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Purdue a Curious Bunch

Here’s hoping all you visitors to this corner of the paper each week had a fantastic Christmas.

I have always been fascinated by the passage of time. We start looking forward to something, maybe the Christmas holiday or a lengthy vacation. And no sooner than it starts, it’s time to draw the curtain on the fun time.

And so it is on this Monday (when I’m writing this). We are speeding into 2022, which means college bowl season really heats up.

Yes, Bama and Georgia are SEC teams preparing for a College Football Playoff run, but Tennessee is gearing up for its battle with Purdue in the Music City Bowl, December 30, in Nashville.

There has been lots of good news for this Tennessee football team, which has a shot at eight wins this year. Did anybody really expect this 11 months ago? I say it again: I sure didn’t. A couple of weeks ago, Vols’ quarterback Hendon Hooker disclosed he was coming back next season. Last week, we learned wide receiver Cedric Tillman also would return. That’s huge news for this football program.

That means that most of the offensive pieces from the 2021 team will be returning. Sure, Tiyon Evans bailed out and Velus Jones ran out of eligibility, but this team is going to be back with most of its moving parts and this same team is going through the 15 allotted bowl workouts as we speak.

That’s like getting two spring practices.

Tennessee folks are waiting to learn if Cade Mays will return next year. He was so banged up this year and he has been limited in bowl workouts. It is believed that he won’t play against Purdue. He says he wants NIL money to compensate for what he might get in the NFL draft. He says he’d love to play another year with his brother and teammates, but he has a future to think about.

He’ll likely get drafted, but his fragility is going to cost him. He could improve his lot next year by staying healthy and getting good film at his natural guard position. He’d be a big help if he returned, but Tennessee’s offensive line developed well this year. If Mays decides to head to the NFL, the Vols will be okay.

Meanwhile, Purdue has been a mystery. The Boilermakers have some curious losses and some impressive wins on their schedule. Purdue lost to Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Minnesota. It escaped with a close victory over Illinois. But Purdue did beat Iowa and Michigan State, both Top Five teams when they played.

Yeah, Purdue will be without its best offensive and defensive player, but it can move the football with versatility. For Tennessee, this will be like playing against a lousy tennis player: you never know what’s going to come off his racket.

Purdue won’t be able to replicate Tennessee’s offensive intensity in practice and the Vols have demonstrated that they can play with anybody in the nation. Consider that the Vols held leads in every game they played this year. Bama only led Tennessee by seven going into the fourth. Georgia was on its heels against the Vols.

I see a game similar to the Vols’ game at Kentucky, but I don’t see Purdue scoring like Kentucky did. If Tennessee can keep up its offensive intensity, get a score, get a stop, get a score, like it has all season, Purdue will wonder what hit it. I feel like Tennessee wins this game 45-27.

We’ll see what happens, of course.

Editor’s note: Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox, which airs from 4-6 p.m., Monday-Thursday on WRJB, 95.9 FM, Camden.

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