You enter the season hoping to feel the southern California sunshine on your face on New Year's Day. I've been there, and it is even more awesome than it sounds. With the rest of the Big Ten Bowl tie-ins, there is always a good chance you feel Texas, Arizona, or Florida sunshine if you can't make it to California. Then there is Detroit, the last bowl in the pecking order. It has been affiliated with the conference for years, but only twice have there been enough teams eligible from the Big Ten to go there. Northwestern went in 2003, mostly because they had to. In 2007, it was our turn. In other years, it is usually filled by a bowl eligible Sun Belt team just to fill the spot.
Because of its status of being the only bowl game where the Big Ten is set to face the MAC, it is viewed with a lot of scorn among the fans of the conference. Being sent to Detroit is almost a threat. It means you weren't bad enough to fall out of the bowl picture, but you weren't good enough to really be a threat to anyone. The fact it comes against the MAC, a conference that everyone in the Big Ten uses as schedule fodder to get to bowl eligibility (and away from Detroit) means that doesn't even feel like a special trip. Instead, it feels like a game being played on the third weekend of September before conference play begins. Like then, little good can come out of it in terms of national perception. Win it, and you did what was expected. Lose it, and you become the laughingstock of the conference.
Tonight, we became the first Big Ten team to be sent to Detroit twice.
Any opportunity to reference Kentucky Fried Movie's A Fistful of Yen is a good one.
I know that this is a bowl game looked upon with a ton of disdain, but when we couldn't even make it this far since going in 2007, it is a very small step forward. We can do one of two things. We can moan about it like Dorien Bryant did four years ago, or we can use it as a chance to get some extra practice, get some game experience, and build for the future. Nearly everyone else in the conference has had the advantage of extra practice and growth in the last four seasons, so we can finally get on an equal footing with even the middle tier of the conference.
It is also another chance to play football on national TV, and a chance to win another game. Let's face it, winning a game against a MAC team is not a gimme for us anymore. We need to prove we can win these type of games before moving up in the conference. Our opponent will be the Western Michigan Broncos, a team that was 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the MAC. They were even midlevel for a MAC team, so it should be an opponent we can beat.
We have two common opponents with WMU. We both lost to Michigan, but they lost 23-20 to Illinois while we defeated the Fighting Illini. They have an offense that can put up some points, as they dropped 68 on Akron in their last game and lost 66-63 to Toledo. They have a win over a BCS conference team in Connecticut. Alex Carder is your typical mad bomber of a MAC quarterback with 3,251 yards and 28 touchdowns against only nine interceptions. That was all done in ten games too, as he didn't play against Akron or Michigan. Jordan White is statistically one of the best receivers in the country with 127 catches for 1,527 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Historically, we have played Western Michigan twice, beating them both in 1993 and 2002. I remember the 2002 game as an ugly 28-24 win with a metric crapload of turnovers by us because we were in the middle of a stretch where it seemed like every carry resulted in a fumble. Montrell Lowe could have finished his career as Purdue's all-time leading rusher, but lost his starting job in this game because of multiple fumbles.
So that's the bowl game. It is what it is. It's not some sexy matchup in a warm locale. Instead, we're in a bowl mostly because the Big Ten did the work of setting up this connection for us, and it results in a game against the type of opponent we need to learn how to dominate again. I, for one, plan to enjoy the chance at seeing another football game this season and a chance to build some momentum for the future. With Ralph Bolden officially tearing his ACL yet again we'll get to see what Akeem Hunt has. We'll see what happens in three and a half weeks.