The scene was unrecognizable.
Ross-Ade Stadium was at near capacity to witness Purdue post a 31-24 win over Indiana, bringing the Old Oaken Bucket back to West Lafayette, it’s first return since 2012. The Boilermakers posted four B1G victories for the first time since 2009 and clinched their first bowl berth in four years.
None of it seemed possible when Jeff Brohm accepted the job one year ago.
Purdue entered the year with a severe lack of talent and a culture that had become complacent with losing. Apathy among the fan base had set in and football had become nothing more than a primer for basketball season. Those are some pretty steep hurdles for a coach who has never been at the helm of a Power Five program.
Brohm embraced the challenge, fully understanding that his Boilermakers were fighting an uphill battle. The only expectation was for a more competitive and entertaining brand of football. Wins and losses would be nothing more than a footnote.
How quickly all of that changed.
As Brohm and the Boilermakers hoisted the Old Oaken Bucket into the cool, crisp air at Ross-Ade Stadium in the season finale, swarmed by a student section desperately waiting for a moment of this magnitude to celebrate, it became even more apparent that Purdue struck gold. For as excited and unpredictable as this season was, it’s only the beginning.
There aren’t 10 coaches in college football who could’ve had the same success Brohm and his staff produced in Year 1. This was a roster comprised of recruiting classes that never broke 50th in the national rankings and a group that had won nine games in four seasons. Getting to .500 immediately? That was impossible.
Even as Purdue walked off the field with the Oaken Bucket, six wins and a bowl berth, it still didn’t seem real. But when you take a step back and cover up the wins and losses, the Boilermakers were even better than the 6-6 record would indicate.
Four of the six losses came in one possession games. Purdue had their chances to knock off a ranked Louisville in Week 1 and probably should’ve defeated Nebraska and Rutgers. The Boilermakers even played undefeated Wisconsin down to the wire. Not to state the obvious — and certainly not to diminish this season’s accomplishments — but it’s not outlandish to believe Brohm could have — maybe even should have — won nine games in his first year.
That’s pretty significant for a program that won that many games over a four-year period.
Brohm won’t be judged by the games he and the Boilermakers let slip away, though. Instead, his first season is going to be remembered as a turning point for the program. Because if Brohm accomplished this — considering all those circumstances — in Year 1, think of what he can do with his recruits running his well-established system.
On Saturday, Brohm and the Boilermakers officially closed the book on one of the ugliest eras in program history. And it did so by beating Indiana and clinching a bowl berth in front of a near-capacity crowd at Ross-Ade Stadium.
None of it seemed feasible just 11 months ago.