What’s at stake in the Old Oaken Bucket game?

The Boilermakers joined forces on Saturday, clinching a narrower-than-expected win – but a win nonetheless – over Northwestern.

But they didn’t get the help they needed when Minnesota missed chances late on and lost to Iowa. In his quest not only for a share of the Big Ten West title, but also a trip to Indianapolis for a championship date with Ohio State or Michigan, Purdue must now hope Nebraska can upset Iowa in Iowa City on Black Friday.

Regardless, however, the slope of the Old Oaken Bucket in Bloomington will still have repercussions for the Boilermakers and also the Hoosiers, especially after Indiana came alive to anger Michigan State in Saturday’s double overtime. For IU, the win gives the Hoosiers a little oomph as they head to the bucket and then into the offseason and alleviates some of the misery of the past two years. As of Saturday, Indiana had won just one of its last 16 Big Ten games, a streak that saw it lose 14 straight games through the months of October and November.

But the real winner or loser on Saturday will be Purdue.

By kickoff, the Boilermakers will know the full stakes because if Nebraska upset Iowa the previous day, a bucket win could mean a trip to Indy. But even if that’s not at stake, Purdue can still win a chunk of a West Division title, and that’s a lot to fight for, especially considering the Boilermakers lost their chance of winning the result even with losses to Wisconsin and Iowa earlier this month.

Part of the title would give Jeff Brohm and co. a degree of endorsement in their redesign of the Purdue program.

When Brohm took over in 2017, he snagged a program that had made the conference a laughing stock — and that’s probably no exaggeration — having won just 9 games and just 3 in the Big Ten in the last 4 seasons. Purdue wasn’t competitive back then, and Purdue fans had lost interest as Ross Ade Stadium was at best half full towards the end of Darrell Hazell’s miserable era. However, Brohm got the Boilermakers going right away, leading them to back-to-back bowl games in his first two seasons. Then, after back-to-back misses – injuries killed Purdue in 2019 and 20 (but does anyone even care what happened in the Covid year?) – the Boilermakers have been at their best for the last two seasons.

Brohm energized the fan base and raised expectations.

If Purdue wins a No. 8 win and then maybe a No. 9 win in Indy or the bowl game, it will be the best straight season since Joe Tiller’s first two years at West Lafayette. It’s clearly an achievement.

But the Boilermakers should expect a Hoosiers fight at Memorial Stadium. Indiana could have landed on a quarterback, at least for now and perhaps for the future, in Dexter Williams II, who helped Power IU to at least a comeback win over the Spartans on Saturday. The Hoosiers were down 17 at the half, then again with 6 minutes to go in Q3 before their rally. Big plays on special teams and the game in progress spurred the 39-31 double OT comeback win. Williams attempted 7 passes and completed only 2, but he rushed for 86 yards and finished second on the team to Shaun Shivers’ 115. And Jaylin Lucas had an 88-yard kickoff return for a TD just after MSU grabbed a 31-14 lead in the 3rd, which was a gigantic spark.

It will likely require a similar effort against Purdue, who can expect to play – and must – play better than their pedestrian win over Northwestern at Ross-Ade. The Boilermakers took an early lead against the Wildcats and then sat on it for most of the 2nd half in cold, blustery West Lafayette conditions. It won’t be a game to be written about for years to come. But a win is a win, especially at this time of year.

And it sets the boilermakers up for what will hopefully be a big weekend, especially when the Black Shirts show up on Black Friday.

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