notre Dame will be without a major weapon in a game that already was expected to be close. Purdue has two All-America candidates in cornerback Ricardo Allen and defensive lineman Kawann Short. Notre Dame was the road block to Purdue’s possible ascension early in the season. Now that the Boilermakers won’t face Wood, a 4-0 start heading into the Oct. 6 home game against Michigan now seems more possible.
No matter how talented Wood’s backups may be, they can’t match his experience. Theo Riddick caught 38 passes for 436 yards last season and had 14 carries for 63 yards. George Atkinson III had nine carries and one catch last season.
This suspension is the kind of thing that has happened to Purdue in recent years. If you recall, TerBush missed the entire 2010 season for academic reasons. Injuries, mistakes, suspensions – you name it, it’s happened to Purdue.
And now, it just happened to someone else. Though Purdue linebacker Dwayne Beckford was suspended Monday after he was arrested, and he’s a good player, losing him doesn’t match the severity of losing Wood.
So maybe it’s not that big a deal, but I think it is. Purdue’s got swagger, talent and a favorable schedule. It appears luck finally is ready to swing Purdue’s way.
ISL correspondent Doug Griffiths contributed to this report.