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Purdue schedule ranking: No. 12 Illinois

Markell Jones and the Boilermakers ran roughshod over Illinois last season, taking a 46-7 decision in Champaign.
Markell Jones and the Boilermakers ran roughshod over Illinois last season, taking a 46-7 decision in Champaign. (USA Today)

As far as schedules go, Purdue has some challenges this season. But, for the most part, the 2019 slate looks manageable for the Boilermakers. Purdue catches a break in cross-division games by missing Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. But perpetually struggling Rutgers also isn’t on the schedule. Let’s take a closer look at the to-do list for Jeff Brohm’s third season in West Lafayette.

The Boilers have two byes, and the timing is good. The Boilermakers will be off Saturday, Sept. 21, after playing three games: at Nevada and at home vs. Vanderbilt and TCU. That’s a good time to assess where things are early on and make tweaks before heading into the teeth of the schedule.

The Boilermakers then play seven games in succession before being off Saturday, Nov. 16. Think of it as one last breath before closing the season with two games. And a lot could be on the line those last two games: at Wisconsin and vs. Indiana.

This is the first in a 12-part series that ranks Purdue’s games from easiest to toughest.

12. Illinois, at West Lafayette, October 26

Even during down years prior to Jeff Brohm’s arrival, Purdue was whipping the Fighting Illini. How dominant have the Boilermakers been in this series? They have won 14 of the last 19, including three in a row and four of five. Even Darrell Hazell beat the Illini, going 2-2. (He was 1-22 vs. every other Big Ten squad.)

The Boilermakers beat Illinois--and won the Cannon--again in 2018, blasting the Illini, 46-7, in Memorial Stadium. It was the Boilermakers’ fourth win in a row and sixth in seven games in Champaign--a home away from home for the Boilermakers. Purdue and Illinois look like programs headed in decidedly opposite directions.

The jury remains very much out on Lovie Smith as he enters his fourth season in Champaign. When will there be tangible progress? How long can potential be sold? Fans aren't showing up. There isn't a whiff of momentum or excitement around the program. Still, Illinois A.D. and Lafayette Harrison grad Josh Whitman remains all-in on Smith and his white beard.

Smith's coaching staff continues to suffer turnover. (He has named son Miles Smith to coach LBs.) Never a good thing. An even bigger issue: Who will play quarterback? The position has been a black hole for too long. Maybe Michigan grad transfer Brandon Peters is the answer. Maybe not. More bad news: The receiver spot needs playmakers. The o-line has potential, and Reggie Corbin is a legit back coming off a 1,000-yard season. So Illinois has that going for it ... which is nice.

The defense? Look, there is no nice way of saying this. It stinks. The Illini ranked 122nd against the run, 124th in points allowed and 128th in yards allowed in 2018. And remember: Smith earned his coaching chops on the defensive side of the ball. He acts as coordinator. If there is one unit that has potential, it's the line.

Bottom line: Purdue must keep its foot on the neck of the Fighting Illini, which arguably has been the worst Big Ten program over the last decade. A loss--especially in Ross-Ade Stadium--would be a blow to progress.

Series: 44-44-6

Last Purdue win: 2018, 46-7 at Illinois

Last Illinois win: 2015, 48-14 at Purdue