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Purdue Football: Where Do The Boilermakers Belong?

Where does Purdue end up in this new era of “college” football?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Indiana at Purdue Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’ve been working on this article (or at least thinking about it) for a while now. If you listen to the Boiler Up Down South podcast, I did an entire episode on the new realities of college football earlier this month. I’ll post it at the end of this article. I’ll also have more content coming out on the podcast to supplement this article.

Before I get started, I want to make the point that I don’t like the new era of college football and college sports in general. I think it turns an entirely unique American tradition into another sports league competing for my money. Regardless of my feelings on the situation, I’m going to talk about the current reality of college football.

Don’t kill the messenger, please.

The first thing you need to do to understand the NIL and Portal era of college football is to forget everything you know about the BCS and early playoff era of college football. That era of football has gone the way of leather helmets and 215-pound offensive linemen. Granted, most new eras are defined by changes in the on-field game, not in the entire way the sport is governed, but that’s where we are today.

I don’t want to spend too much time discussing why this happened. There is plenty of blame to spread around starting with the schools and TV networks, but blame doesn’t change the current reality, and I don’t have the time to cover the entire backstory (as I see it) today.

Maybe this summer I’ll do a deep dive into the death of the BCS/CFP era of college football when I’m hard up for content.

Purdue’s Place in the NIL/Portal Era of College Football

I’ll break this down further when I have more time, because there are big subsets in each of these categories and some teams move back and forth, depending on the season.

Power 2 Elite Money Teams

Example: Texas A&M

Power 4 Traditional Powers

Example: Alabama

Power 2 Big Spenders

Example: Ole Miss

Power 4 Field

Example: Louisville

Power 4 Dregs

Example: Indiana

Non-Power 4 Teams

Example: Ball State

I’ve been working on an actual tier list, but I don’t want to get bogged down in arguing that at the moment. Again, it seems like an interesting summer pursuit. I’ll need to come up with an actual metric. Right now, my view is that Purdue fits somewhere in the middle or bottom of the Power 4 field at the moment.

In the past, with divisions, these teams could occasionally catch a friendly schedule, have a traditional power fall apart, and sneak into a Conference Championship game. Purdue did it in 2022, and Louisville did it in the ACC this season. Unfortunately for teams like Purdue and Louisville, the traditional powers didn’t like being excluded from Conference Championship games, so they made it almost impossible for Power 4 field teams to claim a spot moving forward.

I’m not sure if anyone has mentioned this, but the worst thing to happen to Purdue football (in my humble opinion) was the death of the Big 10 West. Yes, it was nasty, dirty football, but Purdue’s best teams had a legitimate shot to compete against Big 10 West teams. Now they’re thrown into the mix with everyone else, and I’d be shocked if the Big 10 Championship didn’t involve some iteration of Ohio State, Michigan, Oregon, and less frequently, USC and Penn State. You may occasionally see a team like Maryland (a potential Power 2 big spender) jump into the mix, but more as a one-off, everything-fell-into-place type of deal; not as a consistent contender.

Where Does That Leave Purdue? At the moment?

The same place they currently reside, except without the hope of a Conference Championship appearance. The road out of the Power 4 field into the Traditional Power was narrow and well-guarded, but it did exist in the past.

I went to Clemson.

I saw Clemson win 2 National Championships in the last decade.

When I was at Clemson, the Tigers and Boilermakers had identical records (this might be an exaggeration, but I’ve done the math before. I can’t remember the outcome exactly, but I know it’s super close).

The chances of a team like Clemson pushing their way out of the “field” classification and into “traditional power” status are gone. I think you’ll see some movement in different tiers, but I don’t think you’ll see anyone jump up into a true National Championship contender status moving forward.

The biggest opportunity for upward mobility is between the “field” and “dregs” tier. I think those tiers will eventually merge. You won’t have consistently dreadful teams, but you’ll have a ton of teams sitting around 6 or 7 wins. The portal helps bad teams get better because they have access to more talent. At the same time, it keeps a team like Purdue from consistently building a program because they will lose their best players to teams in a tier above them more often than not.

I thought I saw a way forward by focusing on young guys in the transfer portal (Like Hudson Card) and then locking them up for at least 2 seasons because they already used their undergrad transfer. I’m not sure how it plays out, but if players are allowed unlimited transfers, that path forward is gone for teams like Purdue as well.

Transfer Pecking Order:

Power 2 Elite Money Teams

Power 4 Traditional Powers

Power 2 Big Spenders

Power 4 Field

Power 4 Dregs

Non-Power 4 Teams

You’ve seen this play out with Purdue this offseason. As a member of the “Power 4 Field,” Purdue is going to lose established players to the 3 tiers ahead of them, but they’re also going to gain untested talent from those squads to make room.

That means Purdue is going to lose the majority of their “proven” star players like Burks and Scourton to teams in the tier above them. At the same time, Purdue should end up with a more talented overall roster because they can pick up underutilized or recruited-over talent from the tiers above them.

Player Flow From Top 3 Tiers to the Power 4 Field Tier

Purdue Loses:

  • Deion Burks - 3* - Oklahoma
  • Nic Scourton - 4* - ? (let’s just pencil in Texas or Texas A&M until further notice).

Purdue Gains:

  • Nyland Green - 5* - UGA
  • CJ Madden - 4* - UGA

In Summary

Purdue will lose proven commodities to the upper 3 tiers, but will gain raw talent from the upper 3 tiers.

Player Flow From the Power 4 Field to Power 4 Field

Purdue Loses

Purdue Gains

  • Reggie Love (3*) - Illinois
  • Shitta Sillah (3*) - Boston College
  • Jamarious Dinkins (3*) - Kentucky

In Summary

If you follow the NBA, consider this teams trading mid-level exception players. They’re good enough to be in the NBA, but they’re not stars. You bring them in to fill specific holes in your roster.

Player Flow From the Power 4 Field to Non-Power 4 Schools

Purdue Gains:

  • Corey Stewart (2*) - 1st Team All-Mac - Ball State
  • DJ Wingfield (3*) - Multiple Year Starter - New Mexico

Purdue Loses:

  • Trey Firestone (3*) - Ball State
  • Zion Steptoe (3*) - Tulsa
  • Malachi Preciado (3*) - South Alabama
  • Domanick Moon (3*) - Western Michigan
  • Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen (3*) - South Florida
  • Octavious Brothers (3*) - Alabama (Birmingham)

In Summary

This is where you clean out the guys who aren’t going to make it and bring in low ceiling, high floor transfers that fill an immediate need. It also lets you open up roster spots for other transfers and recruits.

Walters managed to sign 25 players on signing day because he sent several guys that weren’t panning out (there are a bunch more that haven’t signed with anyone yet) down a level and brought in two potential starters.

Normally I would clutch my pearls and say that any player you sign should have the opportunity to finish their degree at Purdue before being shown the door. Those pearls are gone.

This is a new era of college football and whatever antiquated views you have on “morality” and the importance of a “college degree” need to be left in the past. At this point everything is transactional on both ends.

Players can leave whenever they want.

Coaches can tell players to leave whenever they want.

The playing field is level between players and programs. That’s probably a good thing. At the same time, I will no longer feel bad if a coach tells a player to hit the bricks because they’re brining in someone with more talent to take his place (yes, I know that was already happening multiple places. I felt bad about that. I no longer feel bad).

Welcome To the New Era of College Football!

I’ve got more to say on this topic, but I wanted to give everyone a brief overview. I’ll get into how this changes recruiting and recruiting strategy at a later date (not the day after Christmas).

The new world of college football is a scary place, but if you want to learn, I’m willing to try and guide you.