When Purdue and Indiana get together for the Old Oaken Bucket on Saturday, the game will feel like a throwback to the Joe Tiller Era.

Then, as was frequently the case, the Boilermakers were looking to pad their postseason résumé while the Hoosiers were preparing only for the offseason. The scenario happened 10 times during Tiller’s 12-year tenure at Purdue from 1997-2008, with Purdue winning 8 of them. Only once, in 2007, did the game also have postseason implication for the Hoosiers, with IU then winning the Bucket at home on a last-second field goal.

So Saturday will have a familiar feeling — although an unexpected one — when the rivals play in Ross-Ade Stadium. Purdue’s turned in a surprising season, having already surpassed the 6-win threshold needed for postseason entry. It’s likely to play in Vegas or New York or Arizona, or perhaps Florida, for its bowl game. It’ll mark a return to the postseason for Jeff Brohm’s Boilermakers after a 2-year hiatus.

Indiana, meanwhile, will be home for the holidays for the first time in that span. This season, for Tom Allen and company, has featured mostly misery, with the Hoosiers limping through their first several weeks — they smoked Idaho and squeaked out a win at Western Kentucky in the non-conference — before falling flat in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers are likely to finish winless in the league for the first time since 2011, back when IU was in the midst of 7 straight losing seasons following its 2007 Insight Bowl appearance.

And that’s for an IU squad that was ranked 17th in the country during the preseason, with many considering the Hoosiers the most likely team to be able to challenge Ohio State for the Big Ten East Division title. Turns out, they were the least likely. Indiana’s not been able to generate the same kind of magic that it had in 2020, when the Hoosiers finished 6-2, although perhaps the dud in the Outback Bowl loss to Ole Miss should have been a bigger indication of what was to come.

The Hoosiers have played 4 quarterbacks this season, none very effectively. And that includes opening-day starter Michael Penix Jr., who was scatter-armed before succumbing to yet another (potential) season-ending injury. He’s not played since the shutout loss to Penn State in early October due to a shoulder injury, although he’s been edging closer to a return. Indiana has turned to true freshman Donaven McCulley in the second half of the season, but it’s found only limited results.

But no matter the quarterback, IU’s offense hasn’t produced this season, with only 87 points scored in 8 Big Ten games, and 35 of those came in one outing, a 3-point loss at Maryland.

Meanwhile, Purdue has found its footing, surging through the second half of the season with upset wins at then-No. 2 Iowa and No. 5 Michigan State, mixed with convincing victories against Nebraska and Northwestern to get to 7 victories. Considering Vegas set Purdue’s win total at 5 and many preseason prognosticators had the Boilermakers finishing 6th in the 7-team West (ahead of only Illinois), the season has been a monumental success.

A victory against Indiana would be the capper, as it was so many times during Tiller’s hugely successful 12-year run as the Boilermakers boss. Then, Purdue often whooped IU, winning 10 of the 12 meetings overall (with road losses in 2001 and ’07). Purdue is an opening-line 15-point favorite Saturday, which will mark a return to the series after a one-year break. Twice last season, the game was nuked, first being postp0ned, then canceled because of Covid. Had it been played, then Indiana likely would have rolled to victory, which would have been its 6th in the previous 8, and perhaps marked that the Hoosiers were the rival program on the rise.

Instead, this season Purdue gets the opportunity to add another ‘P’ to the Bucket, hammer a final nail into an awful Hoosiers’ season and proclaim itself the best Big Ten team in the state.