Alex Hickey: Why the Big Ten championship game means more to Purdue than Michigan
Conventional wisdom dictates that the upcoming Big Ten championship game is a heck of a lot more meaningful for Michigan than Purdue.
The unbeaten Wolverines are looking to clinch a College Football Playoff berth. The 8-4 Boilermakers are there because West Lafayette is just west enough of Bloomington to be included in the right division. Purdue seemingly doesn’t have much more to play for than the ability to add to the program’s “Spoilermakers” lore.
But in reality, the Big Ten title game will mean a heck of a lot more to Purdue than it does to Michigan. And it’s a good thing, because that added edge may be the only thing keeping this matchup competitive.
By process of elimination, Michigan is already in the CFP. Ohio State is the only 1-loss team left alive in the Playoff discussion, and the Wolverines de-pantsed the Buckeyes in front of the largest national audience to watch a college football game in 11 years.
Even if Michigan loses to Purdue, there’s no avenue for the Wolverines getting jumped by Ohio State. Or Alabama or Tennessee or Penn State or anyone else.
The Wolverines have already proven that they are better than No. 5 Ohio State. Decisively. Not even the highly unlikely event of a blowout loss to the Boilers can alter that reality.
This isn’t like 1993, when Notre Dame beat Florida State to become No. 1 and then dropped out of the spot after losing to Boston College the next week. Those Seminoles went down to the wire at Notre Dame Stadium in a game decided on the final play. Though it was controversial, voting them ahead of the Irish a week later wasn’t a stretch. The teams were evenly matched.
Michigan ran Ohio State out of its own home stadium. This is settled. Even at 12-1, the Wolverines would probably be no worse than the No. 3 seed in the CFP.
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But for Purdue? A win would mean everything in the world. And beyond.
A rare moment in Purdue history
Purdue has the same number of graduates to walk on the moon as it has quarterbacks who have led the Boilermakers to the Rose Bowl: 2.
Aidan O’Connell has the opportunity to finally give the quarterbacks the edge and join program legends Bob Griese and Drew Brees in leading Purdue to Pasadena.
For a program like Ohio State, the Rose Bowl might not mean all that much. A year ago, Buckeyes coach Ryan Day noted that appearing in the game was a disappointment. Ohio State was aiming for the CFP. And now it looks like Day and the Buckeyes will relive that disappointment.
Unless, of course, the Boilermakers become Big Ten champions.
For Purdue fans, the Rose Bowl is no consolation prize. It is the ultimate reward. And not just because of the stark contrast of spending New Year’s Day in Indiana versus Southern California.
This is an ultra-rare moment in Purdue football history. Purdue’s lone Rose Bowl appearances were after the 1966 and 2000 regular seasons. The latter represents the program’s 8th and most recent Big Ten title. This is a potentially generational event.
But it’s even bigger than that.
Of those 8 Big Ten titles, 7 were shared. The only time Purdue has ever won the Big Ten championship outright was 1929.
That’s what’s at stake for the Boilermakers on Saturday: a chance to stand alone as Big Ten champions for the first time in 93 years. No Big Ten program — not even Indiana — has gone longer without winning an outright title.
Purdue’s drought without an outright Big Ten title is only 5 years shorter than that of the University of Chicago. The Maroons haven’t competed in the Big Ten for the past 82 years, so it feels safe to say that one won’t end any time soon.
Defeat carries a steeper price
Win or lose, Michigan is in the College Football Playoff. Sure, the Wolverines could find themselves as the No. 1 overall seed, but in this year’s field the difference between being No. 1 and No. 2 heading into the Playoff is fairly negligible.
If Purdue wins, the Boilers go to the Rose Bowl. But if Purdue loses, there’s no guarantee the Boilers will even be playing on New Year’s Day.
Fortunately, it’s likely. With Ohio State and Penn State likely both headed for New Year’s 6 games, spots will open up lower down the B1G pecking order. Purdue would probably be bound for the Citrus or ReliaQuest Bowl. (ReliaQuest is the new, boring sponsor name for the former Outback Bowl that sounds more suited for a pair of 6-6 teams.)
But Purdue could also get hosed in that scenario. Iowa fans are known to travel, so it’s possible a bowl offers the Hawkeyes a bid that the Boilers deserve. Or maybe Illinois slots ahead of a 5-loss Purdue. These things are known to happen.
A Purdue victory on Saturday eliminates any chance of funny business.
Michigan will have a definitive talent edge Saturday night in Indianapolis. But the opportunity for Purdue to make once-in-a-lifetime history means the Wolverines should expect the Boilers to put up a heck of a fight.