I'm not sure Illinois is better than Purdue on paper.
But, the Illini should definitely be more experienced than the Boilermakers, that's for sure.
Purdue will be one of the youngest teams in the country, comprised of largely underclassmen. This season will definitely be more of a challenge for Jeff Brohm and his staff as they must overcome some depth issues to make a third bowl in a row.
If there's one saving grace for the Boilermakers, it is the fact that they have recruited well in tandem with their success in recent seasons.
Brohm took the short-term gains route when he was hired as head coach for Purdue in 2017. He brought in several junior college players and transfers in an attempt to win quickly, then supplement that success with recruiting well to sustain the momentum for the long term. It worked well for him in 2017 and 2018 as Purdue made back-to-back bowl games and showed substantial progress on the field.
That bill has come due this year, however, as Purdue lost a lot from last season, including starting quarterback David Blough and several other key starters offensively.
Fear not, Boiler fans. That strategy will seemingly provide Purdue with a rebuilding season, but the cupboard is not bare, by any means.
If you're discussing this team, you start with Rondale Moore. The star of the 2018 class, Moore exploded on to the college football landscape, racking up 114 receptions for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns. It was one of the more electrifying freshman seasons ever, and Moore will prove to be a handful for defenses for at least two more seasons.
Just watch him kill Ohio State with a thousand cuts. His full range is on display.
The quarterback throwing him the ball will be a change, but not all that unfamiliar to fans.
Elijah Sindelar has seen plenty of action in the last few years, including 2017, when he threw for 2,099 yards and 18 touchdowns, winning MVP in the Foster Farms Bowl. He'll have some intriguing young targets to throw to besides Moore as well.
Class of 2019 wide receivers David Bell and Milton Wright create a potentially dynamic triumvirate of wide receivers going forward for Purdue. Illinois’ defense must be better, or teams like the Boilermakers will eviscerate them through the air.
On defense, senior linebacker Markus Bailey will lead a defense that will need some younger guys to step up. His 115 tackles led the team, and Purdue will be looking to him for his experience to ingratiate some class of 2018 and 2019 youths to that side of the ball.
That includes 2019 signee George Karlaftis, a four-star defensive end who can wreak havoc on opposing offensive linemen, and who'll be looking to impact a defense that's a bit behind it's offensive counterpart.
The schedule provides few gimmes, as Nevada, Vanderbilt, and TCU comprise an impressive non-conference slate, and the Big Ten West looks to be drastically improved.
Illinois will visit West Lafayette on Oct. 26 and will need to be dramatically improved defensively, or this could turn into a run 'n gun game where both offenses put up prolific numbers. This will be one of the few games Illinois could conceivably win. They won't be favored, but the turnover and youth for the Boilermakers could be enough for the more upperclassman-heavy Illini to capitalize and pull the upset.