It has been 159 days since the 2021-22 men’s basketball season ended in infamy. Yeah, I am still bitter about it. I have rehashed it far too many times, but for all the expectation and hype to end in that disappointment it still stings, especially when we’re a rebound (Ohio State 2018) and miracle heave (Rutgers 2022) from winning the Big Ten four times in six years.
How does it relate to football though? Well, for the first time in what seems like forever there are actual expectations and even hope for a huge season this year. It isn’t quite what it was for basketball, as a football national title and playoff appearance is beyond my wildest dreams, but this can be an excellent year. I remember looking at the early recruiting successes Jeff Brohm had and the 2022 schedule several years ago and thinking, “You know, 2022 is setting up as a great year.” I felt that his top 30 classes would really come to maturity in this season, and there was even a chance David Bell and George Karlaftis were still going to be around.
The 2019 season was injury plagued and 2020 can basically be thrown away for everyone. You know it is a weird year when INDIANA was a Big Ten ruling away from playing Northwestern for the conference title.
Then last year happened.
By every measure Purdue football exceeded expectations in 2021. As frustrating as basketball was with its high expectations, football was an absolute joy. We won eight regular season games! We beat an SEC team in a thrilling bowl game for a ninth win! We beat two top 5 teams! I don’t think anyone had any real complaints except for maybe the Minnesota game, which might go different if it wasn’t played in the rain.
When was the last time we have looked forward to a Purdue season with such enthusiasm? I’d have to say 2005. We returned a strong defense that year and Brandon Kirsch was an experienced starter. Purdue started the season in the top 15 and there as even some talk of us being a dark horse national title contender because the schedule featured no Michigan or Ohio State, and the idea of facing them in the Big Ten championship game was far off since it did not exist yet.
After blowing out Akron and winning a late night game at Arizona Purdue was 2-0 heading to the Metrodome to face Minnesota. I went to the Twin Cities for that game and the defense faltered, missing on several chances to end the game with one play before losing 42-35 in double overtime. Purdue was then blown out on national TV by Notre Dame, got doubled up by Iowa, then fell to Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Penn State. It went from national title contender to completely missing a bowl with a 5-6 record.
That team had higher hopes than the 2022 edition, but that doesn’t mean this team will suffer a similar fate. I admit that being burned by basketball has me on guard for football, but the truth is this is the best team we have had in quite some time. It has talent, experience, and depth (except in a few places, but that is true of all but about 5 college football teams). For once Purdue can be an actual contender in the Big Ten West. It is not outside the realm of possibility we can play in Indianapolis that first weekend in December.
I titled this piece “Exercise Caution” because of the disappointment that was basketball, but if we beat Penn State tomorrow night the door is open for a special season. I still see this as a bowl team. I think anything less than 7-5 is disappointing, but the lack of historical success for this program eases those burdens of expectations. Purdue has won nine games in a season only 11 times: 2021, 2003, 1998, 1997, 1980, 1979, 1978, 1966, 1943, 1931, and 1904. It has only won 10 games once, in 1979. Another 9-4 season would be completely enjoyable, and anything beyond that would rank among the best in school history.
The pieces are there. Aidan O’Connell is going to throw the ball a lot, and will probably break the single-season passing record. The offensive line has finally come together. The defensive secondary looks to be salty. The defensive line is a bit of a question, but has the pieces to be okay. Some key transfers shored up special teams, so this could be a better team on paper than last year even without Bell and Karlaftis.
My guarded optimism says 8-4. The ingrained Purdue fandom runs deep because we ALWAYS seem to find the banana peel when a breakthrough is right there for the taking. Maybe this is the time it actually comes together. Get to Indy in December and let’s see what happens.
Yeah, we’re ready to get hurt again.