A few days after the Maryland Terrapins rushed for 400 yards on Purdue in a 50-7 walloping to open 2016 Big Ten play, a sinkhole opened on the Boilermakers’ practice field.
Once again, reality had topped fiction for the creation of an apt metaphor. Purdue, beaten badly by a fourth-tier Big Ten team, had reached its nadir, having seemingly tried to out-nadir itself for years. If there was elation to be found in the Boilers’ subsequent overtime win at Illinois, one felt confusion, too — what now? — followed by a dreary return to form in the road loss to Iowa that precipitated Hazell’s move to domestic intelligence analyst.
Purdue won three conference games total in Hazell’s four attempts at being a Big Ten head-coach-like-substance. For excuse or explanation, one could look to false Hope, Danny, a charade of a coach who stuck around two years too long, and was rumored to preside over a divided and indifferent locker room.
Yet the Hazell years are over now, and with them, the hapless, hopeless Hope years, and even some bad Joe Tiller years, for Purdue has decided to be cool again by designing the equation: “(Joe Tiller + younger + more handsome) x 2,” an equation that, when run, spat out the brothers Brohm.
Can these two men drag Purdue football, punting and screaming, out of the depths of hell and into the great big coal-fired train engine in the sky? Or will Purdue’s impending mediocrity be enough to repel the ouroBrohmos out of town and off to Louisville for Bobby Petrino’s funeral and the announcement that they’re taking over as co-coaches and co-brothers?
As people who’ve been aware of Purdue’s existence for most of our adult lives, we think we speak for the fanbase when we say: hopefully, the former. We want Jeff Brohm to coach the coal out of these young men and old boys. We want Purdue football back.
They say the Big Ten and college football are better when Michigan and Ohio State are good. Well, we say college football is a glorious Eden when Purdue makes a go of it. And while the stalling or falling action of other Big Ten teams is palpable, just as palpable is that rarest of emotions in West Lafayette, an emotion mostly reserved for ribbon-cutting ceremonies at new Mechanical Engineering Centers: excitement.
Indeed, a Purdue fan can be forgiven for keeping the coals of a quiet confidence banked in his or her secret heart, for Brohm is unquestionably competent — even, accomplished. His Western Kentucky teams dished out wins with an extra dose of hurt…
…particularly in the back half of 2016, and all three losses — one in overtime to Vandy, one to Alabama, the last a 52-55 loss at Louisiana Tech that WKU redeemed with a win against the Bulldogs in the Conference USA championship — were competitive.
Best of all, the Hilltoppers earned the distinction of embarrassing Nick Saban, who, in signature joyless fashion, announced after the Tide’s 38-10 win over WKU, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been this disappointed after winning a game, maybe ever.”
(Now he knows how all of us feel when Alabama wins.)
What will this season be like for Purdue? Painful, but hopeful. Dark, but growing brighter. At pinnacle, a year of highly watchable shootouts, a thousand fantasy points of light. Though the Boilers still likely face a record below .500, a front-loaded schedule will be more to blame than a differential in talent.
We will not reach the top of the mountain this season, Boilers, or even the next, or the one after that. No, our salvation is years away. But it is not lost. Fans eager to be shown the way to the mountaintop finally have reason to fantasize that with the Brohms’ hire, the give-a-shits have won the day. Give us your tired, your poor, your bunched wide receiver formations, yearning for a conference win. It’s time to start paying attention again.
Best Case Scenario
The Brohms compensate for a weak defense with one of the most entertaining offenses in the country, and David Blough puts up gaudy passing numbers. Purdue beats Ohio and wins at Mizzou to start 2-1, and no one in the Big Ten wants to play ‘em. The Boilermakers beat Minnesota and Illinois at home and Rutgers on the road, going 5-6 ahead of the Indiana game. Purdue’s best case exists in the same universe as Indiana’s worst case, and there’s jubilation in West Lafayette when they take down the Hoosiers to qualify for a bowl and deny that honor to their rival. Purdue beats some non-Power 5 team to finish 7-6, and Jeff Brohm gets a noteworthy handful of Big Ten Coach of the Year votes.
Worst Case Scenario
After losing by 40 and getting embarrassed by Louisville in Week One, a young Boiler squad falls at home to Ohio in Week Two, and suddenly the remaining ten games look pretty bleak. A winless start to the first half of the season takes the Brohm off the rose, the defense is the worst in the league, and Brohm, doubting his instincts, tries to run the ball. The Boilermakers eke out one or two wins against Illinois and/or Rutgers, and David Blough gets hurt or quits football to focus on school. Hell, maybe they lose all 12. Meanwhile, Indiana wins 8-9 games.
Most Likely Case Scenario
Three to four wins, including a pair in the Big Ten, and competitive losses show a marked improvement from the hell and haze of the Hazell years. The Brohms convince a top QB recruit from the Midwest to stay home and sling it. Come 2018, they’ve prepped David Blough to become one of the Big Ten’s best, and have Purdue vying for their first winning record since 2011.
Did You Know?
Kicker JD Dellinger’s family slightly altered their surname to obscure their direct relation to famed gangster John Dillinger.
This is the fork in the road that splits fantasy from reality. While few consider him among the best quarterbacks in the league, David Blough is a surefire first round fantasy pick. He’s a 4 touchdown 3 interception quarterback about to play in a 5 touchdown 2 interception offense. Blough and the Brohms may not win many games, but they’ll be dripping with stats. If you penalize turnovers, Blough’s value dips, but he’s more than worth the risk. Those interception numbers have some people speculating that talented young’un Elijah Sindelar could steal his job. Don’t believe it. This ain’t Passover Seder; no need to leave the door open this year for Elijah.
It’s a fantasy embarrassment of riches here, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. While a rotation may improve Purdue’s offensive efficiency, it lessens the fantasy value of each player. Markell Jones is a versatile dynamo with 2 seasons of experience. Tiny, elusive DJ Knox is back after missing last season. Brian Lankford-Johnson showed flashes as a freshman and may return kicks. Richie Worship is a 260 pound future Weisman Trophy candidate. And Tario Fuller, a sophomore with 10 career carries, has reportedly impressed coaches and moved towards the top of the depth chart. Your guess is as good as ours, just don’t expect any of these dudes to be a fantasy cornerstone. Fringe starter is more like it.
It was a war of attrition here in the offseason for the Boilermakers, replacing their top four receivers. But fear not, for there’s another Anthrop coming down the pike. This one’s Jackson Anthrop, but he’s probably a year away. Anthony Mahoungou is one of the lone returnees, and seems the best bet to emerge as the top option. Notre Dame transfer Corey Holmes, who will surely appreciate the chance to play football for a coach who is not an arrogant fascist, and JUCO transfers Isaac Zico and Terry Wright, could all step in and contribute, if sporadically. It’s anybody’s guess here, but guess right, and you’ll be rewarded handsomely by Brohm’s pass-heavy offense.
This may be the most talented tight-end position group in the Big Ten. Mike Gesicki on Penn State is the best overall, but Purdue boasts Cole Herdman and Brycen Hopkins, who may both have productive seasons in the absence of go-to wideouts.
JD Dellinger went 10-14 on field goals last year, with a long of 42, making him an average to above-average Big Ten kicker.
Suggested Viewing Material
David Blough’s Kickoff Luncheon Speech at Big Ten Media Days (eat your heart out, Kirk Cousins)
Purdue-Illinois football game from 1946
Spring game highlight reel, local edition (that lede tho)