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2021 Purdue college football preview: Boilermakers look for a spark in 2021

The buzz around Purdue after their upset of Ohio State in 2018 has faded. Can head coach Jeff Brohm and crew start to recapture it in 2021?

Purdue v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Purdue Boilermakers were the darlings of the Big Ten just three seasons ago after upsetting No. 2 Ohio State 49-20 in 2018 and costing them a spot in the College Football Playoff. Since then, the buzz surrounding Jeff Brohm’s fast-rising program has worn off as star receiver Rondale Moore struggled to stay healthy, and in-state rival Indiana leapfrogged them in the pecking order of relevance in the conference.

Things were looking up at the start of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season with the Boilermakers starting off 2-0. That momentum quickly dissipated however with the team finding themselves on the losing end of four straight close games.

Entering the upcoming 2021 campaign armed with one of the nation’s best receivers (again), Brohm and company will try to get the trajectory of the once cellar-dwelling program aiming back upwards before the Purdue faithful start asking serious questions about the staff’s future.

2020 Season Review

  • 2-4 (conference only schedule), 6th in Big Ten West
  • The ball didn’t bounce Purdue’s way in 2020, with all four of their losses coming within 10 points or more.

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 76th
ESPN Returning Production: 78% overall (38th): 85% offense (17th), 70% defense (68th)
Returning Talent Index: Negative, 11th in Big Ten
Returning starters: 7/11 offense, 7/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Jack Plummer (Junior)/Aidan O’Connell (Senior)

A classic QB competition will be held in West Lafayette this fall between upperclassmen signal-callers Jack Plummer and Aidan O’Connell.

O’Connell started the 2020 season as the Boilermaker starter, throwing for 916 yards and seven touchdowns before his season ended with a foot injury. Plummer took the reigns for the last three games and put up a near identical statline, tossing for 938 yards and eight touchdowns in his time on the field. Also throwing his hat in the ring is UCLA grad transfer Austin Burtron.

Offense (non-QB): WR David Bell (Junior)

The Boilermaker offense wasn’t able to get the most out of Rondale Moore for the past two years, who was hobbled with injury throughout the 2019 season and ultimately decided to opt-out midway through 2020. Fortunately for them, they had another All-American wideout on deck in David Bell.

The Indianapolis product broke out on the scene in 2019, catching 86 passes for 1,035 yards and seven touchdowns to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year and All-American honors. He followed that up with a productive sophomore campaign where he caught 53 passes for 625 yards and eight touchdowns. Bell is one of the few receivers who can athletically compare with Ohio State’s receivers and will be the No. 1 go-to target for whoever emerges victorious in the QB battle.

Defense: DE George Karlaftis (Junior)

New defensive coordinator Brad Lambert is looking to improve a defensive line that was effective at limiting explosive runs but barely applied pressure to opposing QB’s and the veteran Karlaftis will be relied upon heavily to get the job done.

The hometown product was Second Team All-Big Ten in 2020 and has 9.5 career sacks.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 42nd overall: 36th offense, 60th defense, 101st special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 40th overall: 31st offense, 63rd defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +50000
To win Big Ten: +5000
Win total: 5 (Over -125, Under +100)

2020 Against The Spread: 1-5
2020 Point Total: Over 2-4

2021 Purdue Schedule

2021 Purdue Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 Oregon State 7:00pm/FS1 PU -7
Saturday, Sep. 11 at UConn 3:00pm/CBSSN PU -27.5
Saturday, Sep. 18 at Notre Dame 2:30pm/NBC PU +12
Saturday, Sep. 25 Illinois TBA PU -10
Saturday, Oct. 2 Minnesota 12:00pm/TBA PU +2
Saturday, Oct. 9 OPEN N/A N/A
Saturday, Oct. 16 at Iowa 3:30pm/TBA PU +14.5
Saturday, Oct. 23 Wisconsin TBA PU +10.5
Saturday, Oct. 30 at Nebraska TBA PU +6.5
Saturday, Nov. 6 Michigan State TBA PU -5.5
Saturday, Nov. 13 at Ohio State TBA PU +23.5
Saturday, Nov. 20 at Northwestern TBA PU +1.5
Saturday, Nov. 27 Indiana TBA PU +6.5