Purdue football: The 10 most valuable players from the past decade
The last decade of Purdue football can be divided into 2 very distinct eras: The years before Jeff Brohm became head coach and those after.
Because from 2012-2016, the Boilermakers were a miserable football program, ending the last year of the Danny Hope Era with a 6-victory season, then winning only 9 games total in the 4 seasons with Darrell Hazell and his staff. Under Brohm, who was hired to put out the dumpster fire, the Boilermakers have played in 3 bowl games in 5 seasons, including a 9-win campaign that ended with a Music City Bowl victory in 2021.
Following, we’ll take a look at 10 of the Boilermakers’ most valuable players in the last decade (2012-21), ranking them not necessarily in terms of the best players (although many are) but those who had a big influence on the program at that time.
10. Robert Marve
The most ballyhooed QB recruit of the Hope Era at Purdue, Marve transferred to West Lafayette from Miami, hoping that a chance of scenery would help him relaunch a stalled collegiate career.
And the Boilermakers seemed a good fit, with Hope putting a premium on Sunshine State players and thinking that Marve could be the centerpiece for his program. Unfortunately, it never really materialized. Marve bounced in and out as the Boilermakers’ starting QB, sometimes because of injury and occasionally because of ineffective play.
Given a 6th season in 2012, Marve battled Caleb TerBush for the starting job, but seemingly lost the gig after tearing his ACL — for the 3rd time in his career — early in the year. But after TerBush led Purdue to a 2-6 start, a heavily-knee-braced Marve returned as Purdue’s starter, then led the Boilermakers to 3 straight wins. In the finale against Indiana, Marve threw for a career-high 348 yards and 4 touchdowns, plus he ran about 70 yards to make a tackle and save a TD after he had thrown a pick, a hell of a play on a bad leg.
Purdue finished the regular-season 6-6 (before being throttled by Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl after Hope was fired). Although Marve never turned into the all-star that many had hoped, he did provide end-of-career heroics that are hard to forget.
9. Anthony Mahoungou
When Anthony Mahoungou first arrived at Purdue in 2015, it seemed like a feel good story of a French-born player with a limited football background who was getting a chance at a Power-5 school. If he contributed even marginally, that would be a bonus.
But due to hard work and opportunity, Mahoungou turned into much more than a role player for the Boilermakers. Instead, he was a hero in the first season of the Brohm Era. The lanky 6-3, 210-pounder turned into Purdue’s big-time target late in his senior year in 2017, first nuking Iowa in Iowa City in a must-win game in the second-to-last game of the season, then exploding in the Foster Farms Bowl against Arizona — 6 catches for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns, the second coming in the final 2 minutes of a 38-35 win. And Mahoungou did it despite being hobbled by a bad leg.
It was an incredible effort to cap an incredible story.
8. TJ McCollum
Back before the transfer portal was activated, but graduates could still move on without a 1-year penalty, linebacker TJ McCollum spent one season at Purdue.
It was an important one. Brohm hit the transfer market hard in his first season at the helm, figuring the team needed a heavy influx of talent from Day 1. McCollum, who had played for Brohm at Western Kentucky, might have been the biggest get. The physical linebacker helped Purdue’s defense make a gigantic turnaround in Year 1 of Brohm’s tenure, as Purdue won 7 games, including the Foster Farms Bowl, after totaling only 9 Ws in the previous 4 seasons.
McCollum finished with 69 tackles and 3 sacks in his only season with the Boilermakers.
7. Aidan O’Connell
A walk-on early in his career at Purdue, Aidan O’Connell was 9th on the depth chart during his 1st year as a Boilermaker in 2016.
Few thought he’d move up into relevancy. But here we are, as O’Connell has taken control as Purdue’s QB1 on the eve of the 2022 season after claiming the job in the second half of last year. O’Connell helped the Boilermakers’ offense explode in the final 6 games of ’21, as Purdue won 5 including the Music City Bowl over Tennessee. It was the Boilermakers’ first 9-win season since 2003.
O’Connell, a dark horse candidate for Heisman Trophy consideration this season, passed for 3,811 yards with a nearly 72 percent completion rate, with 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, as he was named second-team All-Big Ten.
6. Ja’Whaun Bentley
A 3-time captain at Purdue, maybe the only one in program history, Bentley was not only a great linebacker but one who brought a swagger to the defense.
