Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Buy or Sell: 2020 Purdue Boilermakers Football

August 18, 2020

In recent weeks, Brandon Vogel and Derek Peterson have been running through Big Ten programs for a “Buy or Sell” kind of opponent preview. We’ll keep the list here for those just jumping in and want to recap:

  Brandon Derek
Indiana Hoosiers Buy Sell
Maryland Terrapins Sell Sell
Michigan Wolverines Buy Sell
Michigan State Spartans Sell Sell
Ohio State Buckeyes Sell Buy
Penn State Nittany Lions Buy Buy
Rutgers Scarlet Knights Buy Buy
Illinois Fighting Illini Sell Sell
Iowa Hawkeyes Sell Sell
Minnesota Golden Gophers Sell Buy
Northwestern Wildcats Buy Buy

Purdue went 4-8 in 2019. After back-to-back bowl games to begin the Jeff Brohm era in West Lafayette—something that had happened only one other time since Joe Tiller left the program—injuries absolutely crushed the Boilermakers. It may wind up being an important year in Brohm’s tenure, considering a year ago the Boilermakers backed up a Brinks truck to keep him from jumping ship to his alma mater, Louisville. Does youth run wild in 2020 or does Purdue once again struggle? Buying or selling the Boilermakers?

Brandon Vogel: Buy

There were seven coaches in the country who were paid more than Jeff Brohm’s $6.6 million last season. That’s almost a one-name club, guys so recognizable that just first names will do. You’ve got Dabo, Nick, Jim, Jimbo, Kirby, Gus and Tom (Jim being Harbaugh and Tom being Herman, the only two with some potential uncertainty). Then there’s Jeff, a guy the Boilermakers bet big on in April of 2019 after he’d taken Purude to back-to-back bowl games. Now, that whole one-name comparison I’m drawing above? It’s sort of sleight of hand. Brohm’s base salary is closer to $5 million—which is getting close to the going rate for a solid coach in the Big Ten—but a $1.7 million signing bonus provided a one-year bump into the top 10. The point still holds, however. Purdue thinks it has its guy, and I’m more inclined to agree than disagree with that notion. The Boilermakers, after a few key injuries early on, were ridiculously young last season, and that should pay dividends in 2020. Purdue returns at least 70% of its rushing yards, passing yards, receiving yards, tackles, tackles for loss and passes defended. That alone is the profile of a team that is going to be better, the question is to what degree? A bowl game should be the goal—and I think this team can do that—but when is there more on the table in West Lafayette? It might need to be soon because there are some things here that you can’t always count on having at Purdue. The Boilermakers had one of the best freshman receivers in the country in 2018 (Rondale Moore) and 2019 (David Bell). Not a bad start, but then it also just so happened that a freak of a defensive lineman, George Karlaftis, grew up 5 minutes from campus. Ohio State’s Chase Young was the only Big Ten player to average more TFLs per game than Karlaftis did in 2019, the latter’s true freshman season. Those are three of the best players in the league and Purdue needs to make a move while they’re still on campus. If one of the two returning quarterbacks just happens to have a Tanner-Morgan-in-2019-type season—hey, nobody saw that one coming either—a Gopher-like leap might be the absolute ceiling here. Purdue would also need Bob Diaco to have a better debut season in the Big Ten then he had last time around at Nebraska in 2017. In reality, the Boilermakers are probably a year away from peak expectations, but there’s still plenty here to think that Purdue will be in every game this fall and if you’re in every game, have a dynamic passing game led by top-level wide receivers, can play solid defense and get a few bounces, well, it worked for Minnesota a year ago. The Gophers also had a ground game, something that’s a big question mark for Purdue.

Derek Peterson: Sell 

Sixty-four of the 85 scholarship players on this Purdue roster are either sophomores, redshirt freshmen or true freshmen. In the last two recruiting cycles, coach Jeff Brohm has brought the 25th-ranked and 33rd-ranked classes to West Lafayette. This is a team with a very bright future. But Purdue last season had to accelerate the timetable for the youngsters; injuries forced Brohm’s hand. On the very same play in a September game against Minnesota, the Boilermakers lost starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar and star wideout Rondale Moore to injury. Both senior running backs on the roster were lost by the fifth game of the season. The team’s starting center had his season ended after five games by a back injury. Lorenzo Neal, the defense’s top lineman, didn’t play a snap. Markus Bailey, the top linebacker, was lost after two games. Purdue’s run game was atrocious—126th in yards per carry, only 37 carries that gained 10 yards or more in 12 games (125th). The defense bled big plays. It’s honestly an accomplishment last year’s team won four games. True freshman wideout David Bell was a massive bright spot, becoming the second straight first-year Boilermaker to top 1,000 receiving yards in a season, sophomore running back Zander Horvath averaged nearly 5 yards a carry, and everyone in Nebraska knows Jack Plummer, the freshman quarterback who mounted the comeback against the Huskers to ultimately win at home. Purdue has the pieces to be exciting on offense. At least, more so than last season. Moore returning to full health is important, as it gives whoever wins the quarterback job—Plummer, former walk-on Aidan O’Connell or UCLA transfer Austin Burton—a one-two punch at wideout as good as any in the country. Brohm has loaded up the offense. And yet, this upcoming season might be another developmental one. Purdue was competitive a season ago (five conference games decided by a touchdown or less), so it’s not like fans will just be hoping to be in games. Entering into Year 4, Brohm’s trajectory right now is the wrong one; Purdue had gone 9-39 in the four years prior to Brohm’s arrival, so he’s not in danger, but he’s being paid like an elite coach and has gone from seven wins in Year 1 to six and then four. I think buying into this 2020 Purdue team would require believing something like 6-6 is possible. A bowl game may very well be the expectation. Maybe it’s possible. But Purdue opens its season at Nebraska, a team further along, then plays Memphis and Air Force in the nonconference. The last six teams on the schedule are Michigan (away), Northwestern, Minnesota (away), Wisconsin, Iowa, and Indiana (away). No Husker closeout, but still a treacherous march to end the year. Purdue fans will need to be patient a little while longer, Brohm is building in the right direction. 

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