By CLIFF BRUNT
Ok, Danny Hope. Smoke is billowing from the hood of that pretty looking used car you sold us.
At the beginning of the season, you told us this team could compete and had the chance to do special things. Right now, it looks like the team might not even reach a bowl game.
The improvement against Ohio State was perhaps good for restless Purdue fans, and the fact that the Boilers lost in Columbus in overtime was a better result than anyone expected, before or after the nation decided Purdue should be pretty good this year.
The problem is, the previous two disasters against Michigan and Wisconsin changed the close call at Ohio State from a œWow, we’re almost there! moment to an œOh snap, we’re 0-3 in the Big Ten! moment. It also brought to the forefront again the inconsistency Purdue has shown in recent years. When Purdue flashes the ability to compete with the big boys, the question becomes, œWhy can’t they do that all the time? or œWhy didn’t they do that last week, or œCan I expect them to do that next week?
There was nothing to lose at Ohio State, though Caleb TerBush actually lost a golden opportunity to shed his label as a kid who can’t win big games. There were no expectations there. Ultimately, the result could have been viewed many ways. None of them changes anything for Hope.
This one will.
The Boilermakers play at Minnesota on Saturday. Minnesota is decent, but is in no way considered a contender for championships. Lose there, and here’s what happens:
-Minnesota gains its first conference victory on your watch.
-Purdue drops to 3-5 overall and 0-4 in the Big Ten.
-Confidence in Hope fades with this kind of loss. If you look at Purdue’s conference losses so far, losing to Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State would be understandable in many cases. A true title contender wins at least two of the Big Ten games, but OK, they lost. But losing to Minnesota when you’re supposed to be good?
-With a schedule that includes a home game against Penn State, road games against Iowa and Illinois and a home game against a much-improved Indiana squad, finding enough wins to get to the postseason suddenly becomes difficult for Purdue. The Boilers would have to win three of four just to be bowl-eligible. This for a team that was considered a Rose Bowl contender a month ago.
Coach Hope told the media on Tuesday how talented Minnesota is and how tough this game is going to be. Don’t listen to him. Purdue has no business losing this game. Yes, Minnesota is at home, but Purdue is more talented and should win. The Golden Gophers have scored exactly 13 points in each of their conference games. If the Boilermakers have any desire to make something out of their season, they must win this one.
If the Boilermakers remain a last-place team because they lost to the last-place team in the other division, that’s a pretty serious indictment of the program, especially without any of the major injuries that have plagued Purdue in recent years. I know some guys are hobbled, but nobody is really out, with the exception of Dwayne Beckford because of his off-the-field issues. Beckford couldn’t possibly have been this important.
And losing to Minnesota is a recruiting nightmare. Forget about how good Minnesota is or isn’t. Losing to the Gophers doesn’t look good for a program that claims it’s ready to make a jump.
Can Purdue defeat a team it clearly is better than in a must-win situation? If Purdue loses, will the players continue to buy into Hope with nothing coming of all that he has sold? Even more important, have the players checked out already? A loss here would suggest that Hope has lost this team. And if he’s lost his team, his job might be next.