It may seem odd—in the middle of basketball season and the sunless days of late January—to be thinking about football. We’ve been called far worse than “odd.” But we’re not alone in letting our minds wander to what awaits us August. Sports Illustrated just released it’s “Way Too Early Top 25”—and Coach Brohm’s Boilers are included. That got us thinking about Purdue’s 2020 football season. The following is a look back at how 2020 might unfold. “Might” is the operative word here. The purpose of this sort of writing—generally known as futurism—is not to predict exactly what will happen, but rather to help us think about what could happen: What are the possible outcomes, alternatives, endpoints and consequences of current trends. With that as a caveat, enjoy these divergent recaps of the 2020 season.

A Golden Age
December 15, 2020—It seems impossible for our Boilermakers to be where they find themselves today. After all, things looked pretty grim after that 0-2 start, with last-minute losses to Nebraska and Memphis. Then came the nail-biting wins over Air Force and BC, and Purdue limped into a much-needed bye week at 2-2.

The 30-0 shutout of Rutgers—Purdue’s first shutout since 2011, and first over a D1 opponent since Tiller’s trouncing of Syracuse in 2004—showed us that Bob Diaco’s defense had all the makings of a monster. That was further underscored by the 38-12 win at Illinois. Those games would serve as a sign of things to come.

Riding a four-game win streak, Brohm’s Boilers rolled into Ann Arbor with a bit of swagger. But our high hopes were dashed by that gut-wrenching fourth quarter. I guess now we know why penalty flags match Michigan’s maize-colored pants. Bell’s impossible 38-yard TD catch—and everyone from Fox’s Tim Brando to the Big Ten front office said it was indeed a catch—would have put the good guys up by 12 with three minutes to go. But the replay official inexplicably overturned the ruling on the field—call it Mizzou déjà vu—and Brohm decided to punt rather than try a long FG into the swirling wind. Even after the officials stole those six points, Purdue still was in position to hold on for the win. But two roughing-the-quarterback penalties and a phantom PI in the span of five plays propelled #9 Michigan down the field for the game-winning score. Even Brando was left scratching his head: “You start to wonder at times like this what exactly the officials are seeing.” Before the weekend was over, a clever Purdue undergrad printed up t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Grand Theft Ann Arbor.” The shirts were everywhere at the next home game.

Yet Brohm somehow found a way to get his young team focused on the next game. The Wizard of West Lafayette would not only salvage the 2020 season, but turn it into a masterpiece.

Teetering at 4-3 heading into the Halloween game against Northwestern, Brohm’s Boys—and that’s what these freshmen, sophomores and a handful of veterans are—tore through the back half of the schedule like an F5 tornado. Some said it reminded them of the 2000 team’s Big Ten championship run. (That team went 5-1 down the stretch, beating Michigan, OSU and Wisconsin along the way.) Others drew parallels to the 2004 team’s first five games. (That team averaged 42 points those first five weeks, crushing Notre Dame in South Bend and beating Penn State in Happy Valley.) But perhaps the best comparison is what Young and Herrmann did in 1979, when they closed out the regular season on a six-game tear and amassed 10 wins. That was the only Purdue team to reach the 10-win mark—until 2020.

Maybe it was all those lessons and mistakes and close calls the freshmen endured in 2019. Maybe it was Neal returning to anchor the D line—or Coach Holt departing. Maybe it was Brohm letting Jack the Snack call audibles (sometimes). Maybe it was the blessed disappearance of “Shout” from the break between the third and fourth quarters. (Replacing the hapless “Shout” with a rotation of No Leaf Clover, C’Mon Ride the Train and Gonna Know We Were Here was a stroke of genius.) Maybe it was the all-gold uniforms unveiled after the bye. (Nike calls them “Volt Gold.” But given how well our Boilers played in them against Rutgers and Northwestern, we call them the “Midas Touch” unis. Something tells me we’ll see them again on January 2.)

Whatever the reason, everything started to click after Michigan—even in the rain at Illinois. Every play seemed to work. And seemingly everyone contributed: AOC relieving a concussed Plummer, and Durham stretching for 11 yards on fourth-and-nine to get Dellinger in range for the game-winner at #17 Minnesota; all three phases playing what Pat Fitzgerald called “a damn-near perfect game” against his Wildcats; Rondale doing everything on Senior Day to outlast #13 Iowa (a TD run, two TD catches and a TD pass from Brohm’s almost-unfair wildcat formation);  Diaco using Bell to shut down Iowa’s Desmond Hutson in the fourth; Bell, Anderson and Wright making #15 Wisconsin pay for double-teaming Rondale; Plummer amassing 607 yards of total offense to take back the Bucket. And we can’t forget the wins before Michigan: the Ross-Ade crowd willing the defense to stop Air Force on that final drive; the “Moore Brothers” whipping Illinois (Rondale piled up 309 all-purpose yards and three TDs that afternoon, while Marcellus ran for 112 yards and two scores—on four carries); King and Zander combining for 230 yards at BC; the D’s five sacks, two picks and fumble recovery against Rutgers.

