CHICAGO — Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible to represent the Leaders Division at this year’s Big Ten championship game.
Wisconsin is the favorite in media preseason predictions.
But with 19 returning starters, Purdue has emerged as a trendy pick for a spoiler.
Purdue coach Danny Hope said the team is working on the steps necessary to get to the top of the division.
“There are many areas of our play that we can improve on from last year. We earmarked each of those areas, and we believe we have a plan to get better in those areas and believe that can help us in our pursuit toward a division championship,” Hope said during Big Ten media day Thursday at Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.
Hope stressed taking care of the football. The Boilermakers lost nine fumbles in 2011. Purdue quarterbacks were intercepted 11 times. Purdue recovered nine fumbles and intercepted 12 passes.
“If you can win the turnover margin and if you can win it significantly, that greatly increases your odds of being a championship contender,” Hope said.
Hope also mentioned health, disciplined football and leadership as other factors.
“I believe we have the talent,” Hope said. “I believe we have the experience. We’re a very fast football team: A lot of fast guys on our team on both sides of the ball. We have a very big strong defensive front, experienced secondary, great experience and potential at the quarterback position.”
Defensive tackle Kawann Short and cornerback Ricardo Allen have appeared on numerous preseason award watch lists. Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry each have experience as a starting quarterback.
“So all of the pieces are there,” Hope said. “We have to put it all together and make it happen on the team. That’s on the coaches and that’s on the players.”
Hope pointed to linebackers and the offensive line as two positions with questions entering fall camp.
“I like what we have there, I like the players, the talent, I think we have good numbers, we do have some experience, but we didn’t have all those guys out there in the spring (because of injuries) to develop the cohesiveness that is important at those two positions,” Hope said.
The Boilermakers, Badgers, Illinois and Indiana are the four Leaders Division teams vying for a spot in the Big Ten championship game.
“Obviously for those that are eligible, it increases their odds some, but it’s still going to boil down to who wins the most, who plays the best,” Hope said. “So rather than complicate it and assume that it may be an easier road, I think that we certainly have to grasp the idea that you have to win.
“We have to beat the teams that are eligible for the division championship, and also the teams that aren’t eligible in order to be the team that goes.”
Note: Short was one of 10 conference players on the Big Ten Preseason Players to Watch list.