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2021 Purdue Football: Hope Is Eternal

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We can do this.

Syndication: LafayetteIN Eric Schlene/For the Journal & Courier

This entire site is probably born out of the Drew Brees years for Purdue football. I started going to games in the 1987 season, starting with 22-22 tie with Louisville that year. At the time, Purdue was not THAT far separated from the Jim Young era, and it had gone to a bowl game just three years prior. We also now had Fred Akers! He was from TEXAS (all caps, of course). He had nearly won a national championship in 1981 and 1983!

Of course, what followed was 10 years of mostly uninspired football where Purdue never won more than four games in a single season on the field. I know they were technically 5-4-2 in 1994 after a Michigan State forfeit, but they lost the game 42-30 and really shouldn’t get credit after starting 4-1, then flopping.

I was very lucky to be a senior in high school during Joe Tiller’s out-of-nowhere first season, then I got to enjoy the entire Brees era as a student. By the time Purdue took the field in Pasadena it was year four. We had sustained success and were good at football now! Surely it wasn’t going to take 34 years to get back again.

That was 20 years ago.

It turns out when you have one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of football, followed by a solid multi-year NFL starter in Kyle Orton, it helps your program. From 1997-2004 Purdue football had one of the greatest runs in its history. The 2003 team was legitimately very, VERY good and was a handful of plays from going 11-1.

Since then, however, each season has been hope that often delivered very few positive returns. We know what happened in 2004. The 2005 season crashed and burned faster than the Soviet Zond rocket in 1969. In 2006 Purdue won 8 games, but it took 14 games to get there and we really didn’t beat anyone of note in doing so (6-7 Minnesota was the “best” win). In 2007 Purdue started 5-0 against a collection of stiffs and even got ranked, but it was the last top 25 appearance to date. It got to 8 wins, the last time we have won that many, but three were over MAC teams, one was over an FCS team, two were against all-time worst Notre Dame and Minnesota teams, and two were 6-6 Big Ten programs.

Danny Hope hovered around .500 for five years after Joe Tiller’s career ended with a whisper in 2008. Darrell Hazell was a complete disaster from the start (really, his first SPRING GAME was 14-0). On October 20, 2018 Jeff Brohm kicked the living hell out of Ohio State and Purdue moved to 11-9 under him, but it is just 7-15 since beating a top 25 Iowa that year. Injuries and COVID were huge factors in that, but Purdue enters the 2021 season once again stalled and hoping for a turnaround, pretty much like it has entered every season since 2004. Under Brohm it has been close a number of times, losing more than a dozen one score games and a whopping FIVE on the final snap of the game, but it hasn’t gotten over yet.

I have never had any delusions that Purdue will win a national championship in football. There are maybe 8 schools that currently have a realistic shot each season, and even then, we know the playoff is probably going to be Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR FAVORED TOWARDS OKLAHOMA. A men’s basketball Final Four is my sports white whale, and I would be elated if Purdue topped out with a string of 7-5 to 9-3 seasons with the occasional West title and maybe a 10-winner one year.

The 2021 season is probably not that year. I can see a path to 9-3 as the “everything goes absolutely perfect and we get a few breaks” ceiling. I think we’re more likely in the 6-6 oy 7-5 range. I think we absolutely need to win the following games:

Oregon State - The most pivotal game for Brohm going forward.

UConn – Absolutely, unequivocally terrible.

Illinois – Better under Bielema, but flawed.

Nebraska – Already looking like a train wreck.

Michigan State – Not promising after being way down last year.

I think getting those five (or at the bare minimum, four of them) is reasonable. That leaves getting two more of the following four:

Minnesota – We had them beat last year and I want to see us play angry. This is the next most critical game for Brohm if he beats Oregon State.

Iowa – Brohm is 3-1 against them and David Bell torments them.

Northwestern – Strong defense, but not a great offense.

Indiana – Overrated.

We’re not beating Wisconsin until I actually see it happen. We’re not winning in South Bend against a playoff caliber Notre Dame. We’re not winning in Columbus unless we can take Ross-Ade Stadium with us.

You don’t throw parades for 6-6 or 7-5, but that would be a definite step forward and return to positive momentum after a down year in 2019 and a whatever-the-hell-that-was 2020 where it felt like we had six glorified exhibitions.

So much hinges on the Oregon State game. They are mid-to-low level Power 5 conference team pretty much in the same boat as us. Look at their history. They are nearly a Pac-12 mirror Purdue over the last 55 years. A win over the Beavers gets positive momentum going again, especially with a virtual (at least it should be) layup in week 2. A loss raises the same questions. If Purdue can’t beat Oregon State suddenly three of the other four “must wins” come into question.

But I still believe. I believe this team can make a turnaround even with remaining questions on the offensive line and at defensive tackle.

I believe in Jack Plummer, who was named “the guy” already and looked pretty good in three starts last year. Flinging the ball around for 300+ yards per game is nice.

I believe in the defense, which should be better with the subtraction of Bob Diaco and because it really couldn’t be much worse. Even in disaster for much of last year, Purdue was still very close in all four losses.

I believe in George Karlaftis to be a terror and lynchpin of an improved defense. If he is on the field it makes Purdue’s defense significantly better.

I believe in David Bell because he has a lot of really good receivers around him.

I believe in Zander Horvath to be a solid running back, and both King Doerue and Dylan Downing can spell him.

I believe in a team that took some lumps the last few years, but now has its two best recruiting classes in decades coming into form as juniors and sophomores.

I believe in the transfers that came in to plug some holes immediately.

I believe in guys like Jackson Anthrop, who has stayed for a long time and given more than we could ever ask. He is one of the few players left recruited by Hazell, so he knows a lot.

I believe in a secondary that can be salty in the middle with Jalen Graham, Cam Allen, and Marvin Grant.

I believe in a pass offense that was far and away the Big Ten’s best last year statistically, and it only needs a little more consistent running game.

I believe actually playing at home with fans will help.

Finally, I still believe in Jeff Brohm. Part of it comes from hoping he goes back to his swashbuckling playcalling ways of 2017 and 2018. Part of it comes from knowing he is going to be around through next year at minimum, so I have to believe.

Come kickoff Saturday night I will be in the stadium for the first time in two years, and three and a half hours after kickoff we’ll know more if that hope and belief is misplaced or not.

Let’s Play Football.