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2013 Purdue Football: Are The Boilers Historically Bad?

Many people are saying that Purdue may be the worst Big Ten team since 1981 Northwestern. Are they right?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It was a rhetorical statement in this week's "This Week In Schadenfreude" column from SB Nation's Brian Cook, but I couldn't help but research it:

Purdue is currently on pace to be the worst Big Ten team since 1981.

That's a pretty strong statement because there have been some bad, bad Big Ten teams in that time, but the Shit Standard (remember, it is the opposite of gold standard) has always been the 1981 Northwestern Wildcats. Not only were the 'Cats bad that year, they were possibly the worst major conference team ever. Some of the lowlights:

  • They finished 0-11 and were in the midst of a 34-game losing streak overall. That record is the most ever for an FBS level team and it still stands today. It was so bad that Southern Miss, who has the longest active current streak, is only halfway there at 17 straight.
  • They were dead last in scoring at 7.5 points per game and dead last in scoring defense at 45.9 points per game.
  • They were outscored 505-81 overall.
  • They only came even close to winning once, a 21-20 season opening loss to Indiana.
  • They scored over 10 points in only 4 of 11 games and were shutout five times.
  • They gave up at least 35 points to everyone except Indiana.
  • Purdue (5-6), Michigan State (5-6), and Indiana (3-8) were the only three teams they played with a losing record, so at least they had a tough schedule.

So Purdue is not that bad. We've already won a game (even though it was against an FCS school, it counts!) and we've already scored more points (92) than Northwestern had in 11 games, so it could always be worse. We are, however, on pace to give up 452.

The question, however, is are we the worst since that Northwestern team. That is where the jury is out. I did some research and concluded that to be considered the worst you have to have finished winless in the conference and have, at most, one FBS-level victory in the non-conference. I won't count any wins over an FCS team because there is no excuse for a Big Ten team to ever lose to an FCS team, so I will allow for a token win over a MACrifice. Here are the teams competing for this "honor"

1983 Minnesota (1-10) - I believe this was the first season in the Metrodome for the Golden Gophers and it was far from kind. They began with a 21-17 victory at Rice (who also finished 1-10) before losing the last 10 games. They receive bonus points for playing future conference member Nebraska, but playing is probably not the right word to use. The Cornhuskers thumped Minnesota 84-13 in their first game in the Metrodome. Overall Minnesota was outscored 518-181 and only came lose to a conference win in a 38-37 loss to Indiana. Of note, their 1991 team avoids the list because of a 6-3 conference win over Purdue. No, it was not played in bad weather. It was indoors in the Dome.

1984 Indiana (0-11) - This is the first of many entries for the Hoosiers on the list and was just before the golden era of Bill Mallory occurred. This IU team was bad record-wise, losing to Duke and Kentucky in the non-conference, which is fine for basketball, but not in football. Kentucky did go 9-3 that season. The Hoosiers managed to keep it close with Michigan (14-6), Wisconsin (20-16), Michigan State (13-6), and Iowa (24-20), but could never get over the hump for a win. Purdue sealed their winless season with a 31-24 win at Ross-Ade.

1989 Northwestern (0-11) - After that awful 1981 season the Wildcats recovered to win a handful of games each year before this one. It didn't start well, however, as they were swept in the non-conference by Duke, Air Force, and Rutgers. Purdue contributed to t heir misery with a 46-15 win, which was only the third of our season. Overall Northwestern was outscored 497-241, and their closest chance for a win was a 20-18 loss to Minnesota. The worst loss was an unmerciful 76-14 loss to Michigan State. Six years later, however, they were in the Rose Bowl.

1990 Wisconsin (1-10) - There was a time before Barry Alvarez that Wisconsin wasn't the hulking beasts they are now. 1990 was that time. The Badgers managed a 24-7 win over a Ball State team that would finish 7-4, but only scored 79 points in their eight conference games. Almost half of those were scored in a 44-34 loss at Northwestern, yet they were never shut out. Sure, they managed only a field goal against Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota, but they were never shut out. They scored 133 points, but gave up only 285. Three years later they won the Rose Bowl.

1993 Purdue (1-10) - This is Purdue's only entry on the list and the last time we were winless in Big Ten play. The lone victory was 28-13 over Western Michigan, who finished 7-3-1. The rest of the year saw Purdue at least score some points, just not enough. The lowlight had to be the highest scoring Big Ten game at the time, when Purdue lost to Minnesota in Minneapolis 59-56 just two years after losing there 6-3. In the end Purdue played three opponents (Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Ohio State) that finished with only a single loss and eight of the 11 games were against bowl teams, including the 24-17 loss to Indiana. Within seven years Purdue was back in Pasadena, once we realized Jim Colletto was terrible.

1995 Indiana (2-9) - They only make the list because they were winless in conference play. They did beat Western Michigan and Southern Miss both at home to avoid an 0-fer.

