Crystal Ball: Predicting every game on Purdue’s schedule in 2021
Editor’s note: Saturday Tradition’s annual Crystal Ball series continues today with Purdue. We’ll stay with the B1G West all week.
The 2020 season was a microcosm of the Jeff Brohm era. A strong start, then a whimper.
A quick recap: Purdue started 2-0 and was primed to take advantage of early-season adversity for West powers Wisconsin and Iowa. Plus, star wideout Rondale Moore was set to come back. Then, the Boilermakers lost 4 straight to close the season, with none of the losses coming by more than 10. Purdue was even favored in its last 3 games. In a word, ugh.
That sets the stage for Brohm’s 5th season: The Boilermakers have gotten progressively worse, from 7 wins, to 6, 4 and 2 in a shortened season. Can Purdue get this thing turned around?
Brohm’s new challenge
There was a time 2 years ago when Brohm was one of the hottest names in college football. He flirted with Louisville and Tennessee before Purdue signed him to a 7-year extension. But obviously, the shine has faded, especially when you consider how Tom Allen has elevated Indiana into one of the Big Ten’s top teams. (And look at Indiana’s other 2 FBS programs: Notre Dame is coming off a trip to the College Football Playoff and Ball State won the MAC.)
No one doubts Brohm can coach offense, but is he a good head coach? He won big at Western Kentucky, but aside from a 7-6 season in 2017, he hasn’t finished above .500 at Purdue. That’s in large part because Purdue’s defense has been subpar, especially considering that none of the teams in the West have explosive offenses. The Boilermakers were 113th and 100th nationally in total defense in 2018 and 2019, and though they jumped to 56th last season, they failed to generate takeaways in ranking 102nd in interceptions and 95th in passing yards allowed per game.
Brohm is on his third defensive coordinator in 3 years, and he insists he’ll have much more input on that side of the ball than in past years. He also has 3 new defensive assistants.
It’s going to be interesting to see whether Purdue can get different results. Brohm has a game-breaker and future high NFL Draft pick in edge rusher George Karlaftis among his 9 returning starters on defense.
Purdue can’t go wrong at QB
I’m not sure who is going to open the season as the starting QB, and I’m also not sure it matters. Purdue hasn’t made it through an entire season with the same starter since 2016.
Aidan O’Connell won the job last season and started the first 3 games, before an injury opened the door for Jack Plummer to start the final 3. They each completed 88 passes and threw 2 interceptions, with Plummer holding a slight lead in throwing for 22 more yards and 1 more TD. It’s uncanny how similar the numbers are.
It’s a luxury for Purdue to have 2 players who can step in and perform. They both did that in 2019 after Elijah Sindelar suffered a season-ending injury, too. And that’s not to mention UCLA transfer Austin Burton and former 4-star recruit Michael Alaimo.
Purdue has options, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see whomever is in put up big numbers throwing to David Bell and Milton Wright.
Has the momentum slowed?
I think it’s fair to say that Purdue’s recruiting momentum has completely slowed down. Brohm has reeled in big fish like Bell, Moore and Karlaftis, all of whom should have good NFL careers.
But Brohm hasn’t been able to get those game-breakers lately, if you believe the 247Sports Composite. The Boilermakers were 5th in the Big Ten in 2019, 7th in 2020 and 14th (dead last) in 2021. The only blue-chip recruit to come to West Lafayette in the latest class was Yanni Karlaftis, the younger brother of George.
It isn’t surprising considering the correlation with Purdue’s rise and subsequent fade. It is the story of the program right now.
That said, Brohm was dealt a tough hand last year. Moore, the team’s best player, initially opted out, then opted back in but didn’t play, then was a tad underwhelming in his return. Karlaftis missed most of the season with COVID. His QB got hurt (again).
In a more normal season with a more hands-on approach with the defense, let’s see what Brohm can do.
Week 1: vs. Oregon State (W)
Are matchups like this going to become more common with this potential alliance? Possibly. A game like this would be great for the Big Ten to get, especially since I’m anticipating Michigan will have its hands full with Washington. While the Beavers have 19 starters back, the Boilermakers have 18.
Week 2: at Connecticut (W)
The Huskies didn’t have a season last season, so losing to them would be an embarrassing scene for the Big Ten. Especially for a team that I think is going to win a few conference games this year.
Week 3: at Notre Dame (L)
Purdue has lost the last 7 in this series dating to 2007, so expectations are low. But it’s early in the season and Notre Dame has a new QB for the first time in what feels like forever (well, in 2 1/2 years). So you never know. But the Fighting Irish are starting out the season in the top 10 for a reason, as they have a very good roster that could be in the College Football Playoff conversation.
Week 4: vs. Illinois (W)
The Boilermakers have won 4 of 5 against the Illini. David Bell is going to feast on this Illinois secondary, like he did last year with 9-122-1.
Week 5: vs. Minnesota (W)
Minnesota had all sorts of trouble defensively last season, and Purdue can be a dangerous team in a shootout. If it does turn into a shootout, I like the Boilermakers because the Golden Gophers’ weapons are untested.
Week 6: Bye
Week 7: at Iowa (L)
This would seem to be a bad matchup for Purdue, but it always plays Iowa tough. The Boilermakers have won 3 of 4 (including last year), and the lone loss in that span was by 6 on the road. I think Iowa gets back on track against Purdue this year by pounding the run game and neutralizing George Karlaftis.
Week 8: vs. Wisconsin (W)
This one will turn heads. I think Wisconsin will enter this game undefeated and with an eye on the CFP, and Purdue will throw a wrench into those plans. Wisconsin’s defense is terrific, and I think the offense will be good, too, but I’m betting on Purdue getting out to an early lead at home and forcing the Badgers to play from behind and abandon the run game, which is not their preferred style of play. I am very high on Wisconsin this year, and I think this is going to be the one game it loses. It will take a Rondale-Moore-on-Ohio-State type game from Bell, of course.
Week 9: at Nebraska (L)
After a bit too much celebrating from the Wisconsin win, it’s back to reality against a Nebraska squad hungry for its first bowl game under Scott Frost. The Huskers are a desperate team.
Week 10: vs. Michigan State (L)
The Spartans are inconsistent, but they are going to win their share of games this year as they improve under Mel Tucker. I think their secondary will be much better and able to neutralize Bell and Milton Wright.
Week 11: at Ohio State (L)
It would’ve been fun to see Rondale Moore and Bell against Ohio State’s leaky secondary last year, but the Buckeyes should be better in that department this year. Well, they better be.
Week 12: vs. Northwestern at Wrigley Field (L)
This will be a fun game. But as Chicago’s Big Ten team, I have to take Northwestern, right?
Week 13: vs. Indiana (L)
The Old Oaken Bucket game is back! This rivalry game was a COVID casualty as these teams didn’t play for the first time since 1919. Having lived in Indiana for 5 years, I always enjoy this game, even if some fans have already mentally turned the page to basketball season. The Hoosiers will be in the mix for a New Year’s Six Bowl, so I think they will be locked in.
2021 projection: 5-7, 5th in B1G West
Did I really pick Purdue to start 5-2, including an upset of Wisconsin, only to lose their last 5 games and miss a bowl game? Yes, yes I did.
A finish like this would certainly increase the chatter around Jeff Brohm. If this actually does come true, Purdue fans better hope Brohm doesn’t get a knee-jerk extension after the Wisconsin upset.
Purdue made bowl games in Brohm’s first 2 seasons, but a third straight season without one will leave a bad taste and make fans long for hoops season.