Considering this week’s heavy snow and generally poor February weather (thanks Punxsutawney Phil), here’re two reasons to have a sunnier outlook today.
Spring training for Major League Baseball is under way, with the first exhibition game scheduled for Feb. 28.
Second, Purdue spring football practice began Friday.
Maybe I’m being hyperbolic but this feels like the most important football season for the Boilermakers since Joe Tiller’s arrival in West Lafayette 24 years ago.
I’m writing off 2020 not just for Purdue but Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and Minnesota because of the COVID-19 cluster-you-know-what.
But the fact remains that there are a lot of renovations needed to get the Jeff Brohm era back on track.
I can count on one hand the number of Purdue football teams in my lifetime to have any kind of quality depth to withstand injuries or in 2020’s case, positive COVID tests. Both played a role in a 2-4 season that really was 3-3 (The Minnesota “loss” that was taken away by an incompetent official).
Brohm agreed, nearly shaking up his entire defensive staff in the offseason. Gone is the poor fit of Bob Diaco, in comes who appears to be a calmer, wiser defensive coordinator in Brad Lambert.
Mark Hagen returns to the scene of his earliest coaching success as defensive line coach. Here’s hoping he can maximize George Karlaftis’ potential as he did for All-American defensive end Ryan Kerrigan more than a decade ago.
I think I speak for many Purdue fans who hope cornerbacks coach Ron English teaches his Boilermaker charges to look for the football while defending opposing wide receivers.
There is a good foundation to work with for the new defensive staff, which includes holdover co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Anthony Poindexter.
Start with Karlaftis, who never had a chance to build on his Freshman All-America season thanks to an ankle injury at Illinois, followed by a positive COVID-19 test that kept him out the rest of the season.
The return of defensive tackle Anthony Watts cannot be understated. He must lead the charge to limit opponents’ running games.
The rest of the defensive line is unproven, unless former junior college transfer DaMarcus Mitchell is used as a rush end. Purdue may be better off with Mitchell as an inside linebacker alongside leading returning tackler Jaylen Alexander. Jalen Graham also returns as a starting linebacker. Will freshman Yanni Karlaftis get a shot to start at outside linebacker as a freshman?
Purdue would love for transfers Joseph Anderson (South Carolina) and O.C. Brothers (Auburn) to fill holes at defensive end and linebacker, respectively.
Purdue’s secondary has talent but not much proven depth behind safety Cam Allen, and cornerbacks Dedrick Mackey and Corey Trice. Maybe coach English can get former junior college transfer Geovante Howard ready to contribute after he struggled in 2020.
One of English’s former cornerbacks at Florida, C.J. McWilliams, announced Tuesday on Instagram that he would be a graduate transfer at Purdue in 2021. The 5-11 former three-star recruit opted out from the 2020 season following Florida’s opener against Mississippi. He missed the 2019 season with an Achilles’ tear.
Marvin Grant is a future All-Big Ten safety and should start opposite Allen but second-year freshman Sanoussi Kane could be one to watch this spring.
Believe it or not, the kicking game may be a bigger worry than a defense that gave up nearly 30 points a game.
Purdue reached down to Australia to bring in Jack Ansell to compete for the punting job with holdovers Brooks Cormier and Zac Collins. Neither were consistent in 2020 even though Cormier averaged 40 yards a punt.
Who will replace J.D. Dellinger as place-kicker. His brother, freshman Edward Dellinger? Maybe record-setting former West Lafayette kicker Caleb Krockover?
When Purdue has had its best teams in the past 75 years, it has had a difference-making quarterback. From Bob DeMoss to Kyle Orton, the Boilermakers have found ways to win with lesser talent than many Big Ten teams.
The verdict is still out on Aidan O’Connell (916, 7 TDs, 2 INTs), last year’s starter before an injury ended his season, and Jack Plummer (938 yards, 8 TDs, 2 INTs). Second-year graduate transfer Austin Burton and redshirt freshman Michael Alaimo may get long looks this spring.
All-American wide receiver Rondale Moore may be gone but David Bell and Milton Wright will give opponents plenty to worry about. Bell caught 53 passes for 625 yards and eight touchdowns in 2020, while Wright was Purdue’s second-leading receiver with 24 receptions for 305 yards and two TDs.
Lafayette Central Catholic graduate Jackson Anthrop returns for his sixth year thanks to the NCAA’s free year in 2020.
Tight end is a strength as well, with returning starter Payne Durham (16 catches, 3 TDs) and Thor-lookalike Garrett Miller.
Running back Zander Horvath did his best Mike Alstott imitation a year ago. The former walk-on who shares a similar build and uniform number (40) to Alstott, averaged 5 yards a carry and showed surprising athletic ability. But he lacks breakaway speed, as does backup King Doerue. Maybe former Carmel star Dylan Downing can help after transferring from UNLV.
After years of concern, the offensive line may finally be shaping into a Big Ten-quality unit. Second-year graduate transfer tackle Greg Long gave the unit a boost with his decision to return. Purdue again dipped into Brohm’s Western Kentucky roots to bring in graduate transfer guard Tyler Witt.
Honorable mention All-Big Ten lineman Gus Hartwig of Zionsville started as a true freshman at center and guard. Spencer Holstege also earned honorable mention Big Ten honors.
Purdue’s spring practices are closed to the public and media. The 15 allotted practices will take place through March 19.
Noteworthy
Purdue’s 75-65 victory in Mackey Arena against Michigan State on Tuesday night was its fourth in a row against the Spartans. To find a longer winning streak against MSU, go back to March 1993 when Purdue launched a seven-game streak.
The Boilermakers also improved to 9-2 when they receive at least 30 points from their freshman class. Amazingly, 7-4 center Zach Edey was able to put up 10 points and five rebounds in under eight minutes against the Spartans. Jaden Ivey led the freshmen with 11 points, and Mason Gillis was 8 of 8 at the line during the final minutes . . .
Third-ranked Michigan, fourth-ranked Ohio State and fifth-ranked Illinois made Big Ten history Monday when they became the first trio of Big Ten teams ever to be ranked in the Associated Press top five this late in a season. The Associated Press began conducting its poll in 1949.
To put this feat in perspective, the last time a Big Ten trio came that close to top five status from mid-February into March was on March 2, 1987. Gene Keady and Bob Knight had Purdue and Indiana ranked third and fourth, respectively. Iowa was ranked sixth. . .
Reflecting that lofty ranking, Michigan and Ohio State would be No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. The Division 1 Men’s Basketball Committee revealed its top 16 teams and seeds during a nationally televised show on Saturday.
The Wolverines and Buckeyes trailed overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga and Baylor. Illinois is the highest No. 2 seed at the moment and Iowa was named a four seed and 13th overall.

Kenny Thompson is the former sports editor for the Lafayette Journal & Cou- rier and an award-winning journalist. He has covered Purdue athletics for many years.