Football time is almost here, and we here at Hammer & Rails are excited for the season. That means it is Roundtable time. I asked the staff what they thought about the coming season and here is what most of us think:
1. How important is the Penn State game in your eyes?
Jace: As I say in the game picks for this week, Penn State is going to be a tone setter for either building on a huge season in 2021 or starting a disappointing year. Purdue always seem to stumble in big early season games so I’m not entirely confident this one will be a breeze.
Ledman: The Penn State game is like the whole enchilada to me. Starting a game with a Big Ten game is always sort of scary. We just don’t know enough about either of these teams to know for sure how this game is going to play out. We can look at the teams on paper and see that they are fairly even. I’d give the edge to Purdue on offense and Penn State on defense so it’s strength versus strength. This game will show how Purdue faces a good defense. It’ll color every game going forward.
Kyle: The Penn State Game does not make or break the season for me. A win would be nice, and would start the season off with a bang, but as long as the Boilers do not get blown out - it will show for a promising season. Though, Penn State is definitely a team that can be beat.
T-Mill: I think it is huge. It is a lot like the Northwestern game in 2018, only with higher stakes. We’re a legit West contender if we can take this game. Purdue only plays Wisconsin as a preseason top 25 team, so a win over the Nittany Lions sends our hopes sky high. We can still have a good season if we lose, but a win opens the door to the best season in a very long time.
2. Who is the breakout Offensive player his year?
Jace: There are quite a few ways you could go for breakout player on offense, but I am going to roll with TJ Sheffield. He has been an explosive receiver that has had to wait his turn behind Rondale Moore, David Bell and Milton Wright, but now he is going to be asked of a lot more. Last year he had 300+ yards and 5 touchdowns. I think he could reach 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in Jeff Brohm’s offense. Another guy is Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen but he has dealt with a lot of knee issues during his career.
Ledman: Seems like a copout to say Broc Thompson since his breakout game was likely the bowl game from last year but he’s my choice. I’ve been on the hype train since I noticed his great blocking early last season. Purdue will need a solid #1 receiver now that David Bell is gone and I think Thompson can be that guy.
Kyle: I am going to say, if healthy, Mershawn Rice, he has shown promise, was a high 4 star out of high school and has the body to be a great outside wide receiver. I think he can do a bit of everything and again, if healthy, can have a great year.
T-Mill: Give me Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen. Purdue needs a deep threat after Milton Wright got knocked off the team and David Bell went to the NFL. Yaseen showed it just a little bit last season before he was hurt. I think he can really surprise some people.
3. Who is the breakout Defensive player this year?
Jace: On the defensive side, Cory Trice is ready to have an All-Big Ten type season at cornerback. He’s another guy that has dealt with a bunch of injuries, but getting the whole off-season to heal up, I think he can replicate his redshirt freshman campaign and become the Boilermaker’s lockdown cornerback.
Ledman: I’m going with O.C. Brothers here. I think the linebackers can be a strength for this Purdue team and a lot of attention is going to be paid to Jalen Graham (rightfully so) which should allow Brothers to roam a bit more freely and make some big plays for this team. Anytime you’re in the same unit as a very special player (which I think Graham will be) it can make things a bit easier for you. Brothers will reap the benefits of playing alongside Graham.
Kyle: Kieren Douglas, he showed some great promise last year, he is a 6th year guy and is a THUMPER. He will be top 3 on the team in tackles. Honorable Mention for me is Jack Sullivan, he will be given a huge role, but what will he do with it?
T-Mill: Give me the new kid: Nic Carraway. He’s not going to be George Karlaftis, but he can come in and be a presence off of the end. We need a more consistent pass rush and he won’t get the attention that George did. Hopefully that pays off.
4. Who is your pick for team MVP?
Jace: How can you not pick Aidan O’Connell for Purdue’s MVP? He should be right up there in terms of All-Big Ten once things are said and done. Jeff Brohm has given a quarterback the keys for the first time since David Blough? O’Connell is set up to have a special season with all of the weapons around him and confidence from how last year ended.
Ledman: If the season goes well it has to be AOC because he will invariably put up 5,000 or so yards. Plus, these awards are always tilted toward the offense.
Kyle: AOC. We will go as he goes. If he has a great year, we will be very good.
T-Mill: AOC stands a very good chance of breaking the Purdue single season passing record and becoming the first 4,000 yard passer in school history. With a little luck, an appearance in Indianapolis, and a good bowl game he could even approach 5,000 yards. Keep him clean and let him chuck it.
5. What is Purdue’s final record and why?
Jace: A lot of fans have been talking about a Rose Bowl appearance if everything goes right. Call me a downer, I just do not see that happening. I think Penn State and Syracuse are both very tough games and several other Big Ten teams are underrated. Even though Purdue does not play Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State, the Big Ten is always a grind. I see Purdue going 8-4 on the regular season, with losses vs Penn State, at either Minnesota or Maryland, at Wisconsin, and then a game that they should win but get “upset”. One of those could be within the final three games of the season against Illinois, Northwestern or Indiana.
Ledman: Well, you should listen to the latest episode of the Hammer and Rails podcast and you’ll get a very full explanation of this answer.
Kyle: I am rolling with 8-4 in the regular season. I can see 9 wins, but there is always some weird weather game, usually Minnesota, that we end up losing. But, I can easily see a 9 win season as well if all goes well.
T-Mill: I think we’re capable of winning 10 games if we beat Penn State. Win that one, split Wisconsin and Minnesota, and hold serve at home opens the door for a really special year. More realistically I can see 8-4, but 10-2 with a Big Ten West title is absolutely possible.