Purdue head coach Danny Hope looks to the scoreboard against Minnesota in the second half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct 27, 2012, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jesse Johnson)
Updated: December 2, 2012 2:14PM
There’s simply no way to spin this one for Purdue.
Notre Dame? In defeat, it was encouraging to have competed so valiantly — on the road, no less — against a team that all of a sudden could be in the national title picture, a sign of the ability to hang with virtually any team in the country.
Michigan and Wisconsin? Stunning in the lopsided nature of both losses, downright ugly — especially at home, with so much on the line in a Big Ten opener and the theoretical Leaders Division championship game, respectively — but at least both teams were considered quality opponents.
Ohio State? Sure, this game was all but given away, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in most gut-wrenching fashion. Make one measly play — on offense, on defense, on special teams, anywhere — and it’s a win of the most unexpected variety. Still, along the lines of Notre Dame, it was a more-than-credible performance — one to seemingly get back on track after the back-to-back blowouts — on the road against an undefeated Top 10 opponent.
And, finally, Minnesota? Oh, boy, then there’s Minnesota.
Previously 0-for-conference-play Minnesota. Minnesota, which previously had scored exactly 13 points in each of its first three Big Ten games. Minnesota, which previously had not generated a turnover in those three games. Minnesota, young — including with a freshman quarterback, albeit a talented one, making his second career start and first at home — and banged up, but looking a whole lot healthier at the expense of the Boilermakers.
In a word, embarrassing, something even the Michigan and Wisconsin games were not.
At 3-5 overall and 0-4 in the Big Ten, where the heck does Purdue go from here, for the rest of this season and, realistically, beyond?
It’s all up for grabs with this program, everything is on the table.
Even at 3-4, after the loss at the Horseshoe, 8-4 seemed eminently achievable for the Boilermakers — as silly and Pollyannaish as it might seem — with the way the down-the-stretch schedule set up. Without question, the opportunity for them to secure a marquee win (see Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State), to author that signature moment this season, had come and gone; a win against any of their five remaining opponents would not have fallen into that category.
But 8-4? All things considered, that’s a pretty darn good record, no matter the source of those wins.
Now? Even winning out, the best Purdue can do is 7-5. And, really, given the Boilermakers’ inconsistency, how all over the place they’ve been, and just their overall play, have they given any indication they’re capable of winning all of those final four games? Going 3-1 to reach bowl-eligibility at 6-6 could be a challenge for them.
And just for the sake of argument, let’s say Purdue does go 4-0 in the final third of its regular season (as an aside, wise move to name Robert Marve the starting quarterback against Penn State, and he must start for the duration, assuming he can endure with his latest left ACL injury). The Boilermakers find a way to defeat the Nittany Lions, to win at Iowa and at Illinois, and to retain the Old Oaken Bucket against Indiana.
Would that even be good enough? Would that be considered a successful season? With the supposed (and actual, legitimate) talent and experience (trumpeted as a conference-high 19 returning starters) on this team? Given the circumstances in the Big Ten, from its general “down” state this season, to the postseason ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State?
And let’s even take it one or two steps further. On top of that second straight postseason appearance — possibly to a relatively decent bowl in, say, Texas, in part because of that shape of the conference — add a win in that game.
Would that be good enough?
Well, maybe. It depends on the bowl opponent in this hypothetical scenario.
But doubtful nonetheless.
So here’s the harsh reality: At this point, after all that has transpired, there’s just not a whole lot Purdue can do to salvage this expectations-laden, once-promising season.