Indiana travels to Purdue for the latest installment of the Old Oaken Bucket rivalry. It will be the final game for Boilermaker coach Joe Tiller. The outgoing coach hasn't had much of a swan song, which is an unfortunate, and most inappropriate way for him to end his career in West Lafayette. By the time the weekend's over, I'm sure we'll be into re-hashing the games that settled the league championship and the BCS bowl picture, so I want to take this post to give a salute to the man who revitalized Boilermaker football.
Tiller came to Purdue for the 1997 season and the program was on hard times. They hadn't been to a bowl game of any kind since 1984 and it had been thirty years since the last visit to Pasadena. The new coach changed everything in a hurry. His use of the spread offense brought a new diversity to the style of play, something that even those of us traditionalists could appreciate. The high-octane attack ultimatley produced two current NFL starting quarterbacks in Kyle Orton (Bears) and Drew Brees (Saints). More importantly, the winning came instantly. Purdue won eight regular season games each of the first two years, and both times they capped it off with an Alamo Bowl triumph.
One year later the program was on the New Year's stage, dropping a tough game to Georgia. That was just the appetizer for 2000. With Brees behind center, Purdue finally made it back to the Rose Bowl. Though they fell to Washington, a team who had a legit claim to play for the national title that year, nothing could dim the accomplishment of this rising program.
That was the peak year, although unless you're Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State, winning a conference championship should be assumed to be a rare thing. Tiller's Boilers continued to go to bowls, including an '02 Capital One appearance. All in all, the veteran offensive mastermind took his program to a postseason game ten times in twelve years. Not bad for a program that hadn't tasted December/January action for thirteen years prior to his arrival.
It would have been fitting for Tiller to end his career in a bowl game, but it wasn't in the cards this year. Nonetheless, Big Ten Country salutes him for a job well done.
Wisconsin has one matter of business to take care of before bowl season and that's a game with Cal-Poly. To those wondering how this game got on the schedule, the Badgers had originally scheduled a game with Virginia Tech for September 20. That was before the league schedule came out and the prospective game with the Hokies would have been followed by Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. Wisconsin quickly got out of the deal. Good move, given they lost all three games to the Big Ten powers. Cal-Poly is going to make the postseason at the I-AA level and is no pushover though. And UW has shown itself to be eminently capable of the kind of non-performance that can make a big upset at least possible. Look for this one to stay close longer then it should before the Badgers take it over.
Notre Dame hosts Syracuse. The Orange have had a horrid year and just fired coach Greg Robinson. An Irish win here locks up a winning season, and with USC the only game after this, its one they must have.