Purdue hasn't won a conference championship since 2000, been to a bowl since 2007 or posted a winning record under Danny Hope. So why some vengeful football god be out to teach the Boilermakers humility is anybody's guess. But if you don't think there's some nefarious cosmic force at work in West Lafayette, you're not paying attention. Or you think ACLs are unnecessary hindrances to human athletic achievement.
Some background on Purdue's recent history with the quarterbacking position. Miami transfer Robert Marve (he of the rumored limited immunity deal with the NCAA) started the 2010 season for the Boilermakers and was putting on a performance that could politely be described as "adequate" when he was lost in September to a torn left ACL against Toledo. Would-be replacement Caleb TerBush, whose best recommendation was that he was an upperclassman with some experience, was sidelined for academic transgressions in the preseason.
So in came redshirt freshman Rob Henry, who had fast feet but wasn't getting a lot of help from his own arm or the rest of his offense, which had already lost 2009 leading rusher Ralph Bolden (in spring camp) and receiver Keith Smith (against Western Illinois) to -- wait for it! -- ACL tears. (Also an MCL in Smith's case, because the team needed another challenge). Henry, for his part, cut his finger against Ohio State (don't laugh; at one point he was playing with exposed bone in his hand protected by a glove) and was spelled for several games by freshman Sean Robinson, who looked about how you'd expect a fourth-string freshman quarterback to look. But wait! There's more! The team had also been practicing receiver Justin Siller at the position. He got off relatively easy by spraining his foot and missing the last five games of the season.
(Remain unconvinced there's a curse at work? Two Boilermaker basketball players, most notably men's forward Robbie Hunmel, were felled by the same injury last season, and 2009 quarterback Joey Elliott, who's since gone on to the CFL, blew out his left ACL last month and will miss the upcoming season with the Blue Bombers.)
Still with me? Fast forward to this spring. Marve is still rehabbing his ACL. TerBush returns. Henry gains buzz in camp for a commendable work ethic, and is elected a team captain. Hope lays plans for a two-quarterback system. And what happens? Pop goes Henry's ACL a week and a half before the season opener; Marve's knee might not be ready until conference play, and the best-laid spread plans are up in smoke.
Will 2011 spell another creaking quarterback carousel for the reeling Boilermakers? Campus Union spoke this morning with Purdue grad and Smart Football proprietor Chris Brown on what this latest catastrophe means for his alma mater.
• On the big picture and best-case scenario: "The biggest problem for Purdue is it potentially throws the quarterback situation -- which had finally begun to coalesce, at least to an extent -- into chaos again. Dangerous player or not, the very fact that Justin Siller is now taking quarterback reps is a bad sign for the team's continuity. Moreover, while many essentially gave Danny Hope a mulligan on last season due to losing two quarterbacks, his starting running back and All-Big-Ten receiver to injuries, that argument won't necessarily carry the day.
"A healthy and matured Robert Marve remains the best case scenario for Purdue, sans Rob Henry. Henry had earned a spot as team captain and the No. 1 quarterback job based on his speed and running ability, but even with his offseason development Purdue's coaches have consistently said that the passing game has been the issue lagging behind and a lot of it had to do with Henry's inconsistency in that department. Marve is clearly the most naturally gifted passer on the roster, but questions remain regarding both his health and his development in terms of reading defenses and delivering the ball with timing -- two things he struggled with early last season. Nevertheless, it's clear that even if Marve gets healthy he won't be available for the season opener."
• On what's likely to come of all this: "The rest of three quarterbacks -- TerBush, Robinson, and Siller -- remain unknown quantities, despite the fact that all three have seen the field. None have been put in optimal situations, and all are at various stages of development at quarterback. It's clear from camp that Siller will be a starting receiver and the coaches are not (or should not) be in a rush to put him at quarterback, but they may use him in order to run some of the spread-option run concepts they had planned on using with Henry. TerBush should be the starter for Week 1; the coaches have praised his passing ability in fall camp, and, given the rest of the injuries, for Purdue to have a good season he likely has to be the one to step up and become the team leader. Whether he can do it, only time will tell.
"You have to feel bad for Danny Hope, as he kept stressing during his entire fall camp how they had gone light on hitting and certain drills to reduce injuries, and as recently as late last week he was crowing about having far fewer players battling injuries than in previous seasons. Losing Rob Henry is psychologically tough for the team given that the rest of the players responded to him, but the fact remains that he was still a developmental kid with strengths and weaknesses, and there were things that the other quarterbacks in camp did better than he did."
What the Boilermakers do have on their side, sort of, is time: a home opener against Middle Tennessee State, a road trip to Rice, a visit from Southeast Missouri State and a bye week give more cushion than most teams could reasonably expect to enjoy between what remains of fall camp and the meat of the schedule. That meat, when it arrives, will be a tough cut: Notre Dame comes to town in Week 5, and subsequent conference games include Ohio State, Iowa, and road trips to Penn State and Wisconsin.