The nine Boilermaker transfers impact on team’s victories
If there was any doubt how important the transfer portal will be to college football, look no further than Michigan State.
The Spartans finished with 11 victories, nine more than the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and the foundation for that record-setting turnaround was 20 transfers. Kenneth Walker III led that transfer class and powered the Michigan State offense with a nation’s best 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Purdue had a similar turnaround in 2021, and look no further than the 48-45 overtime victory over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl to see the impact transfers had for the Boilermakers.
Bowl MVP Broc Thompson transferred in from Marshall. Mitchell Fineran, whose fourth field goal of the game was the difference, arrived in West Lafayette from Samford. Chris Jefferson, who filled in for veteran defensive back Dedrick Mackey, recorded 15 tackles against the Vols. He transferred in from NCAA Division ii Findlay.
In all, nine transfers played a role in the Boilermakers reaching nine victories for the first time since 2003. Let’s rank them in order of impact.
1. Tyler Witt, guard: The graduate transfer from Western Kentucky started all 13 games and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Witt and center Gus Hartwig were the only constants on an offensive line that was affected at various times by injuries.
2. Mitchell Fineran, kicker: His 24 field goals were just one shy of the school record set by Ben Jones in 2003. He’s expected to return for the 2022 season.
3. Jamari Brown, cornerback: The transfer from Kentucky almost seamlessly stepped in when No. 1 cornerback Corey Trice was lost to a torn ACL. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
4. Broc Thompson, wide receiver: Stepped up against Tennessee when Purdue was without All-American David Bell (NFL Draft) and Milton Wright (academics). His seven catches for a bowl record 217 yards and two touchdowns against the Vols were not only career highs but amazing considering he will have surgery on both knees in the offseason.
5. Chris Jefferson, safety: Jefferson spent most of the season as the fifth defensive back in passing situations. His 15 tackles against Tennessee more than doubled his previous career high. Jefferson has one season of eligibility remaining.
6. Damarjhe Lewis, defensive tackle: The freshman transfer from Indiana saw extensive action in the bowl game with Branson Deen sidelined for “health and safety” reasons.
7. O.C. Brothers, linebacker: The transfer from Auburn missed the bowl game for “health and safety” reasons but was a reliable backup all season. Brothers has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
8. Joe Anderson, defensive end: The transfer from South Carolina saw extensive action against Tennessee as part of a rotation filling in for George Karlaftis (NFL Draft). Anderson has two seasons of eligibility left.
9. PrinceJames Boyd, defensive tackle: The transfer from Independence Community College made five tackles against Tennessee, his first significant playing time of the season. Boyd has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Sampson James, the former four-star running back from Avon, transferred from Indiana to Purdue in the fall but was not eligible for the 2021 season.
A third transfer from Indiana, 2017 Indiana Mr. Football Reese Taylor, is among the seven known transfers who are expected to begin classes at Purdue on Monday. Taylor is expected to shore up a cornerback position that is thin behind Brown and Trice.
Also coming in are Murray State defensive end Scotty Humpich, who earned All-Ohio Valley honors in 2020; cornerbacks Tre Denson of Kansas State and Bryce Hampton of Adams State, offensive lineman Sione Finau of Florida International and receivers Tyrone Tracy from Iowa and Elijah Canion of Auburn.
Tracy starred at Decatur Central and caught 15 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown in 2021.
Notes and thoughts from a 6-4 bowl season for the Big Ten Conference, two more wins than I predicted:
Expectations will be high for Purdue in 2022, maybe even the school’s second 10-win season ever. Fueling those expectations are the return of second-team All-Big Ten quarterback Aidan O’Connell.
O’Connell wasn’t at his finest against Tennessee but still threw for a Music City Bowl record 534 yards and a record-tying five touchdowns. The only other Purdue quarterback with multiple 500-yard passing games is Drew Brees. While not comparing O’Connell to a future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, it could be argued that O’Connell is just as valuable to his team’s fortunes.
O’Connell ranks 10th with 5,728 career passing yards and if he can duplicate his 2021 total of 3,711, the former walkon will only trail Brees (11,792), Curtis Painter (11,163), Mark Herrmann (9,946) and David Blough (9,734) in Purdue history. …
Five of Purdue’s nine victories were away from Ross-Ade Stadium, matching a feat last accomplished by the 1943 team that went 9-0. …
Michigan State completed the biggest turnaround in school history by outscoring Pittsburgh 21-0 in the fourth quarter to win the Peach Bowl.
The Spartans (11-2) assured themselves of a Top 10 poll finish without Kenneth Walker III, who opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL Draft. Michigan State’s nine-game improvement surpassed the school record of seven games in 2017. …
Taking a page from Purdue’s bowl strategy, Ohio State also recorded a 48-45 victory against Utah in the Rose Bowl.
All-Big Ten quarterback C.J. Stroud threw for a school-record 573 yards and six touchdowns to lead the comeback from a 35-21 halftime deficit. Even with star wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson opting to skip the Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes merely turned to Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison Jr.
Njigba, a sophomore, set a school record with 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Harrison, a freshman and son of the former Indianapolis Colts star, also caught three TD passes. …
Wisconsin may have found its next Jonathan Taylor in 17-year-old Braelon Allen. The freshman rushed for 159 yards and helped Wisconsin run off the final 9:57 in an 18-play drive that sealed the Badgers’ 20-13 victory against Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Allen’s eighth 100-yard game of the season capped Wisconsin’s turnaround from a 1-3 start. The Badgers (9-4) will take a streak of 20 consecutive bowl berths into the 2022 season.
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.