1997 Illinois (0-11) - This is not the only Illinois entry on the list, as the Fighting Illini have chosen not to fight in several years since 1997. They have been all over the map with two BCS bowls, but multiple winless Big Ten seasons as well. The 1997 season started with a 24-7 loss to Southern Miss, then was followed by what had to have been the worst college football game of 1997. Louisville beat Illinois 26-14 in Louisville for its only win of the season. The teams combined to finish 1-21. The Illinois defense was decent, giving up just 368 points, but the offense scored only 119. A 27-17 loss to Michigan State in the final game of the year was their closest approach to victory. Just four years later Ron Turner completely turned it around and they won the Big Ten.

1999 Iowa (1-10) - They would do Purdue a huge favor the next season by upsetting Northwestern to save our Rose Bowl hopes after a loss at Michigan State, but 1999 Iowa managed only a 24-0 home win over Northern Illinois. In conference play they missed a win at home against Indiana in a 38-31 loss, but for the most part they were blown out week after week. They also get the Nebraska bonus after a season opening 42-7 loss. Their closest approach to a conference win was in the final game when they nearly won Floyd before losing 25-21 to Minnesota. Overall they were outscored 347-162, but they won the Big Ten in 2002 in a tie with national champ Ohio State

2003 Illinois (1-11) - Just two years after tearing through the Big Ten and winning it outright the Illini plummeted back into the basement, where they dwelled six years prior. This was the second year of the 12-game schedule and they managed a 49-22 win over Illinois State of the FCS, but they scored almost a quarter of their points for the season in that game. They were actually quite close to starting 3-0 after a 22-15 loss to Missouri in St. Louis and a 6-3 loss at UCLA. The bottom dropped out in Big Ten play, as a 17-14 loss at Indiana was their only league loss by less than 17 points. Only four years after this season they were back in a BCS bowl, thanks to an upset of Ohio State.

2007 Minnesota (1-11) - Ah, Tim Brewster, how we remember thee. The gophers had a decent offense with Adam Weber, but couldn't stop a peewee league team in going 1-11 and losing to North Dakota State, who was a Division II school not long before their 27-21 win in Minneapolis. It was the first of three FCS losses in five seasons for the Gophers. The lone win was a lucky one: 41-35 over Miami (OH) in double overtime, no less.

2011 Indiana (1-11) - The Hoosiers were able to dodge this list quite a few times with single-win Big Ten seasons in 1985, 1996, 1997, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, and 2010, but they following their lone bowl appearance since 1993 with a run of 3-27 in conference play before winning back-to-back games last year. That still only makes them 6-31 in league play since 2007. The 2011 team is what many are comparing Purdue to right now, as it was a young team under a first year coach in charge of a major rebuild. The Hoosiers beat 1-AA South Carolina State 38-21 over their lone win, but lost non-conference games to Ball State, Virginia, and North Texas. Penn State's 16-10 win was the only time a Big Ten team was held under 33 points.

2012 Illinois (2-10) - This Illini team gets the 1-AA exemption as they beat Charleston Southern 44-0 and their one real win was over Western Michigan 24-7. That did not stop them from dropping the final nine games, including all eight conference games. Their closest conference game was a 20-17 loss to Purdue on Senior Day in Champaign. The conference losses form the bulk of a 15-game conference losing streak that is still active, and is the longest since Indiana lost 15 in a row before beating... Illinois in 2012.

So where will Purdue go on this list? Well, first they would have to lose the final six games to make it, and that certainly seems very possible right now. The lone win coming over an FCS team would drop them even further, probably around the level of 2003 Illinois. It is hard to make a call on 1997 Illinois, 1989 Northwestern, and 1984 Indiana as the three lone winless teams since 1981, mostly because they likely would have scheduled an FCS patsy to beat in the 12-game era, just as Purdue did (and barely beat) this year.

Purdue is on pace to give up 452 points, which would put it right up there with some of the worst defenses. It is also on pace to only score 184, which even a few of the winless teams did better than. 1984 Indiana scored 185, 1989 Northwestern had 241, but 1997 Illinois may be the worst offense ever in that it scored a paltry 119 points all year.

It would be hard for Purdue to reach that mark, but the 518 points given up Minnesota in 1983 could be in play with games against Ohio State and Indiana left as high-powered offenses. You know Indiana wants revenge for all the unmerciful beatings we have handed out, too.

Of course, the simplest way to avoid all this is to get a conference win. As you see, for most of the 2000's Indiana could even do that.

To avoid all doom-and-gloom there is hope. Purdue was in Pasadena seven years after that awful 1993 season. Northwestern made a run for the roses six years after 1989. Wisconsin and Iowa had players on their low teams here that went on to lead them to Big Ten Championships. Shoot, Illinois is so wild they went bottom to top twice in 10 years with two difference coaches! It can be done and obviously coach Hazell is getting at least two more years to implement his plans. It may be rough watching the rest of this season, but we have to hold on to the hope and knowledge that a turnaround can happen.