I've identified Purdue as my sleeper team in the Big Ten for 2010, and the reasons are pretty clear.
The Boilers will be very good at the offensive skill positions, as All-Big Ten selections Keith Smith and Ralph Bolden headline a unit that ranked third in the Big Ten in passing (255.2 ypg) and boasted the league's No. 3 rusher in Bolden (77.9 ypg). Quarterback Joey Elliott is a big loss, but if Miami transfer Robert Marve or Caleb TerBush can step in, Purdue will be very dangerous on the offensive side.
That said, Big Ten games are usually won with defense, and Purdue really could use a boost on that side of the ball.
Translation: Purdue could use Jason Werner back on the field for another year.
The Boilers lose all four starters in the secondary as well as defensive tackle Mike Neal, a two-year starter who could be playing on Sundays this coming fall. Superstar defensive end Ryan Kerrigan returns, but he'll need some help against the run, a category where Purdue has ranked last in the Big Ten in each of the last two seasons.
Werner can provide that help, but whether he gets another chance to play remains to be seen. Werner, who missed the 2006 and 2008 seasons because of back problems, could receive sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and should get an answer soon.
Boilers safety Torri Williams, who missed the entire 2005 season and all but three quarters of a game in 2006, received a sixth year on Feb. 12, 2009. Williams went on to record a team-high 84 tackles as well as two interceptions, eight passes defended, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
Purdue can expect similar production from Werner if he's back in 2010. Former coach Joe Tiller called Werner the team's top linebacker, making that claim when Anthony Heygood was still around. Werner, who has excellent speed to complement his size, recorded 77 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles in 2009.
Without him, the linebacker position could be a weakness for Purdue in 2010. With him, it should be a strength as he'll help young players like Dwayne Beckford.
Werner has shown what he can do when healthy. Here's hoping the NCAA sees it that way and gives him one more shot.