The takeover of Memorial Stadium and rushing of IU’s homefield underscored, yet again, that Purdue owns the Bucket series. By the time the dust had settled, Brohm’s Boys were 9-3 and ranked #14.

Then, we waited. To punch our tickets to Indianapolis, we needed a little help from Iowa, and Kirk Ferentz delivered with a win over Wisconsin. If 2019 was a nightmare that saw every bounce, every call, every injury report go against Purdue, 2020 had turned into a dream. Indeed, with Neal returning for a bonus year—and Rondale returning to his 2018 human-highlight-reel form—the 2019 season took on the feel of a three-month, open-to-the-public scrimmage. And 2020 became Brohm’s mulligan season.

Given the way Michigan had plowed through the Big Ten East, the oddsmakers favored the Wolverines. But as Boilerdowd and Little Boilerdowd reported on location, the Lucas Oil crowd favored Brohm’s Boys. Brohm never said a word about it publicly, but there can be no doubt that he told his team what had happened in Ann Arbor was criminal. In fact, GBI reported that Purdue’s first scoring play—Bell’s dazzling catch and fake hook-and-ladder pitch to Rondale—was named “Larceny Blue.” That play, along with the fake PAT that followed (the first of two fake FGs perfectly executed by Purdue in the first half), put Purdue up 8-0 just 45 seconds into the game. It also made it clear that Brohm was going to use everything in his arsenal—and that his team was motivated to prove it was the Big Ten’s best.

The Purdue offense put so much pressure on the Michigan offense that Harbaugh went for it on fourth down five times, converting only once. Harbaugh admitted those high-risk play calls—especially his fake punt at midfield just before halftime—were “influenced by how explosive Purdue is on offense.” Michigan’s failure to convert on the fake punt led to a Dellinger FG, and the Boilers were up 18-3 heading into halftime.

On the other side of the ball, not even the zebras could stop Big George this time, as he repeatedly raced around and over everything Harbaugh threw at him. Midway through the second quarter, Michigan began using two tight ends to try to slow down Karlaftis, to no avail. In fact, that only freed up Neal, whose strip-sack-fumble early in the fourth put the game—and Michigan’s starting QB—on ice. Revenge was sweet—a 35-20 win over mighty Michigan—and Brohm’s postgame parting shot about “how much we appreciate the modern locker-room facilities at places like Lucas Oil and Michigan Stadium” was a mic-drop moment for the ages. From “locker-gate” in 2017, to the “winnable game” in 2018, Jeff Brohm doesn’t forget.

Yes, we can play the what-if game—what if Marcellus doesn’t get tripped up at the 20 in Lincoln, what if Brohm goes for the kill with 2:55 left against Memphis, what if Bell’s TD stands at Ann Arbor, what if the CFP’s expansion to eight schools happened this year rather than 2022? And yes, there’s talk that USC and Notre Dame are targeting our coach. There are even rumors that Brohm will follow Lincoln Riley into the NFL. The always-accurate Dan Dakich tweeted this week that “Brohm to the Falcons is a done deal.” But those what-ifs and worries are for another day. For now, let’s celebrate our 10-win, 11th-ranked Boilermakers. Let’s tune in this weekend to see if Rondale wins the Heisman. Let’s bask in the glow of a Big Ten Championship. And let’s book our flights for Miami. There’s nothing sweeter than oranges in January.


Black Clouds
December 15, 2020—Twenty-twenty may forever be known as the yoyo season: After the frustrating opening loss at Nebraska, the thrilling shootout victory over #16 Memphis (finally an overtime win), the unexpected fourth-quarter collapse against Air Force, and a pair of double-digit wins over BC and Rutgers (Greg Schiano quickly learned that the Big Ten of 2020 is nothing like the Big East of 2006), our Boilers stood at 3-2. Then came the disappointing losses to Illinois (thanks in part to Jeff Brohm’s kryptonite: rain) and Michigan (thanks to some—ahem—creative officiating). And Brohm’s Boys dropped to 3-4.

