Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Direction of the Indiana and Purdue Football Programs is on the Line Saturday

(Adapted from an earlier story)

The Crossroads of America is the official motto of the state of Indiana.  While it wasn’t the inspiration for the state’s motto, the balance of college football power in Indiana may itself be at a crossroads.

More than just a rivalry game or the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket, Saturday’s 121st edition of Indiana vs. Purdue could have repercussions that last for a decade or more.

History has shown that there may not be room for two good in-state public school programs at the same time.  With Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State in the area and known to take their share of Indiana and midwestern talent, there just may not be enough left to support both Indiana and Purdue.

We are not saying that as though it is a fact, but there is at least some evidence to back up the notion.  Take a look at this chart that shows the year by year win totals for IU and Purdue going back to the start of the Bill Mallory era:

For the most part, when one program is up, the other is down.  When the lines intersect, a sea change is often underway.  The lines intersected last year.

There are several reasons why the charts look this way.  Game-changing players like Anthony Thompson and Drew Brees come to mind.

In the mid-80’s IU hired a transformational head coach in Mallory.  In the mid-90’s Purdue hired a transformational head coach in Joe Tiller.  Both coaches were able to change cultures, change hearts and minds, and ultimately, change the standings.

As a result of that initial success, each program started winning the recruiting wars too.  Once that happened, the transformation turned into an era.

It appeared to be that another transformational shift was underway with Kevin Wilson leading IU and Darrell Hazell at the helm of Purdue.  Instead, both coaches were dismissed after the 2016 season, and now once again, the lines have intersected.  Here we go again.

Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm has the look of a transformational coach.  Few would argue against that.  Whether or not the Boilermakers can retain him is a question for another day — and maybe next week — but that question exists because he is thought to be that good.

While he doesn’t have the same national reputation as Brohm, at least not as a head coach, Indiana’s Tom Allen has also done some pretty transformational stuff with Indiana’s defense.  His passion and energy are second to none, and he’s a win away from starting a new upward trend at IU.

Is another decade long change in control under way, or was Purdue’s 2017 win a false start like we saw in 2011?

Both coaches seem to have what it takes to shift the balance of power in the state.  It is possible of course that they can both be successful.  With Indiana securing a significant portion of its roster through a strong Florida pipeline, maybe the significance of the programs competing against each locally for recruits has waned.

But you can only secure so much talent from hundreds of miles away.  Someone is going to score a few top local players that will help to determine who rules the roost.  Some of that has already been decided in the class of 2019, as nationally regarded top in-state players such as George Karlaftis and Sampson James have chosen the Boilers and Hoosiers, respectively, and another, David Bell, has both teams on his list of finalists.

Both programs pulled off 2018 recruiting classes that have each team trending in the right direction.  According to the 24/7 Sports composite, both secured top 50 classes, with national class rankings that were much higher than the previous year.  Now, who is going to start stacking classes in order to generate the momentum that will result in sustained levels of success?  Both are trending in the right direction again in 2019, but results in the field go a long way here.

Saturday’s game will play a major role in deciding the fate of both programs, including who recruits perceive as the more desirable Big Ten program in the state.  If Indiana wins, they will secure their fifth win in their last six tries against Purdue, and secure bowl eligibility for the third time in the last four seasons.  They would also improve on last year’s 5-7 season, despite a roster that is arguably less talented and undeniably younger.

If Purdue wins, they win the Old Oaken Bucket for the second year in a row, secure bowl eligibility for the second year in a row, and keep Indiana once again from doing the same.

Getting to six wins is nice.  Playing in a bowl game is good for the fans and the team.  But Saturday’s game is about much more than that.  The course of the next decade or more may just be at stake.

Indiana started the season with one word — “FINISH”.  It’s finishing time.


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