Skeptic’s guide to Purdue's 2022 football season
There’s no shortage of optimism in West Lafayette.
Arguably, there’s more anticipation for 2022 than Purdue fans have felt in years, perhaps 20, back when Joe Tiller had the Boilermakers rolling in the late ’90s and early 2000s. But is it all warranted? Or could Purdue fall flat of expectations?
ESPN’s College Football Power Index predicts Purdue to finish — basically — 7-5, which would represent a good-but-not-great season for the Boilermakers, who finished 9-4 with a Music City Bowl win over Tennessee last year. And it wouldn’t satisfy many who want to see them take another step forward and compete in the Big Ten West.
But let’s take a look at 5 reasons to be skeptical that Purdue can accomplish that in 2022:
Where are the weapons?
Yes, Purdue has Aidan O’Connell back for his 6th season, ready to continue the kind of play that made him one of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks — and one of the country’s, too — toward the end of last year.
But who’s he throwing to on the perimeter?
Unlike last season, when O’Connell’s primary targets were established veterans David Bell, Milton Wright and Jackson Anthrop, he has very few such options this season. Bell and Anthrop are in rookie NFL camps this summer — Bell, an All-American, was a third-round Draft pick — while Wright, according to multiple reports in early May, will not be academically eligible this fall.
It means O’Connell will be left with a largely untested group, aside from veteran Broc Thompson, that includes holdovers TJ Sheffield, Mershawn Rice, Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen and Collin Sullivan, along with Iowa transfer Tyrone Tracy. The group might turn out to be solid, but it’s unlikely to have a star, as the Boilermakers have had the last several seasons with Rondale Moore before Bell.
A year ago at this time, Purdue lost a slew of underclassman offensive linemen to injuries, cutting short their college careers.
It didn’t greatly affect the Boilermakers in 2021, as Purdue had enough veterans — and it stayed mostly healthy — to make it through a 13-game season without a bunch of issues. But it might be hurting Jeff Brohm and Co., now, as those developmental players were taken out of the pipeline.
Now, Purdue has only 3 returning starters on the o-line, left tackle Eric Miller, left guard Spencer Holstege and center Gus Hartwig. There are questions at right guard and right tackle. Maybe Sione Finau, a transfer from FIU who was on campus, but injured, during the spring, can fill in at right guard. And perhaps Cam Craig, a backup swing tackle last season, can be the starting right tackle. And Purdue likes young linemen Marcus Mbow and Mahamane Moussa, but they might be pushed into action sooner than desired.
If Purdue’s OL is sub-par, it’ll nuke what it hopes is an effective down-field passing attack.
D doesn’t repeat
Purdue’s defense lost a lot from last season:
— All-America defensive end George Karlaftis is in Kansas City after being a late-first-round selection of the Chiefs.
— Co-coordinator and play-caller Brad Lambert left to go to Wake Forest after only a season.
— Veterans like DeMarcus Mitchell, Jaylan Alexander and Dedrick Mackey departed to pursue potential NFL careers.
— Safety Marvin Grant, the leading returning tackler, surprised many when he jumped into the transfer portal on the final day that it was open.
Purdue thinks it can put another quality defense, led by co-coordinator Ron English, on the field this fall, but what if it’s wrong? The Boilermakers were heavily reliant on Karlaftis’ skills last season, not only as a play-maker but as a player who could attract enough attention to give teammates opportunities. They don’t have another player like him. If Purdue can’t get pressure up front to help it create turnovers, then that could present a big-time problem to the Boilermakers trying to reach their lofty goals.
The schedule is friendly … or is it?
An optimist sees opportunity in Purdue’s schedule, with the potential to start 7-0.
But what if it’s not that easy.
Penn State will be a field-goal favorite in Ross-Ade Stadium on the Thursday night opener Sept. 1. Two weeks later, Purdue heads to Syracuse, and while the Orange have been pedestrian in recent years, it won’t be an easy travel weekend. On Oct. 1, the Boilermakers are at TCF Bank Stadium, where they’ve never before won, to take on PJ Fleck, whom Brohm has never beaten. Then Purdue is at Maryland, which will have an offense equal to the Boilermakers, before an improved (finally?) Nebraska team at home.
Add in that Purdue’s been only 8-9 in September under Brohm and maybe hopes for a quick start should be tempered.
Back-to-back winning seasons are, unfortunately, rare at Purdue.
The Boilermakers’ last consecutive seasons above .500 came in 2006 and 2007, when they had back-to-back seasons of 8 victories as Joe Tiller wound down his successful tenure as the head coach. In 12 seasons, Tiller won 87 games, most in program history. In 13 seasons since, Purdue has won 59 games and has had only 3 winning seasons, none in consecutive seasons.
Has Brohm built a program that can have sustained success? Only one way to find out.