I haven’t tackled the Music City Bowl yet, and honestly, it’s because I don’t know what to make of Bowl games anymore. In the past, I considered them a fair litmus test for a program. When Purdue beat Kansas State in the Alamo Dome, it was clear that Purdue was program on the rise. When Auburn beat the the brains out of Purdue in the Music City Bowl, it was clear Purdue had a long way to go before they could consistently compete with the big boys of college football. Regardless of the outcome of the game on Thursday, I don’t think we’re going to get any deep insights into the program. This is truly an exhibition game, and as long as you treat it as such, you won’t be disappointed.
The Purdue team taking the field in Nashville isn’t a reasonable representation of the 2021 team. Some programs can shake off the loss of two first round talents because they can replace them with first round talents in waiting. Purdue doesn’t have that luxury. David Bell is the only wide receiver on the Purdue roster that can do David Bell things. Milton Wright has the talent to occasionally give a close approximation, but it looks like he’s out as well. The 2021 Purdue offense without David Bell isn’t the 2021 Purdue offense. I’m not saying it won’t be fun to watch, but it won’t be the Purdue offense that earned Purdue an invite to the Music City Bowl.
George Karlaftis is the only defensive lineman on Purdue’s roster capable of doing George Karlaftis things. There isn’t another player who routinely forces double and triple teams from the offense, and still manages to get pressure. There are some promising young players, but none are on his level, and it’s highly doubtful that any player on this roster will reach his level (although it sure would be nice) of success. That’s no slight to the other guys, but Purdue isn’t exactly loaded with replacement 5* defensive end recruits with top 10 NFL draft potential. The 2021 Purdue defense without George Karlaftis isn’t the 2021 Purdue defense. I’m not saying it won’t be fun to watch but it won’t be the same defense that earned Purdue an invite to the Music City Bowl.
Tennessee is dealing with the same thing, although to a lesser extent. They’ll be thin in the secondary with starting corner Alontae Taylor sitting this one out to get nurse a lingering foot injury and to prepare for the draft. Taylor’s normal back up, Kenneth George, is also looking like a no go. That will obviously put the Vols in a bind, because even with Bell and Wright out of the game, you know Brohm is going to air it out and hope for the best (as he should). Throw in a banged up Tennessee offensive line (likely without former 5* Cade Mays) and you’re dealing with a less than complete Tennessee team (although close to what you would a expect from a normal Tennessee team dealing with in season injuries).
I’m not going to do an in-depth preview, because I have no idea what Purdue looks like without their best players. This team is built around Bell and Karlaftis, and what worked in the regular season may not work in the Music City Bowl without them. How Purdue looks without their best players isn’t necessarily an indication on how they will look without them next year either. The coaching staff has 8 months to put together a new scheme that better fits the talents of the 2022 team.
At full strength, this is an interesting toss up game. With the Purdue opt outs, Tennessee has the clear advantage, and if anything, will be dealing with the pressure of being in their home state, in front of their home fans, and playing a depleted Purdue squad. The Boilermaker’s are playing with house money. A win gets the Boilers some nice publicity, a loss is easy to shrug off.
I’m going to sit back on Thursday, drink a few beers and enjoy the show. This game is a reward for the players who want to play in it, and nothing more than that. The long term benefit, extra practices for the young guys, has already happened. This is basically a late preseason NFL game. I kinda like watching late preseason NFL games, not because they are the height of football excellence, but because you get to watch a bunch of guys you don’t normally see playing as hard they possibly can, while the stars sit on the sidelines. It’s not going to be pretty, but if you enjoy the game for what it is, and don’t get frustrated about what it could be, you’ll have a pleasant viewing experience.
This is the new reality in college football. If you can’t handle it, you should probably find something else to do with your time on Thursday.