Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket Story Lines
This Saturday will mark the 87th time that Purdue and Indiana have played for the Old Oaken Bucket trophy and it will be the 114th time overall that the two schools have battled on the gridiron. The Boilers hold a big advantage in Bucket games with a record of 56-27-3 but the teams have split the last 4 meetings. The Hoosiers won last season’s contest in West Lafayette 34-31 in overtime to regain possession of the Bucket.
The game on Saturday is obviously not going to be one of the most hyped in this rivalry’s history as both teams come in with losing records. But that does not mean this game is without interesting story lines on both sides. Lets take a look at them for both teams.
Starting with Purdue there is the huge opportunity for the Boilers, who are 5-6, to become bowl eligible with a win. A trip to a bowl game would be the first for the Boilers since the 2007 season when they went to the Motor City Bowl. A bowl game appearance would be a nice step forward for the program as they try to regain their status of a few years ago of consistently making bowl trips. Another way in which a win and bowl trip would help the Boilers is the extra practice time it enables the team to get. With that extra time it would allow Junior quarterback Caleb TerBush to gain more experience in the system and get him ready for next season.
The biggest story line entering this game for Purdue though is head coach Danny Hope (and his mustache). This could be a make it or break it game for Hope. In his third season at the helm for the Boilers, Hope has recruited some nice talent and has gotten several prospects from Florida to come up to West Lafayette. But that has not paid off into very many wins. With two losing campaigns to open his career at Purdue, a win on Saturday is needed to avoid three bad seasons in a row and at least give the school some signs of hope (no pun intended) in the football program. Losing back to back seasons to IU would not help either. Also looming out there are the rumors and thoughts of University of Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin is from Indianapolis, where he attended Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School, and attended Purdue. Sumlin played linebacker for the Boilers from 1983-1986 earning four letters and was even an assistant coach at Purdue from 1998-2001 (some of the best years in school history with coach Joe Tiller and QB Drew Brees Boilering Up). Sumlin has his Houston Cougars squad sitting at 11-0 and rated #8 in the BCS standings going into this weekend’s game at Tulsa. The whisperings are there that maybe Purdue would make a play for coach Sumlin and try to lure him back to his roots.
Now on to the Hoosier’s story lines. This has been a rough first season for head coach Kevin Wilson. The team comes into this game with a record of 1-10. This is obviously not the start to his head coaching career he had envisioned. Much like coach Hope, Wilson needs this win to show improvement. Now Wilson’s job is not on the line as Hope’s might be, but he does need the positive feeling and momentum of a big rivalry win to take into the off-season that a Bucket win would give him. The Hoosiers have seen many departures this season and this win would give them some confidence not only with the current players on the roster but also for any incoming recruits.
Another story line I am interested in is the continued progression of the young offensive weapons the Hoosiers are now using- starting with QB Tre Roberson. When Roberson first came in to play he gave the offense and team as a whole a jolt of new life. They looked much better and more confident even in losses to Iowa, Northwestern, and Ohio State. But in those games they at least showed some competitiveness. Now coming off a 55-3 beat down at the hands of Michigan State (in a trophy game for the Old Brass Spittoon), how do these young Hoosiers respond. Will they limp their way out of this season with their tails between their legs? Or will the stand up and compete with the Boilers and try to keep the Bucket and keep Purdue from a bowl game?
My feelings about these story lines vary in terms of importance but all are very relevant to their respective teams. I believe that a win is much more important to Purdue at this point. Making a bowl game is not only big for the program but for coach Hope. As I stated before Hope needs to get the program back on track and back to winning. He also may be under a little bit of fire for his job if he loses to a team that to this point is winless in the Big Ten. Now I am not one that believes Kevin Sumlin is walking through those doors at Ross-Ade Stadium any time soon- but somebody else might be next year instead of Hope. Sumlin is a hot commodity in college football coaching right now and with jobs such as Ole Miss open in the SEC I just don’t know if coming home to Purdue would be at the top of his list. In terms of importance for IU, winning this game does not put them in a bowl game or put them back into Big Ten relevance. But what it could do is propel them towards their future. This is the Hoosiers bowl game this season. They have played so many young players this year that will be able to take a lot of experience out of this season. Capping it off with a win for the Old Oaken Bucket would make this tumultuous season end on a high note and cause a good vibe for partying down on Kirkwood Saturday night- not that IU students need any help with that.
I will stick by my prediction that I made on our Inside the Man Room podcast and pick the Hoosiers to win 38-34 in a shootout. And let the ridicule begin if I am wrong.