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Big Ten Football Preview 2015: Purdue's season outlook

Low expectations surround Purdue in 2015, but can the Boilermakers exit the Big Ten's cellar?

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue made strides last season after winning three games and brighter days on the horizon. But is 2015 the year the Boilermakers turn the corner?

Every Wednesday, we'll inspect each Big Ten Conference team for a 2015 season outlook. Purdue is on the docket this week, so lets dive in.

Low expectations

Two years removed from an dreadful 1-win campaign in 2013, the bar remains low entering Darrell Hazell's third year at Purdue. As it should. You can't expect much after a pair of one and three win seasons.

The Boilermakers need to do this rebuild right. It's hard to compete in a Big Ten owned by Michigan State and Ohio State, especially when you're entrenched at the bottom.

Purdue signed 26 players to its 2015 recruiting class, headlined by 18 three-star recruits. It welcomes back 15 starters, per Phil Steele, tied with Ohio State and Penn State for the second most in the Big Ten.

Slowly but surely, Purdue appears to be righting the ship under Hazell.

Key returners

Austin Appleby won Purdue's starting quarterback job in October and took two-thirds of the team's pass attempts. The weight of West Lafayette, Ind. will be on the junior's shoulders this season with the Boilermaker's two leading rushers from 2014 — Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert — following NFL dreams.

Sophomore Keyante Green should get the starting gig at running back after totaling 199 yards in limited action last season.

Danny Anthrop returns for his senior season and will provide Appleby with a weapon in the passing game. Anthrop caught 38 passes for 616 yards last year.

The core of defensive backs Landon Feichter, Frankie Williams and Anthony Brown, linebackers Ja'Whaun Bentley, Jimmy Herman and Danny Ezechukwu and defensive lineman Jake Replogle bolster Purdue's defense.

To-do list

Purdue has to do A LOT in 2015 to see improvement.

Its offensive and defensive rankings were putrid last season. According to cfbstats.com, the Boilermakers ranked 111th in total offense and 82nd in total defense.

But you know which conference team was worse in total offense last season? If you guessed Michigan, you are correct. The Wolverines were dead last in the category's Big Ten rankings. Put that into perspective.

Purdue is going to need to find a feature back, whether it be Green or someone else. Although Appleby totaled 198 rushing yards, he cannot be expected to do it all.

As Anthony Broome pointed out Monday in his three key players preview, defense will be crucial for the Boilermakers and their rebuild.

Replogle is the lone defensive lineman that ranked in the top 10 in tackles on the team. He'll likely anchor a line that features a mix of youth and veterans.

The schedule

Purdue opens the season on a Sunday vs. a Rakeem Cato-less Marshall team. A three-game, non-conference homestand — headlined by Virginia Tech — follows.

In the first four weeks of the season, there are three chances at wins: Marshall (13-1), Indiana State (8-6) and Bowling Green (8-6). But that's likely all she wrote for Purdue in 2015.

Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin face the Boilermakers back-to-back-to-back. Those three foes boast a combined 2014 record of 30-10 and all figure to be at the top of the Big Ten again this season.

Nebraska (9-4) looms after the bye week and Illinois (6-7) on homecoming presents an interesting, perhaps winnable, matchup. Purdue handled Illinois last year, topping the Illini 38-27.

Northwestern (5-7) and Iowa (7-6) round out the road schedule and a battle for the Hoosier State vs. Indiana (4-8) concludes the season.

Purdue stayed within distance of Michigan State (45-31 loss) and Minnesota (39-38 loss) last season, but it's hard to imagine any upset scenarios that would be realistic in 2015. Maybe Nebraska at home on Halloween, but that's a long shot, even with first-year head coach Mike Riley at the helm and Ameer Abdullah off to the NFL.

Purdue has a great shot to reach the 4-win plateau this season. It should be able to reach last year's win total by October. Here's how I believe things will break down:

Wins: Marshall, Indiana State, Bowling Green, Illinois.

Losses: Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa.

Toss up: Indiana.

Things are slowly getting better for Purdue. But 2015 won't be the year of a breakout.