It's the question so many Purdue fans are asking this offseason, left clamoring for a positive answer. A 1-11 season brought Boilermakers something they never imagined.
In short answer, yes. Purdue will be greatly improved in the 2014 campaign. You can stop reading now if the good feelings are flowing.
There are several folds to my reasoning for this sentiment. In part, it's because, quite frankly, it's hard to get worse than one lone win against a middling FCS opponent. Add in the fact that the schedule is much lighter than last season.
To evaluate Purdue's potential in that would be a discredit to a team that worked its collective butt off during the offseason. The Boilermakers were ticked off by the results of last season. That pent-up anger came out in the weight room and spring practice.
It was all on display inside the Mollenkopf Center during the spring. A team that was hungry to improve showed its stuff. The practices were clean—a vast difference from one year prior—and the effort was so strong. With the coaching staff bringing continuity in year two, the execution was there.
Sophomore quarterback Danny Etling said the players struggled to line up correctly during Darrell Hazell's first session of spring drills. If you happened to be living under a rock last season, note that he wasn't joking.
Things are different this time around. The players know the coaches; the coaches know the players. More importantly, everyone knows the schemes. There's familiarity growing in West Lafayette.
Hazell doesn't offer any more surprises, now. Every Boilermaker knows what to expect. This is critically important for a team to have growth.
Go beyond the collective teams and find progress at each position. Danny Etling is the established, improving quarterback—once a freshman who grew years and years in his first season of Big Ten action. The experience of last season, regardless of how rough it was, will benefit him greatly. It's already shown in the spring.
The entire offense is better around Etling, too. There should be a presence at running back, with speedster Raheem Mostert pushing Akeem Hunt. Factor in the talent at receiver—oh, how good will Deangelo Yancey be?—and a bolstered offensive line, and it's an offense that can do a little damage.
Defensively, the Boilermakers will be better, but much of that depends on the unit's young talent. Hazell and his staff went to work in recruiting impact playermakers, and brought in names like Gelen Robinson, JaWhaun Bentley, Keiwan Jones and many other potential instant starters. Add in the returns of key seniors such as Landon Feichter and Ryan Russell, and there's reason for optimism.
A brief glance at Purdue's 2014 prospects shows a weak nonconference schedule. Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Southern Illinois should be easy wins. The positive signs of the program's rebuilding efforts will show as a young core works toward its future.
All through the program, Purdue made great progress during an important offseason. The motivation factor drove the team toward better days.
It's OK, Boilermakers. Things will be better this year.