The 2014 seasons for IU and Purdue football will come their ends Saturday, but don’t tell the programs the game doesn’t matter.
It’s rivalry week in college football and that means the Old Oaken Bucket Trophy goes on the line with IU defending the Bucket and Purdue eager to take it back to West Lafayette.
On Saturday, the team’s combined Big Ten record of 1-13 doesn’t matter. The disappointments and the fact that it would take combining the team’s three wins each together to become bowl eligible doesn’t matter.
What matters this week is who gets to take that Old Oaken Bucket home.
“I’m really excited,” freshman quarterback Zander Diamont said. “There’s part of me that feels like everything we’ve been through this season—all the adversity and the losses—has been building for this moment.
“I’ve never wanted to win so bad.”
IU (3-8, 0-7) will look to beat Purdue (3-8, 1-6) in back-to-back seasons for the first time since Bill Mallory roamed the sidelines in 1993-94 at noon Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The Hoosiers trail the all-time series to the Boilermakers 38-72.
Beating Purdue has been a priority from the start of the offseason, IU senior cornerback Tim Bennett said.
Rarely a day goes by where IU players aren’t reminded of their 56-36 win from last season. The Bucket is kept in the team locker room as a constant reminder of the victory and what the rivalry means to the schools.
“Since Spring, that’s been on our minds,” Bennett said. “We have The Bucket in the locker room and every day we get to look at it and every day we know when it comes to that game, we have to go after it.”
On the opposite sideline will be a Purdue team poised on bringing the Bucket back to West Lafayette.
Purdue senior linebacker Sean Robinson, who will miss this weekend’s game with an injury, said earlier this year that Purdue has also been vocal about making it a goal to regain possession of the Bucket.
“It was a big deal that it left West Lafayette last year,” Robinson said. “Everyone talks about it all season long. It’s an important rivalry. I mean, we can be a no-win team and we’re still going to be playing our hearts out for that Bucket.”
The rivalry game hasn’t had much meaning for IU since a 2006 loss to Purdue spoiled IU’s hopes of a bowl bid. When IU beat Purdue in 2007, the Hoosiers were already bowl eligible.
But a postseason berth was out of the picture two weeks ago when the Hoosiers lost their seventh game of the year to Rutgers Nov. 15. The same can be said for Purdue, which lost its seventh game of the year Nov. 8 against Wisconsin.
For IU, the 2014 season will ultimately go down in the record books as a step backwards for a program that had increased its win total in three consecutive seasons prior to 2014.
But for the Hoosiers to snap a seven-game losing streak and head into the offseason with at somewhat renewed sense of optimism, retaining the Old Oaken Bucket will be a priority.
Like IU, Purdue will be looking to salvage a season of its own. Both programs are in a state of rebuilding, and this week provides the two with an opportunity to make a positive step forward both on the field and potentially on the recruiting trail.
The game also has implications on the Big Ten standings, albeit on the unfavorable end of the spectrum. A loss for IU would finalize a last place finish in the conference, but a win would move IU into 13th place ahead of Purdue based on a tiebreaker.
It’s also a chance for 26 seniors who will be graduating to leave Memorial Stadium with a win.
For fifth-year seniors like offensive lineman Cillin Rahrig, a South Bend native, a win would mean beating Purdue three out of five times.
He described the rivalry as a highlight of coming to IU, adding that winning the Bucket is more of a need than a want.
“It’s going to be a good, hard fought battle,” Rahrig said. “The IU-Purdue bucket game, that’s one of those things where a lot of people, they don’t get to experience it. When you’ve been around here for five games now, it’s one of those things that just fuels you to love the game of football.”