In its last bowl appearance, Purdue visited Detroit to play a Mid-American Conference school from the state of Michigan. Four years later, the Boilermakers are facing that same scenario.
Looking for their first winning season since 2007, the Boilermakers face high-scoring Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Tuesday at Ford Field.
Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed Purdue as three-point favorites, with the total set at 60.
After failing to win more than five games in each of the last three seasons, Purdue (6-6) earned bowl eligibility by winning two of its final three games. The Boilermakers, 8-7 in bowl games, are making their first postseason appearance since beating Central Michigan 51-48 in the 2007 Motor City Bowl at Ford Field.
“We’re a good football team, and we’ve won some big games this season,” said coach Danny Hope, 15-21 in three seasons at Purdue. “We’re excited to (have) this opportunity to have a winning season.”
The Boilermakers surprised many by finishing behind ninth-ranked Wisconsin and No. 24 Penn State in the Big Ten Leaders Division with a 4-4 league mark. Their season was highlighted by a 21-14 victory over then-No. 23 Illinois and a 26-23 upset of Ohio State on Nov. 12, two weeks before closing with a 33-25 win at Indiana.
“We came on strong at the end of the year,” Hope said. “Ohio State is a great program and Indiana is the archrival. A fun year this year.”
A late-season offensive resurgence helped Purdue return to a bowl. The Boilermakers totaled 80 points in the final three contests, converting 52.7 percent of their third downs, after scoring 70 in the previous four while making 27.5 percent on third down.
Ralph Bolden rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns over the final three games but is likely to miss this contest after injuring his knee against the Hoosiers. The junior leads the Boilermakers with 674 rushing yards and six TDs.
That could open the door for freshman Akeem Hunt, who ran for 100 yards on 10 carries at Indiana.
Purdue quarterback Caleb TerBush rushed for 226 yards and a TD this season. TerBush has shared time under center with senior Robert Marve, and the duo combined to complete 60 percent of their passes for 2,361 yards and 15 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.
It’s unlikely either quarterback will have receiver O.J. Ross to target after the sophomore was suspended indefinitely for violating team policy and rules. Ross had 33 receptions for 356 yards and three TDs.
Defensively, the Boilermakers boast one of the best interior defenders in the nation in Kawann Short. The junior ranked 13th nationally with 17 tackles for loss and was tied for fourth in the Big Ten with 6 1/2 sacks.
However, the Boilermakers gave up 26.4 points per game to rank near the bottom of the league.
“I still don’t think we’re the team we can be this season,” Hope said. “I thought we’d end up being a pretty good football team. I thought it was going to be a work in progress, and it has been.”
Hope will need his defense to step up against a Western Michigan squad that ranks among the national leaders in scoring (35.6 ppg) and passing (328.8 ypg).
“They do a great job of spreading the ball around,” Hope said.
In their first bowl since losing 38-14 to Rice in the 2008 Texas Bowl, the Broncos (7-5) make the 140-mile trip east from their Kalamazoo campus after winning three of their final four games to finish third in the MAC’s West Division at 5-3.
Western Michigan has lost each of its previous four bowl appearances.
“I can’t tell you how excited our team is,” coach Bill Cubit said. “To be this close by is great for our players.”
The Broncos are led by All-American receiver Jordan White, who leads the nation with 127 receptions for 1,646 yards. The senior has 16 touchdown catches, including nine over the last four games while averaging 163.5 yards.
With 3,922 career receiving yards, White is 110 shy of becoming the MAC’s all-time leader. However, he’s more concerned with helping his team put forth a good showing against a BCS school.
“It means a lot to play another game, and it’s exciting to play against an opponent from a power conference like the Big Ten,” White said. “Hopefully, we can do well.”
Alex Carder will be back throwing to White after missing the Broncos’ 68-19 victory over Akron in their regular season finale with a separated shoulder. Despite missing that game, Carder ranked among the top 20 quarterbacks nationally in yards (3,434), touchdowns (28) and completion percentage (67.2).
Though Western Michigan ranked second-to-last in the MAC in total defense, giving up 434.1 yards per game, tackle Drew Nowak was named the league’s defensive player of the year after recording 20 tackles for loss.
The Broncos, who lost at Michigan and Illinois this season, have dropped six straight to Big Ten opponents since a 23-17 win over the Illini at Ford Field on Nov. 8, 2008.
Purdue and Western Michigan will match up for the third time. The Boilermakers won 28-24 at home in the most recent meeting Sept. 14, 2002.