We still have a bowl game to go, but things are looking up for the 2019 season. We have Rondale Moore returning as the nation’s most versatile player. We have Elijah Sindelar back, hopefully at 100% and with plenty of experience at quarterback. We have a vast recruiting haul of five (maybe six?) four-star talents that can contribute immediately at key positions. Sure, there are losses like Markell Jones, D.J. Knox, Terry Wright, and Isaac Zico, but we have Tario Fuller, King Doerue, Milton Wright, and T.J. Sheffield on board to keep the offense exciting. ‘
Then there is the defense. At times this season it feels like we merely survived there. George Karlaftis, Steven Faucheux, and Marvin Grant are instant impact upgrades. They may not be dominant from day one like Rondale, but they provide, at worst, critical depth on a defensive unit that loses two seniors (Jacob Thieneman and Antonio Blackmon).
It is year three under Jeff Brohm, and there is plenty to be excited about. Pretty much anything is on the table, so let’s look at the schedule and how each team did this season.
August 31 at Nevada – This is our first road game at a non-Power 5 team since 2015 at Marshall and first West Coast game since at Oregon in 2009. After going 3-9 in 2017 under Jay Norvell hey bounced back this season to go 7-5 in year 2 with him. They will play in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl. Of note, this is the highest altitude Purdue has ever played at. Mackay Stadium sits at 4,610 feet, the 9th highest stadium in FBS. Toa Taua had a great freshman season at running back with 816 yards and six touchdowns.
September 7 vs. Vanderbilt – For the third straight season Purdue plays an SEC team, and this one is also a black & gold team as we take part in the FBS Black & Gold challenge. The Commodores are in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bowl against Baylor. They got there by beating Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee in their last four games, and they only lost at Missouri by 5 in that stretch. If they win their bowl game it will be the first time in the five year tenure of Derek Mason they have won 7 games.
September 14 vs. TCU – The Horned Frogs will make their first trip to West Lafayette since 1970. Purdue swept a home-and-home with them in 1969-70, but they have gotten much better since then. They had a major dropoff this year after going 11-3 in 2017 and making the Big 12 title game. They fell to 6-6 and even lost to Kansas, but late wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State got them to the Cheez-It Bowl against California. We had a common opponent with them this season, as they lost to Ohio State 40-28. This means all three non-conference teams are coming off of bowl games.
September 28 vs. Minnesota – A scheduling quirk in 2019 means Purdue gets a pair of bye weeks, so we’ll have a week off before hosting Minnesota to start league play. There is little question the Gophers were up and down this year, too. They were blown out by a terrible Illinois team, then kicked out ass in Minneapolis. They also have a ton of momentum after beating Wisconsin to get to the Quicklane bowl vs. Wake Forest. There will always be some interest here in Jeff Brohm vs. P.J. Fleck since they were hired at the same time, and so far each has won at home.
October 5 at Penn State – This is our first trip to Penn State 2013, when Darrell Hazell’s first team lost 45-21. In 2016 they set a visiting team record for points at Ross-Ade Stadium in a 62-24 blowout. Purdue has only won once in State College, and that came in 2004 against one of their worst teams. With Trace McSorely back this will probably be our toughest road game of the season.
October 12 vs. Maryland – For the first time ever Maryland comes to Purdue. They are 2-0 against the Boilermakers, winning the 2006 Champs Sports Bowl over us and blowing out Purdue in College Park in 2016. They will also have a new coach, as they hired Mike Locksley. Locksley was 1-5 as the interim coach at Maryland in 2015 and comes in after serving as offensive coordinator at Alabama. He was also 2-26 in three years at New Mexico, making him a Hazellian 3-31 all-time as head coach.
October 19 at Iowa – Jeff Brohm has done extremely well against Iowa, winning the last two in the series. They have been close, however. Purdue’s defense dominated in Iowa City in 2017 and this year we won on a last second field goal. The Hawkeyes are always going to be solid, especially at home. Can we win two in a row against them in Iowa City? Probably not since I am planning on going to this one.
October 26 vs. Illinois – Will Lovie Smith still be employed by kickoff of this game? The Fighting Illini are a mess and did not inspire much hope this year. They’re just 9-27 in three years with him and 4-23 in the Big Ten. Two of his wins have been against Rutgers, too. This needs to be a win under any circumstance because, well, even Hazell could beat Illinois.
November 2 vs. Nebraska – The Cornhuskers were only 4-8 this season, but won four out of five at one point with a narrow loss to Ohio State in the middle. Scott Frost had them playing well at the end of the season. The offense was moving the ball and they nearly won at Iowa too. Year No. 2 is going to be much better and this should be a bowl team. Are they ready to challenge for the Big Ten West, however?
November 9 at Northwestern – The division champs are on an impressive run against both the Big Ten West and us. Their last loss against the division was at Minnesota in November of 2016 and their last loss to Purdue was in 2010. They certainly aren’t pretty in doing it, but they get the job done. With Hunter Johnson coming eligible they are going to be a threat to win the Big Ten West again.
November 23 at Wisconsin – This season Purdue had Wisconsin on the ropes and let them up. Jonathan Taylor will still be there too, but the fact is we had an excellent shot to win up two scores inside of 10 minutes left, but blew it. The triple overtime defeat didn’t cost us a bowl game, but it came close. Will the Badgers have a more balanced attack in 2019 though? Taylor is going to be a near 2,000 yard back again though.
November 30 vs. Indiana – Indiana has lost by 7 each of the last two years because it could not recover an onside kick with about a minute left. It is why we have gone bowling and they have not. Much has been made about Purdue passing Indiana, but it is not like we were miles ahead. The Hoosiers are not the Hoosiers of old. They are at least usually competitive in games and if they get a new offensive coordinator they can be dangerous.
To be sure, it is an interesting schedule. Maryland, Indiana, Nebraska, and Illinois are the four teams we play that were not in bowl games, but Indiana and Maryland were only a victory away. The crossover against Penn State, Maryland, and Indiana are easier than Ohio State, Michigan State, and Indiana from this past season. The non-conference is probably about even. Nevada is on par with Eastern Michigan, while Vanderbilt and TCU are probably a little worse than Missouri and Boston College. The Big Ten West is going to be pretty even, too.
Expectations will be higher though. I think we need to win at least 8 games as we build toward what could be an excellent 2020 season. The thing is, eight games is very, very doable.