Purdue quarterback David Blough (11) throws against the Wisconsin during the second half of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. Wisconsin defeated Purdue 49-20. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) Indiana defensive lineman Ralph Green III sat up, took a breath and pondered this weekend's possibilities.
A win over rival Purdue would not only make the Hoosiers bowl-eligible for the second straight year for the first time in a quarter century, it would also allow Green and his teammates to hoist the Old Oaken Bucket for a fourth consecutive time.
When he arrived on campus five years ago, just getting the Bucket back to Bloomington was the goal. Winning it four times seemed unfathomable.
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''A fourth Bucket? That would be very, very special,'' Green aid. ''It's something we haven't done in like 70 years.''
Actually, the Hoosiers have only done it once, from 1944-47.
So Green knows as well as anyone that Saturday's game is far from over, no matter how lopsided fans think it looks on paper.
Yes, Purdue (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) has lost six straight overall, each by at least 13 points and the last two by 28 and 29. Interim coach Gerad Parker is 0-5 since replacing the fired Darrell Hazell and with a major offseason overhaul looming, many wonder what motivation the Boilermakers will have this weekend.
''They know what this is about. They know it's a rivalry game,'' Parker said. ''We aren't going to have to ask our guys to play.''
Indiana (5-6, 3-5) has a lot more at stake.
After a promising start and a series of close calls against a murderer's row of ranked teams – No. 2 Ohio State, No. 10 Nebraska, No. 12 Penn State and No. 4 Michigan – its season has come down to this: Win and advance, lose and probably head home for the holidays.
It's not something coach Kevin Wilson or his players talk about much because they'd rather focus on correcting mistakes and preparing for the game just like they do every week. Beating their biggest rival again, for a record-tying fourth straight time, would just be an added benefit.
''We still don't have the Bucket this year,'' Green said. ''We don't have it and the team up north doesn't have it, either. We have to go out there and get it and bring the Bucket back to Bloomington.''
Here are some other things to watch Saturday:
Parker has been preparing Purdue's players for the likelihood that he and most or all of his coaching staff will not return next season. Though Parker has adamantly acknowledged his desire to stay in West Lafayette, he's gone out of his way to praise the assistants for the effort they've made in trying circumstances, Athletic director Mike Bobinski could make the expected announcement about Parker and the other coaches this weekend, but it's unclear when Bobinski may hire a new coach.
Indiana's good-hands team has struggled lately, losing six of 10 fumbles over the last three weeks. Last week at No. 4 Michigan, they only put the ball on the ground once and recovered it. The Boilermakers' struggles have been even worse. David Blough leads the conference with 19 interceptions after throwing three in the first half last week. And Purdue's minus-18 turnover margin is three times worse than the next closest Big Ten teams (Indiana and Maryland, minus-6).
First-year defensive coordinator Tom Allen has made a major difference at Indiana. He credits the turnaround to having players who bought in quickly to his philosophy. On the field, though, Indiana has had some real difference-makers. Linebacker Marcus Oliver is the NCAA's active leader with 11 forced fumbles, linebacker Tegray Scales leads the Big Ten in tackles (106) and cornerback Rashard Fant is tied for the national lead with 16 pass breakups.
Despite this season's struggles, Blough has demonstrated a propensity for making big plays. He's thrown a TD pass of 45 yards or more in seven straight games. The streak was extended last week with a 75-yard TD pass to DeAngelo Yancey.
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