As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team opponent preview each week over the spring/summer. This week, we’re previewing Syracuse’s matchup with Purdue on Sept. 17 with three major storylines.
The Purdue Boilermakers had a record-setting year in 2022. Their passing offense was ranked fifth in the nation with 355.3 yards per game, they had a top-50 ranked defense, they beat two top-five AP ranked teams, got a top-25 ranking for the first time in 14 years, and won a bowl game in wild fashion to top off the year. Not bad for a team that was projected to win only six or seven games at best.
QUARTERBACK POSITION IN GOOD HANDS
Aidan O’Connell started the year as a backup but took over full playing duties just before midseason, and caught fire from there. In 12 games, including the TransPerfect Music City Bowl, AOC threw for 3712 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 11 picks. Tall and strong with a big arm, he was the perfect QB for coach Jeff Brohm’s aggressive passing system with at least 30 attempts in every one of his nine starts.
Perhaps the best aspect of O’Connell’s game is his ability to lift his play for the biggest games. He threw for 375 yards and two touchdowns, adding another score on the ground to give Purdue it’s season-changing win over then-No. 2 ranked Iowa. He added another incredible performance over then-No. 3 Michigan State, throwing for 536 yards and 3 touchdowns, before capping the year off with a 534 yard, five touchdown masterpiece against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
It’s safe to say AOC will start at the beginning of the year, but it’s important to note that Purdue has depth at the position thanks to incoming consensus four star recruit Brady Allen, Indiana’s Mr.Football in 2021 and a MaxPreps All-American.
KEY PLAYERS MOVING ON
One area of concern going into next year is the departure of some key players, namely defensive end George Karlaftis and linebacker Jaylan Alexander on defense, and wide receiver David Bell on offense.
Karlaftis and Bell will likely be going on day one and two, respectively, while Alexander is likely a late day two, early day three type of player. The two defenders will surely be missed however as Karlaftis demanded the kind of attention that freed up other players to have career years, including the tackle machine Alexander.
The good news is nearly the entire rest of the defense is returning, and one new player who shows good promise- George’s younger brother Yanni Karlaftis, a 6’3” 230 pound outside linebacker is a consensus four star recruit in his own right.
Given that the coaching staff is staying intact as well, it’s safe to assume the defense will pick up where it left off, especially when considering the next topic- their schedule.
BENEFICIAL SCHEDULE AS IT STANDS TODAY
The Boilermakers faced a daunting schedule last year and responded by knocking off some of their biggest challengers, the already mentioned upsets over Iowa, Michigan State, and in-state rival Indiana. There were some tough losses as well though, like the 59-31 beatdown from Ohio State, and a 30-13 drubbing from Wisconsin just as Purdue had gotten their top-25 ranking.
The schedule this year seems to be much easier on the surface however. This year’s Boilermaker’s won’t have to face Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, or Notre Dame as they did last year. While they won’t be beating up on UConn again, games against Penn State and Florida Atlantic are very winnable.
With consistency in the offense, coaching staff, and defense- even absent some key players on both sides- it’s easy to imagine Purdue winning seven or even eight games again this year due to an easier schedule and the momentum momentum provided by a Cinderella season.