This is about as big as it gets on a college field in the Hoosier state. Next Saturday, Indiana and Purdue will battle for an Old Oaken Bucket — and bowl eligibility — inside Ross-Ade Stadium to close out the 2017 season.

The Bucket is a tradition. The bowl is an aberration.

Indiana and Purdue needed wins this weekend to keep bowl hopes alive headed into rivalry weekend. With 4-6 records entering the second-to-last weekend of the season, both teams needed to win out to turn postseason dreams into reality.

Just a few weeks ago, both teams could’ve left their bowling shoes in the closet to collect a layer of dust. At 3-6, the Hoosiers needed to win their last three games — something they haven’t accomplished since 1946. The task was equally as daunting for Purdue, which needed victories in three of its final four contests to qualify for the postseason.

Considering the futility of the two programs, neither of those circumstances seemed likely to play out.

Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Now, one team is guaranteed to accomplish its goal. Indiana’s 41-0 thrashing over Rutgers and Purdue’s stunning 24-15 upset win over Iowa on Saturday afternoon set up the winner-take-all scenario.

No, this isn’t Michigan-Ohio State. It’s not Alabama-Auburn, either. This is Indiana-Purdue. It may not have the same appeal or involve the same implications as two of college football’s hottest rivalry games, but this is important in the Hoosiers state.

Both programs, both fan bases and both head coaches — Tom Allen and Jeff Brohm — understand the importance of this game.

For Indiana, it’s about sustaining a culture of winning and building on the foundation that Kevin Wilson left behind. The Hoosiers haven’t made three straight postseason trips since the 1980s and have never beaten Purdue in five consecutive seasons. A win on Saturday can change all of that.

It would serve as an incredible recruiting tool for Allen as he tries to steer this program onto the college football map.

Purdue, on the other hand, was a program left for dead. Though Jeff Brohm was the type of innovative mind and aggressive play-caller that could alter the trajectory of this team, the Boilermakers were expected to have a four-win ceiling. And that would’ve been a good year.

Credit: David Scrivner

Sitting on the cusp of bowl eligibility alone can be viewed as a remarkable feat. Imagine the kind of press Brohm will receive it he actually leads the Boilers into the postseason?

Yeah, this one is kind of a big deal.

This isn’t something that happens in Indiana too often. In fact, it’s not the type of match-up these two teams have enjoyed in the modern era. Sure, Indiana has used the Bucket game to clinch a postseason appearance each of the last two seasons. Purdue did the same periodically throughout the 2000s. But there’s almost never a win-or-go-home setting for both.

West Lafayette isn’t going to draw a Michigan-like crowd on Saturday and the Hoosiers and Boilers aren’t going to battle with the Buckeyes and Wolverines at the top of the television rating statistics. But that shouldn’t diminish the importance of the season finale in Ross-Ade Stadium.

Indiana and Purdue have met on the field 119 times. For the last 92 years, the Old Oaken Bucket has been the prize at stake.

A bowl berth comes with the Bucket next Saturday.