The Northwestern game featured the unveiling of the “Make Rohrman Field Roar” slogan and the emergence of speedster Marcellus Moore. The slogan never took off, but Marcellus did: 140 yards receiving on the day, plus a TD catch and a jet-sweep TD run.

The Northwestern win pulled Purdue back to .500, with four games to go. But P.J. Fleck extended his mastery over Brohm, as the #17 Gophers crushed Purdue on a rainy November afternoon. That’s when Brohm’s Spurrier-like impatience with Plummer and AOC really flared. Plummer was benched at halftime. AOC started the third but was yanked after just three plays. The two-QB system ultimately morphed into a three-man rotation. But that didn’t meet Brohm’s high expectations, either.

Maybe it was the inconsistent play at QB. Maybe it was all the offseason changes. Maybe it was the distracting lights on the supersized scoreboard. Maybe it was those all-gold uniforms. (Nike calls them “Volt Gold.” But whatever you call them, we look terrible in them. Let’s toss them in the garbage.) Maybe it was the ongoing Rohrman Field controversy. (The social-media mob slamming what one group of protestors calls “the administration’s naked naming-rights greed” should remember that naming rights are in our school’s very DNA. After all, John Purdue donated land and cash in exchange for getting his name on a public university. And for that, we should be thankful; were it not for his donation and name, our favorite school would probably be called Indiana Polytechnic or Indiana A&M. There’s nothing sacred about the field where our Boilermakers play football—and nothing new under the sun.)

Whatever the reason for 2020’s frustrations, nothing seemed to give the offense the sort of traction needed to give the improved defense a chance to catch its breath. Even direct snaps to Rondale and Marcellus—Boilerdowd mockingly nicknamed it the “Goldcat” offense—didn’t do the trick. In the loss to Minnesota, the feast-or-famine O held the ball barely 20 minutes, leaving Diaco’s D gasping.

Even when the offense clicked, as in the Wisconsin game, it seemed to click too well. Purdue’s scoring drives against the #15 Badgers clocked in at 31 seconds, 58 seconds, 91 seconds and two minutes (plus Rondale’s scintillating kickoff return). But those 35 points weren’t enough to overcome the Badgers’ relentless second-half march through Ross-Ade. Purdue had the ball for just 9 minutes after halftime. And as the gigantic new scoreboard ticked down to triple zeroes that afternoon, Brohm found himself and his team—and his program—in familiar territory: forced to win out just to reach the six-win mark.

Purdue’s big-play offense scored enough and held the ball just long enough to surprise #13 Iowa. Brohm’s Boys then took out a year’s worth of frustration at IU. Purdue’s 55-point explosion not only humbled IU’s overhyped defense; it also marked the most points by a Brohm-led Purdue team. Fittingly, Purdue’s last score on a day full of big plays was a 77-yard catch by Rondale that began as a simple out-and-up and ended in a blur down the IU sideline. When BTN’s Kevin Kugler bellowed, “Ron…dale…Moore…is…gone,” those of us with ears to hear knew his words had a double-meaning.

The 6-6 record overall, 4-5 league mark and next week’s bottom-of-the-barrel bowl have left some fans (we call them idiots) clamoring for changes. Coacheshotseat.com has Brohm at #4 this week—behind Brian Kelly, Manny Diaz and Chip Kelly.

That said, even reasonable fans seem concerned that if Jeff Brohm can’t elevate the program back to where it was during the Tiller era, perhaps nobody can. There’s a sense that going all-in on Brohm was Purdue’s last chance to escape the Big Ten’s cellar. All of us at BS want Brohm to stay and keep building. All of us understand—and understood four years ago—that it would take time and resources to climb out of the hole it took years to dig before Brohm’s arrival. The 2013-16 seasons should remind the critics that things can be a lot worse. However, after the stunning turnaround in year one, all the wins over ranked opponents in year two and the hard lessons learned in year three, we would be lying if we didn’t admit that we expected something more than 6-6 (23-27 overall) at the end of 2020.

Equally troublesome, there’s a feeling of wasted talent and wasted years setting in. We now know that Rondale has played his last game at Purdue. It looks like two of the four QBs who took snaps this year are headed elsewhere. The recruiting class is ranked 78th—Brohm’s worst since arriving in God’s Country. And the AD says he’s “re-evaluating the scope and scale of the Ross-Ade renovation”—probably not the only thing he’s re-evaluating this Christmas break. See you in Detroit.

If 10 wins seem like too much and six wins seem like too little, I’d be thrilled with splitting the difference at 8-4. Hammer Down!