Indiana already has a postseason ticket. Purdue’s latest loss sealed its fate.
For the first time in five years, Saturday’s Old Oaken Bucket game will be all about the rivalry, bragging rights and the trophy — nothing more.
“I think whether it's football, basketball, any sport, it’s a lot of fun when you have these types of games,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said Monday. “When it's the last game of the year, especially the last two years when something was riding on it for both teams, it meant a lot, made for some good games. We're hopeful that we can do our part this year, come out and compete.”
The Boilermakers (4-7, 3-5 Big Ten) certainly have done some of their best work under Brohm against their in-state rival. Purdue earned bowl bids each of the past two seasons by winning the Bucket and simultaneously knocking Indiana out of the postseason picture both times.
That doesn’t mean the stakes won’t be high.
Some in Bloomington recount stories of former coach Lee Corso asking his players every day what they did to beat Purdue.
It’s why wins and losses in this series often coincide with coaches’ fates. why each new coaching hire addresses the need to win the prized trophy during their introductory speech and why this game matters regardless of circumstances.
“It's personal,” Hoosiers coach Tom Allen said. “I was raised in this state. I understand it. I watched many of (these games) over the years. I know how important it is to our university, our fan base, our former players, everybody that is part of Indiana.”
For the Hoosiers, a win Saturday could add another key line to a resume that is far from perfect.
Since ending their 25-year drought of appearing in the Top 25, Indiana (7-4, 4-4) failed to upset a top-10 foe for the first time since 1987 and last weekend failed to snap 16-game losing streak against ranked opponents. This week, they are seeking their first eight-win season since 1993 while making a case to play in the most prestigious bowl game it can find.
Indiana also appears to be healthier than Purdue.
Allen said quarterback Peyton Ramsey practiced Monday after taking a hit in the ribs last weekend and should play against Purdue. Receiver Whop Philyor also is expected to return after suffering a head injury against Penn State, which forced him to miss the Michigan game. Decisions on left tackle Matthew Bedford and running back Stevie Scott III, who suffered lower leg injuries on the same play against the Wolverines, aren’t expected until later this week.
“Nothing longer term for those guys,” Allen said. “We’re waiting to see if we could get them back. That would be the hope.”
Purdue’s injury situation is worse.
Starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar (broken left collarbone) hasn’t played since the conference opener and hasn’t even decided if he will participate in the Senior Day activities. He still has another year of eligibility. Sindelar’s replacement, Jack Plummer, won’t play because of a broken right ankle. Brohm declined to rule out All-American receiver Rondale Moore (hamstring) or defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal (knee) though Neal hasn’t played this season and Moore hasn’t played since Week 4.
That’s not the way either team wanted to head into Saturday.
But both coaches insist it won’t detract from the game.
“The journey to get better starts today,” Brohm said. “That means we've got to do everything in our power to come out and play well on Saturday.”