By Craig Pearson
TERRE HAUTE — A repeat of his productive 2007 season means Purdue senior quarterback Curtis Painter will become the all-time leading passer in Big Ten football history.
The former Vincennes Lincoln standout would surpass Drew Brees’ career mark of 11,792 yards.
As impressive as that would be, Painter is wise enough to know Brees’ legacy also includes a 2000 Big Ten title for the Boilermakers, something that has clearly eluded Painter’s squads.
With question marks around the Big Ten at the quarterback spot, Purdue’s offense could be the most consistent in the league in 2008 with Painter behind center.
Three games that will make the difference for Purdue being contenders this year are home games against Penn State and Michigan, and an Oct. 11 trip to Columbus to battle the No. 2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. While the Boilermakers do not have to play Wisconsin this year, Painter is 0-7 in his career against those four traditional Big Ten powers.
“That goes back to being consistent, taking that next step for our team,” Painter said. “As a team, we’re right there, a few games away from being able to compete at the top of the conference. It’s about taking that next step, giving ourselves a chance to compete and be in that position.”
Painter told the Tribune-Star after an Aug. 23 practice that he expects to continue to improve on his touchdown to interception ratio.
“Each year, I’ve gotten a little better, cut down on TD to interception ratio,” said Painter, who had 29 touchdowns to 11 interceptions last year. “Last year I did a good job of that. I think that really helps our team, puts us in a little better position.”
Painter will have some new weapons in his receiving corps with Dustin Keller now catching passes from Brett Favre in New York and Dorien Bryant graduating. The unexpected loss of Jaceyn Taylor for the season to a knee injury could be a big blow, although Cory Sheets is back as the primary runner. In addition to giving Purdue a one-two punch in the running game, Taylor caught 37 passes from Painter over the past two seasons.
“Obviously, Jaycen is a big part of our offense, not only running the ball, but catching the ball. We hope to have some guys step in and fill those shoes,” Painter said.
Painter has seen other players “step up” in recent scrimmages. Senior Greg Orton expects to be his No. 1 target after hauling in 67 passes last year.
While Purdue’s Big Ten slate doesn’t get underway until Oct. 4 at Ross-Ade Stadium against Penn State, Painter has some challenging opponents to get prepared for the conference.
On Saturday, Purdue begins a three-game stretch at home against Northern Colorado, which is followed by No. 21 Oregon and Central Michigan. The annual Notre Dame matchup is later than usual, which means Purdue won’t have a bye week during the Big Ten as other teams do.
Starting a week late could help Purdue, coach Joe Tiller said in a recent news conference.
“If there’s such a thing as a bye coming at a good time, the opening week bye helps us. We had 15 players last spring that we thought would be starters that missed all or part of spring ball. It allows us to make up ground, and we plan on taking full advantage of it.”
Playing at home early should help, Painter said.
“It’s certainly gonna be a challenge for us, playing some tough teams,” he said. “We need a good start on our home games to get us going.”
As the program has become accustomed under Tiller, Painter expects the Boilermakers to be playing in a bowl game. He also sees himself joining Brees and Kyle Orton in the NFL next year.
“That’s certainly a dream of mine to continue playing professionally. That would be a result of a great year this year,” Painter said.