July 29, 1998
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue will begin preparations for the earliest start in school history when the freshmen report to campus on Aug. 5. The Boilermakers travel to Los Angeles for the season opener to play USC in the nationally televised Pigskin Classic on Aug. 30.
The upperclassmen arrive on campus on Aug. 8. Two days later the entire team begins practice together. That allows the Boilermakers two weeks of two-a-day practices before classes begin on Aug. 24. The Boilers will need all of the practice time they can get to determine their offensive starters. Purdue's all-time leading receiver, Brian Alford, tight end Jon Blackman, tackle Mark Fischer, and running back Edwin Watson have all gone on to the NFL. They also lost All-Big Ten quarterback Billy Dicken and two other starters from last year's 9-3 squad.
Sophomore Drew Brees will likely start at quarterback and junior college transfers J. Crabtree and Randall Lane are expected to fill the shoes of Watson and Alford, respectively. However, several incoming freshmen from a talented recruiting class will challenge for starting positions when practice begins.
There are fewer holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, with eight starters returning. Ends Rosevelt Colvin and Chukie Nwokorie could develop into the nation's premier tandem. The Boilermakers return all three starting linebackers from a year ago and will also have the services of Chike Okeafer. Okeafor is a three-year starter and two-time Butkus Award nominee who did not play last year. The secondary is very solid with three juniors returning as starters. Adrian Beasley, Most Valuable Defensive Player in last year's Alamo Bowl victory, has been converted from free safety to strong safety. Senior Billy Gustin will occupy the vacant safety position.
An experienced defense may be just what the young offense will need to buy some time to develop with an early start to the season.
The season opener will be the fourth meeting between Purdue and USC. Purdue beat the Trojans 14-13 in the 1967 Rose Bowl. The Boilermakers lost the next two contests, last in 1976 when USC won 31-13 in West Lafayette. Purdue hopes to return the favor when they make the trip to Southern California. This year marks the 75th anniversary of Trojan football in the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
This year is also the beginning of the Paul Hackett era at the USC. Hackett replaced John Robinson as head coach after spending five seasons as the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator. In his 29 years in the professional and college coaching ranks, Hackett has won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers (XIX) and a national championship with USC in 1978, both as assistants.