WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- If Purdue coach Danny Hope is on the hot seat, he won't admit it.
Athletic Director Morgan Burke says he's not blaming Hope for last year's 4-8 finish because the team had a rash of injuries. However, he expects the Boilermakers to reach a bowl game this season.
Hope has deflected questions about his status, and even after losing top quarterback Rob Henry to an ACL injury, the ever-positive leader says Purdue can win because many of the freshmen who played last year return with experience.
"Even though there was some rough sledding last year, a setback at the quarterback position already this year, we are a confident football team just based on who we are, what we're about, what we've been through, the effort we're putting into it on a daily basis," he said.
Hope's first chance to prove it comes Saturday against Middle Tennessee State.
A combination of factors would imply that Hope needs to have a good year. His contract runs through 2014, but his compensation package will be reviewed before the end of the year. He is guaranteed to make at least $925,000 in 2011 if he makes it through the year. His buyout for the rest of his deal comes out to about $233,000 per year -- a relatively small amount by Division I standards.
Hope has always chosen to focus on the process of getting better and the game ahead. He believes Purdue is ready to take a step forward.
"We have practiced like a football team that's on a mission," he said. "They have showed up with a lot of energy, really focused on details. I don't believe there was any point in time during camp where we ever really hit the wall as a football team. I don't believe there were any practices that we went through that were non-productive. I think we got better every football practice."
Heading into last season, Hope liked his talent.
"This time last year, we were optimistic that we could win in spite of what we had on our football team," he said. "We had a lot of young, talented players that we thought from an ability standpoint, from the quality of person standpoint that we could have a good football team and be able to win even though we didn't have a lot of experience coming back."
That didn't happen. Robert Marve transferred from Miami and was expected to fit into the school's quarterback tradition, but he was lost early in the season with an ACL injury. His backup, Henry, played hurt in several games after cutting the index finger on his throwing hand, and the Boilermakers went all the way down to Sean Robinson, a freshman who expected to be redshirted.
Purdue also was without top running back Ralph Bolden. Bolden led the team in rushing in 2009 and was a quality receiver, but hurt his knee and never played in 2010.
Add injuries to receivers Justin Siller and O.J. Ross, and the offense changed dramatically.
This season, Henry is out with an ACL injury and Marve isn't ready after ACL surgery. With Siller, Ross and Bolden back and Marve just weeks away from a return, Hope remains upbeat.
"This year, I don't look at any position on our football team and wonder whether or not we're going to hold up in the game," he said. "I don't see any place on our football team that I look at and have concerns about not being ready to play this Saturday."