Purdue 2013 season preview

Darrell Hazell takes over a Boilermakers program that is coming off back-to-back bowl appearances. Still, Purdue has won as many as nine games only once since 1998. Hazell is a former Big Ten assistant who had been coach at Kent State, where he had success with a strong defense and a powerful ground game.

The pieces don't appear to be in place at Purdue to do the same thing. The defense returns eight starters, but it was manhandled last season. Still, defensive tackle Bruce Gaston and cornerback Ricardo Allen are seniors with pro potential. Offensively, it will be tough for the Boilermakers to run against good defenses until they prove they can pass adequately. Running back Akeem Hunt could benefit from the scheme change and is worth watching.

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Top senior prospects

CB Ricardo Allen: Allen (5-foot-9, 186 pounds) was an all-state performer at powerhouse Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland who was bypassed by the Florida schools. Purdue has been the beneficiary. While Allen lacks ideal height, he is a tough player who is proficient in press coverage and solid when playing zone. Allen, who was inconsistent last season, has seven career picks and has returned four for touchdowns.

DT Bruce Gaston: The Boilermakers have had four defensive linemen drafted in the top three rounds in the past five drafts (including Kawann Short in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers), and Gaston (6-2, 303) seems a lock to go that high. He will be a four-year starter at tackle and generally holds up well against the run. He had zero sacks last season, surprising since he has quick feet and moves well.

TE Gabe Holmes: Holmes (6-5, 247) finally started living up to his potential last season, when he had 25 receptions (but for only 158 yards and two scores). He played for one of the best high school programs in the country at Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas and will have ample opportunity to show off his blocking skills in Purdue's new offense.

P Cody Webster: He will be a four-year starter for the Boilermakers and has averaged at least 42.3 yards per punt each season. Almost 30 percent of his 162 career punts have traveled at least 50 yards and 52 of them have been downed inside the 20.

Top underclassmen

RB Akeem Hunt: Hunt (5-9, 184), a junior, has good speed and big-play ability (he had a 100-yard kickoff return against Ohio State last season). Hazell wants to control the clock with his ground game, and Hunt could benefit -- assuming he can handle 15-plus carries per game as the focal point of the rushing attack. He had 42 carries total last season.

C Robert Kugler: Kugler (6-3, 280) started six games at guard as a redshirt freshman last season and has moved to center this season; he was recruited as a tight end. Coaches are high on his athletic ability and expect him to anchor the line. His dad, Sean, is the new coach at UTEP and is a former NFL offensive lineman and assistant coach; his brother, Patrick, is a highly touted true freshman center at Michigan.

DE Ryan Russell: Russell (6-5, 275) has started each of the past two seasons after redshirting as a true freshman in 2010, and he looks to eventually be another potential early-round pick for the Boilermakers along the defensive line. He had four sacks last season, including takedowns against Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma State. He should be expected to double that total this fall. He holds up well against the run.

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Three must-see games of 2013

Sept. 14 vs. Notre Dame: Gaston will be tested by what should be a solid Fighting Irish offensive line; he has only two tackles in three career games against the Irish. Conversely, it could be difficult for the Boilermakers to run against a tough Irish defensive front filled with NFL prospects. Success on the ground against Notre Dame would bode well for the season.

Oct. 19 at Michigan State: This is another chance for the Boilermakers against a tough defensive front seven. This also will be an opportunity for Allen to go against a deep group of receivers.

Nov. 2 vs. Ohio State: The Buckeyes are filled with NFL talent, making it a measuring-stick game for Gaston, Allen, et al. Purdue has played Ohio State tough in each of the past two seasons, losing by seven last season and winning by three in 2011.

Follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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