Bill James has noted that sleeper teams often occur when a number of circumstances dovetail in such a way as to dramatically increase the odds for an underdog's success.
Since those types of conditions don't happen very often, it is imperative for a team to take advantage of those opportunities when they are presented.
That is what makes this a very important year for the Purdue Boilermakers. This team rarely has a shot at playing for a conference title (they have finished first in the Big Ten only once since 1968) but this season is setting up in such a way that it could propel Purdue to a Big Ten Leaders division title and automatic berth in the 2012 Big Ten championship game.
Four factors make this possible.
Factor No. 1 -- Major changes in the Big Ten Leaders division
Every team goes through a certain amount of coaching and personnel transitions each year, but this season there has been a huge volume of changes in those environments for the Big Ten Leaders division.
The Illinois Fighting Illini have a new head coach (Tim Beckman) and new offensive and defensive coordinators. The Illini also lost eight starters, including their top two running backs (Jason Ford and Troy Pollard), top wide receiver (A.J. Jenkins) and leader in tackles for loss (Whitney Mercilus).