In 100 days Purdue football begins anew at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. On that day Jeff Brohm will be the 36th permanent head coach in school history. I already have my tickets, and it will be the sixth time I have witnessed the first game of a new coach:
September 12, 1987 – Fred Akers came over from Texas to take over at Purdue and hoped bring his success in the Southwest Conference to West Lafayette. His era began with a 28-10 loss at Washington as Purdue started a four year series with the Huskies. He would last only four seasons and 44 games, going 12-31-1. He does, however, have the last Purdue win at Ohio State, 31-26 in 1988.
September 7, 1991 – Jim Colletto took over for Akers and his first game was a huge success. Purdue trounced an overmatched Eastern Michigan 49-3 at Ross-Ade Stadium to get off to a promising start. It lasted a week, as Purdue lost 42-18 at California a week later and 45-20 at home against Notre Dame. Colletto never won more than four games on the field in a season and went 20-43-3 in six seasons. His most memorable time was a 4-1 start in 1994 that fizzled to a 4-5-2 finish with Mike Alstott.
September 6, 1997 – The Joe Tiller era got off to a thud with a 36-22 loss at Toledo. Purdue was not sharp in the second half and some guy named Drew Brees made his debut during mop-up time. After losing to a MAC team expectations were low, but a week later Purdue would stun Notre Dame 28-17 to start a 6-game winning streak and reach a bowl for the first time in 12 years. Tiller went on to go 87-62 and finish as Purdue’s all-time winningest coach. He also won our most recent Big Ten championship.
September 5, 2009 – For an afternoon it looked like Danny Hope as Tiller’s hand-picked successor would pay off. Ralph Bolden ran wild on the Rockets for more than 200 yards and Purdue cruised to a relatively easy win over a MAC team. A week later Purdue went to Oregon and gave the Ducks all they could handle before losing 38-36 on a failed 2-point conversion. That first Hope season was a frustrating one, as Purdue lost five games by 21 points total and went 5-7. It is one of the bigger “what-might-have-beens”, as a 10-2 start for Hope re-ignites the program and recruiting. Instead, this and a rash of injuries the next season leads to a 22-27 record for Hope.
August 31, 2013 – After a pep rally on the circle in downtown Indianapolis, the Darrell Hazell era began with great excitement. Purdue would open at nearby Cincinnati. Purdue faces a tough schedule, but there was enough experience back to have some hope, especially after Morgan Burke opened the wallet and paid Hazell, who had performed a minor miracle by winning 10 games at lowly Kent State. Purdue trailed only 14-7 at halftime, but was demolished 42-7 on its way to the worst season in school history. It never got much better, as Hazell became the first midseason firing in school history after 3.5 years and a dismal 9-33 record. Four of his nine wins were guarantee paycheck games over FCS teams.
So that brings us to September 2, 2017. Brohm will face off against his alma mater, who happens to have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Expectations are low as we head to the 2017 season. There is a dearth of talent in several critical areas such as the offensive line and Brohm has his work cut out for him. No one expects much in week one against a really good Louisville team, or really this season at all.
What would be a successful season this year? Is there a number of wins that would qualify as a success? Brohm takes over a program that hasn’t won more than three games in a season since 2012. We’re elated to get past the disaster that was the Hazell era, but at the same time, we know there is a very long rebuild ahead unlike in 2013, when we thought Hazell just needed “his guys” to turn it around.
Personally, I think Purdue could surprise just a little this year, but I say that because it is my job to get excited and hype Purdue football. If the goal is to reach a bowl game there is a path there, but there is such a talent deficiency that the only way Purdue gets to six wins is if it beats Ohio, Rutgers, and Illinois, then has virtually perfect games against Missouri on the road, then Minnesota and Indiana at home. By “surprising a little” I am thinking four wins and we manage to catch someone napping like Nebraska or Michigan at home or Northwestern on the road.
I think what people want to see is this team actually being competitive. I fell off the Hazell bandwagon in 2015 when the team appeared to collapse after blowing the lead at Marshall. Virginia Tech, Illinois, Minnesota, and Indiana were all mediocre teams that Purdue should have been competitive against. Instead, they came to Ross-Ade and blew us out. For four years Purdue has often looked like an FCS school playing against the Big Ten.
I want to see something different this year. I want to be competitive into the second half for most games. I want to see an exciting offense that is innovative. I want to see the coaching staff try to glean what it can from the players it has rather than try to force a system that we have no hope of executing. I want to get the damn Bucket back, because if Indiana wins it this year it is their longest streak ever in the 116 year history of the series between the schools.
With 100 days to go we know Purdue football is a very long work in progress, but hopefully in 100 days we can at least see some promise. Be competitive against Louisville. Take a first half lead and have the game be in doubt into the third quarter at least.
And if Purdue manages to spring a pretty large upset in the opener everything accelerates.