In his first 3 seasons, though, that didn’t amount to much. But once Brohm took over, with co-coordinator and play-caller Nick Holt, Bentley helped to lead a massive turnaround for Purdue’s defense. The current New England Patriot finished his senior season with 97 tackles, 11.5 for loss and had a 76-year interception return for touchdown that sealed a victory against Minnesota.
5. Ricardo Allen
Ricardo Allen was an outstanding player for the Boilermakers, collecting 13 interceptions and returning a program-best 4 for touchdowns.
Unfortunately, it came at a largely forgettable time in the annals of Purdue football. Allen played his first 3 seasons under Hope, and did see the Boilermakers to 2 bowl games. But Allen was hoping to be a part of a rebuild in the first year with Hazell as the boss in ’13, his senior year. Instead, Purdue won only 1 game, against FCS Indiana State, and the Boilermakers needed a late interception by Allen just to secure that victory.
Allen, a second-team All-Big Ten selection, went on to play 8 seasons in the NFL for the Falcons and Bengals.
4. David Blough
David Blough engineered one of the most memorable games in Purdue history, let alone the last decade, when he guided Purdue to a 49-20 upset of No. 2 Ohio State in the “Tyler Trent Game” on Oct. 20, 2018.
With Boilermakers super fan, cancer fighter and Blough friend Trent in the stands — the Purdue student died a few months later — the quarterback was a magician, carving up OSU for 378 yards and 3 touchdowns in the blowout of the Buckeyes. The game was the highlight of a career that saw Blough frequently battle Elijah Sindelar for the starting quarterback gig. But after Sindelar’s early-season injury — he was hurt on the same play as Rondale Moore vs. Minnesota — Blough took over full-time, then guided the Brohm-led Boilermakers to their second straight bowl game.
In 2018, Blough passed for 3,521 yards with 25 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions.
3. David Bell
David Bell caught footballs that looked uncatchable to onlookers.
And he did it so frequently, that describing the grabs became nearly impossible. How do you distinguish one amazing catch from the next?
During Bell’s 3-year career from 2019-21, the Indianapolis native further established West Lafayette as a destination for wide receivers during the Brohm Era, following in the footsteps of Moore before him. Bell, who had a 1,000-yard season as a true freshman in ’19, was named the Big Ten’s Receiver of the Year in ’21 after finishing with 93 receptions for 1,286 and 6 touchdowns.
Not only did Bell have the individual production — and the accolades, like being 1 of 3 finalists for the Biletnikoff Award — but he helped the Boilermakers to a 9-win season, then became a 3rd-round pick of the Cleveland Browns.
2. George Karlaftis
By the mid-2000s, Purdue had built a decades-long tradition of great defensive ends, players like Rosevelt Colvin, Chike Okeafor, Rob Ninkovich, Shaun Phillips, Akin Ayodele and many others. But since Ryan Kerrigan’s graduation in 2010, the Boilermakers hadn’t seen a D-end nearly as impactful.
Then George Karlaftis crossed the street from West Lafayette High School to Purdue University. The 4-star defensive end spurned other offers, like from Michigan, to stay at his hometown school, then became the player nearly everyone expected. His last season at Purdue — he left a year early, then was a first-round pick of Kansas City in ’22 — was transformative for the Boilermakers’ defense. He finished with 5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, and was one of the nation’s leaders in QB hurries. But more than the statistics, he made Purdue better 1 through 11 on the defensive side.
Karlaftis’ relentless attitude rubbed off on teammates, as the Boilermakers won 9 in 2021, including the Music City Bowl.
1. Rondale Moore
There’s been no more important recruit during the Brohm Era — and perhaps Purdue history — than Rondale Moore.
The one-time Texas commitment flipped his verbal from the Longhorns to the Boilermakers in the spring of 2018, uniting with fellow Trinity High School graduate Brohm at Purdue. He made an immediate impact, catching 114 passes for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns, plus rushing in 2 more, during his All-America freshman year.
Although injuries limited him to only 7 more games the following 2 seasons, Moore’s legacy at Purdue is far greater than his diminutive stature. His highlight-worthy performances, like when he dismantled the OSU defense in the Tyler Trent Game, have helped draw others, like Bell, to the program and provided an early jump-start to Brohm’s tenure.