Purdue Football Establishes Progress and Direction, Unlike Division Rivals


jeff brohm

While this 2017 Purdue football team may still, but most likely will not go bowling this season, the fact that they are even in this discussion speaks volumes. Purdue football was truly bleak comedy during the Darell Hazell era, when just being competitive was the ceiling.

The Boilermakers are one of five: Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin are the others, teams in the B1G West with a head coach who is in his third or fewer season at the helm. You have to leave the Badgers out of this discussion, as they were already established where they are when Paul Chryst took over in 2015. Kudos to Chryst though for keeping it going.

paul chryst pitt

Among the other four programs, and we’ll cover each one in time, the Boilers are the only one that’s honestly moving in the right direction right now. The Hazell era Boilers didn’t flirt with bowl bids like Jeff Brohm’s first team has, and no matter how 2017 ends, you can’t argue against this- progress has been made, and therefore spirits are rightfully up.

Brohm has proven to be the sneaky good hire that many were hoping he would be. That was evident in September during the non-conference slate. Some can argue, as he still has his team in postseason discussion this late in the year, he’s just a plain good hire.

Brohm is winning more games, and being much competitive in losses than Hazell was with a bunch of 2-star level recruits. 2017 Purdue football has made us all wonder about what he’ll be able to do once he gets his own guys, built to run his systems, in place.

Most importantly, he was able to convey how progress is something that can be achieved right away in year one. The rest of the B1G West has really struggled with this, while the East division seems to have figured this out. 

 Mark Dantonio took over a 4-8 Michigan State Spartans team from 2006 and went 7–5 in 2007, losing all five games by seven points or fewer. He made MSU bowl eligible for the first time in four years.


Urban Meyer took Ohio State from 6-7 to 12-0 (probation) his first season. While Jim Harbaugh has not come close to living up to the obscene and absurd hype that accompanied his hire at Michigan, he still elevated a 5-7 side to 10-3 in his debut campaign.

Meanwhile, at both Illinois and Minnesota, you’re seeing a lot of pre-emptive excuses being made for failure. Corporate America loves to use this football inspired metaphor- “move the goalposts,” and that’s exactly what’s happening in both Champaign and the Twin Cities.

We’ll start with Minnesota, where P.J. Fleck inherited a 9-4 team which he has guided to a 5-5 record (2-5 in league play, with that second win coming a few hours ago). What’s more disappointing than the drop-off in winning percentage is his “this is year zero” routine. 

No, it’s year one, because you can’t “turn back time” as much as Cher sung about pining to do so.

pj fleck

Well, you can turn back time, but just one hour, and only once a year: daylight savings, like we all did last week. As the Spice Girls sang, “is the night, when 2 become 1.” 

Also, Fleck was deservedly mocked on social media for his goofy charts and graphs antics. Notice how in the end result of his chart the arrow is still at relatively the same level as the starting point? So that means it’s a big roller coaster to just stay at 5-5, is that what’s implied?

Rationalizing a forthcoming let down is never a good sign, and it always conveys a lack of acumen for the task at hand.

pj fleck

Meanwhile in Champaign, Lovie Smith, as he’s always done, takes an extremely minimalist approach to what he says in the media opportunities, so he isn’t ever going to say anything about the big picture direction of his program. However, much of the local media in central Illinois have zealously pushed the “Smith is really just still in year one” narrative.

Yes, he took the gig over from Bill Cubit in March of 2016 and thus has had only year of his own guys in the program, but as the legendary Bill Parcells famously said:

“you are your record.”

There are no alternative facts when it comes to wins and losses, and although I still applaud the big, bold move that Illinois Athletic Director (and West Lafayette native) Josh Whitman made in hiring Smith, the experiment has failed thus far.

No matter what, he should get a couple more seasons to see this out, but there’s a very long ways to go until this program can become competitive and respectable again on the field. It looks very likely that Smith will end his second season (first season with one of his own recruiting classes) with a 2-10 mark. He went 3-9 in his first year.

The team Smith inherited went 5-7, and the team that preceded it went 6-7, losing the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Fleck inherited a program from Tracy Claeys that went to a bowl game both years that he was in charge, and he was handed the keys over from Jerry Kill, who took the Gophers bowling all three seasons that he was in charge.

If Fleck fails to reach the post season, even if you still accept his premise that this is year zero, it’s still a substantial failure.

Getting back to Smith, yes his team is extremely young and he’s started/played an absurd number of freshmen. With a freshmen dominated team all you ask for his progress, more so than results, but Illinois has shown neither. They’re actually getting worse each week.


Sure, they have had injuries, but you know who else has? Every team.

As for Nebraska, well they operate in a completely universe than Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue football. Their expectations reside in a totally different stratosphere than the other three programs, and you already know how the Mike Riley regime has turned out. The big red overreaction to his failures has already been well documented. With with his A.D. already gone, it will be a struggle to ensure that he even keeps his job beyond the year.

So when you big picture it, Purdue football actually looks pretty decent right now…even if they do end up home for the holidays.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune company’s blogging community Chicago Now.

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