Big Ten Country's look back at the year that was continues today with both ends of what is the best rivalry in the league, as the seasons of Indiana & Purdue are considered.
Indiana turned into a well-balanced athletic program this year, coming up with successful seasons in both football & basketball. This past fall, the football team fulfilled the great wish of the late Terry Hoeppner and reached its first bowl game since 1993. A big win at Iowa early signified the good things to come, and the Hoosiers finally won the Old Oaken Bucket battle against Purdue to end the year. Interim coach Bill Lynch was rewarded with a four-year contract. It's unlikely IU will ever be a signature football program, but they are finally climbing out of the dark cellar of the Big Ten.
Looking at the final regular season numbers of 25-6 overall & 14-4 in the league, no one would have guessed the rocky road the Hoosier basketball team had to travel to get there. The firing of Kelvin Sampson spoke well to Indiana's integrity, particularly of the fans, who pressured a recalcitrant athletic department to take quick action. But integrity usually comes at a cost. In this case, it cost Indiana a shot at a big March run, as the defense tanked once Sampson was gone. They lost the first game of the Big Ten tournament, were hammered by the NCAA committee who dropped them to a #8 seed, and said a quick goodbye in the Big Dance. Now they bring in a new coach in Tom Crean, who's had to say a quick goodbye to Eric Gordon. D.J. White is also leaving. But this is still a team who came within a fluke banked three-pointer against Wisconsin of tying for the league title. And in Crean, they have the kind of coach who will finally get Indiana winning again and when they have another big year, this one won't be upset by recruiting violations & controversies.
It was a so-so year for the Boilermakers on the football field. The 7-5 finish produced no signature wins (with Notre Dame not filling that category this year), and no inexcusable losses. In the end, Joe Tiller's success has made this kind of year a disappointment, especially when the regular season ends with a loss to Indiana. But even though the Motor City Bowl wasn't the trip Boiler fans were hoping for, they returned to bowl play after a year's hiatus. Overall, this program seems to be at a vital crossing point.
Basketball was an unqualified success. With four freshmen getting significant minutes, Purdue was supposed to rebuilding. They rebuilt all the way to a 24-7 regular season mark, a 15-3 record in the Big Ten and an NCAA win for the second straight year. The Boilermakers showed their mental toughness when they beat Wisconsin up in Madison, and were the only team to beat the eventual conference champs in league play. The future is even brighter for Matt Painter as he pushes the program back to Keady-era levels.