When Playing Out the String Matters
So after another bye, the Boilers should be nice and rested and ready for their two remaining games. A couple of weeks ago, many of us were (cautiously) saying, “Wow, with how bad Northwestern and IU look, Purdue can realistically go 5-7.” While 5-7 is nothing to boast about, it’s a tremendous step forward from the noncompetitive, 1-11 team from a season ago. However, since Purdue’s last game, Northwestern beat Notre Dame on the road and Indiana found a way to roll up offensive yards. More on those two items in a moment. But first, let’s talk about the progress that has been made. I know there are people out there who view a non-bowl season as a failure, and viewed “in a vacuum” that is a fair statement. In college football, any reasonable draw of a program from a major conference will go to a bowl game by going .500. However, just as Austin Appleby supporters are looking deeper than his won-loss record, you have to look deeper to assess the progress of the 2014 Boilermakers.
Make no mistake, even if Purdue loses out, they’ve stepped forward and you can be just as excited about next year and expect a bowl game then. 3-9 is still a lot better than 1-11 – not only have they looked light years better and won more games, but they’ve been competitive in every game they’ve been in.
Yes, I realize they have two three-TD losses on the docket and those were not fun. However…how close would those have been last year? Would Purdue have hung with Nebraska as long as they did? I’m not saying you celebrate “only” losing by three TDs by any means. But let’s look at this year’s points on a game-by-game basis versus last year’s:
Dear lord, last year’s line just makes me sad. So I think it’s fair to say the concerns over “Uh oh, the other team has 14 points, the game is over” no longer applies. So again… that’s progress, my friends.
So the record is better, the scoring is better and the team just generally looks better, but as the cranky folks around here like to say, we’re not (only) into moral victories. So it’s time to win.
Yes, you could easily look ahead to 2015 and say that’s the real time to win, but no, let’s see it happen now. Minnesota absolutely should have been a win and I’d love to have seen Appleby vs ND or Iowa. But those horses are out of the barn.
What’s left in 2014 is to play out the string. These last two games mean almost nothing in the grand scheme of things. Northwestern is at best a 6-6 team that isn’t a huge bowl draw (though the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl probably wouldn’t mind them) and IU’s season ended when they lost Sudfeld and had to put the Shiny Diamont (TM, Boiled Sports) at the controls. I mean, he hasn’t exactly been a Diamont in the rough. And thankfully for the Hoosiers, in this case, Diamont is not forever. Reports are, though, that Diamont is a girl’s best friend.
Okay, I’ll stop now.
Anyway, while these games mean little-to-nothing, they could mean a lot for our collective psyche. Purdue loses them, we spend the offseason convincing ourselves that they did indeed move forward. Split them and we’re a bit happier and look at 4-8 and realize it’s the right direction. Win them both and we’re officially excited about 2015, which is a nice place to be. 5-7 would mean something to this team and this fanbase. 5-7 would mean one win short of a bowl game. It would mean next year, you can expect fun things. It would make the players believe even more. They clearly believe in what’s happening and their focus is more than that of recent Boilermaker teams – even after tough losses, they don’t sound like their heads are hung or they’re mentally defeated. The quotes are consistently the same: Let’s get back to work and keep pushing forward. Stick to the plan.
And let’s think about us as fans. In recent years, with the season essentially over, were you even remotely excited to watch the November games? Not usually… and if you were, it was only because you had convinced yourself that six or seven wins and a bowl game was worth getting into a lather over and then you felt dirty afterwards for allowing yourself to enjoy the Motor City Bowl so much.
It’s winding down, my friends. The fantastic ride that is college football. Once again, Purdue is not a major player in the greater scheme… but depending on how these last two games go, there could be excitement about them potentially crashing the party soon.