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Can Purdue Compete In The Big Ten? The Best Boiler Teams

Purdue has had limited success nationally, but these are the best the Boilers have had to offer in every sport.

Malcolm Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

I decided to spin off of yesterday's 2,800 word column about the 2012-13 year in Purdue athletics and the general dismal history of Purdue in regards to how it matches up with the rest of the Big Ten. As part 2 in the series I wanted to take a look at Purdue's all-time in best teams in all 18 sports that the University sponsors. After all, it has not always been doom and gloom:

Cross Country

Currently, this is one of the worst sports Purdue sponsors, but it has not always been that way. For the women, it is easy to pick out their best year. In 1980 Purdue won its only Big Ten championship in women's cross country championship. Unfortunately, women's Big Ten championships were not officially sanctioned until 1982. The women have never placed as a team at the NCAA championships, either.

For the men there is a bit longer of a history. Purdue has Big Ten championships in 1916, 1941, and 1943. The 1941 team also placed fourth at the NCAA meet, one of the earliest high placings for Purdue in any sport. The honor of "best Purdue cross country team ever" therefore goes back to 1941. Edward Holderman was also an individual NCAA All-American that season.

Track And Field

Again, Track and Field counts as two sports for each gender since there is the indoor season and outdoor season. Neither program is that strong right now outside of a few individuals, but the indoor track season in 2001 was great for the Purdue women. That is the only year Purdue won the Big Ten for men or women when it comes to indoor track. Unfortunately, no one scored points at the NCAA meet that year for Purdue. The year before Purdue scored a record 11 points at the NCAA meet, but I'll keep the honor with 2001. Toyinda Smith was Purdue's only individual NCAA champion in indoor track, winning the shot put in 1999.

Purdue has never won the Big Ten in indoor or outdoor men's track, but the best outdoor season was in 2004 when the Boilers scored 25 points at the NCAA meet to finish in sixth place. Purdue did have an individual national Champion in 1981 when Ed Langford won the pole vault.

In outdoor Track & Field Purdue won women's titles in 1999 and 1987. The 1988 team went on to score Purdue's most points ever at the NCAA meet with 18.33, so let's give the edge to the 1987 team that undoubtedly had many of those members back in 1988. When it comes to an individual event Purdue is strangely a haven for javelin throwers. Lindey Plaine (2007) and Serene Ross (2002) are NCAA champions. Kara Patterson, while not winning an NCAA title, holds the American record in the event as well. Finally, Corissa Yasen was the 1996 NCAA champ in the heptathlon.

For the men, they have never won the Big Ten championship, but football star Duane Purvis was the NCAA champion in the javelin throw in 1933. Orval Martin was an NCAA champ in the 880 yard run in 1930, and Purdue's most recent title was Larry Burton in the 200 yard dash in 1972. As a team you have to go all the way back to 1944 when Purdue scored 20 points in the NCAA meet to finish fifth for its best year ever.

Swimming & Diving

On the men's side of things the greatest individual ever is easily diver David Boudia. Keith Carter in 1949 has the only swimming individual national championship for Purdue, but Boudia finished his career with six diving National Championships, including three-straight on the three-meter before foregoing his final year of eligibility to train for the Olympics. He merely won a bronze and a gold medal int he 2012 Summer Games too. He is not only the greatest diver in Purdue history, but possibly in NCAA history. His championships gave Purdue its highest team finishes at the NCAA meet ever. Purdue had 77 points (13th place) in 2009, 97 points (13th place) in 2010, and 88 points (16th place) in 2011 largely because Boudia won two championship each year and was very close to a third since he competed in the 1-, 3-, and 10-meter events.

For the women, the best team season was in 2010 When Purdue placed fourth at the Big Ten meet and missed third place by 2.5 points. That was hosted in the relatively new Boilermaker Aquatic Center, which is one of the finest college facilities in the country. That team went on to finish 16th at the NCAA championships, also held at Purdue. Both are program high marks.

Individually, we once again have to look at diving, where Casey Matthews became Purdue's first female Siwmming and Diving National Champion back in March of this year. She is the reigning 3-meter NCAA champion and will try to repeat this coming season.

Men's Tennis

This may be Purdue's weakest sport all-time, as the Boilers have competed as a member of the Big Ten for nearly 100 years and has never won the conference. The completion of the Schwartz Tennis Center in 2006 should greatly improve this program, however. As far as the best year ever, the 1982 team went a record 23-11, but did not make the NCAA Tournament. Adam Abele was a member of that team and won the Big Ten singles championship from 1981-84. An argument could be made for 1998 as well, when Purdue made the NCAA Tournament, was 17-8, and finished as Big Ten runner-up at 7-3.

Women's Tennis

On the women's side the last two years would likely qualify as the most successful. This season Purdue reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament for only the second time, while last year they won the Big Ten Tournament championship for the first time in program history.

Men's Golf

This one is an easy one. The only NCAA championship Purdue has in a men's sport came when the golf team triumphed in 1961. They have won 12 Big Ten championships, though none have come since 1981. The 1961 team wasn't even a Big Ten champion, but they gave Purdue its first official NCAA championship in any sport. Fred Wampler (1950) and Joe Campbell (1955) were also individual NCAA champions.

Women's Golf

This is another easy one, as it has given Purdue its most recent NCAA championship. Purdue was the 2010 Big Ten and National Champion just a year after Maria Hernandez won the individual NCAA championship. As mentioned yesterday, Purdue has finished in the top three at the NCAA Championships in each of the last four seasons and has won the Big Ten five times since 2006. This is easily the best sport at Purdue right now.


Though Iowa and Penn State currently own Big Ten wrestling, Purdue used to be a power. Purdue has won the Big Ten six times, but none since 1954. As far as the best ever season lets go with 1950. Purdue was the Big Ten champion and Joe Patacsil was the NCAA champion at 128 pounds. Purdue also produced 167 pound champion in 1992 with Charles Jones, while the only two-time NCAA champion in Purdue history was Arnold Plaza in 1948 (114.5 pounds) and 1949 (121 pounds).


One of the newest athletic programs, there is not a ton of history with the softball program. They are getting a new facility out next to Alexander Field and they have shown they can compete nationally in recent years. The 2009 team came off of the program's first ever NCAA tournament berth to earn the program's first national ranking on February 10th. This included a season-opening win over No. 4 UCLA, the first ever over a top 5 team.

The team reached the NCAA Tournament again and finished 31-20 with wins over Tennessee-Martin and Louisville in the postseason. Purdue was the runner-up in the Louisville regional, losing 4-2 to Arizona in the championship round.

Women's Soccer

This is the athletic department's newest sport and the 2007 season was the highest the program has ever reached. Purdue was ranked as high as No. 4 nationally and was 19-2-3 heading into the NCAA Tournament. The victories included a win over No. 1 Portland and the only conference loss was to Big Ten champion Penn State 1-0. Purdue won the Big Ten Tournament, however, and was a national seed headed into the NCAA Tournament.

The expected deep run did not happen, however. Playing the first two rounds at home, Purdue beat Oakland 4-0, but lost to Indiana 4-3 on penalty kicks after a 0-0 tie. The loss came 16 days after Purdue thrashed the Hoosiers 7-0 on the same field and Purdue was 9-1-1 all-time against Indiana at the time.


Purdue is currently in a great era for volleyball, but Penn State is still the cream of the Big Ten. The Boilers won the Big Ten officially in 1982 as the first ever Big Ten champ since that was the first year the conference recognized women's sports. Purdue would win again in 1985, but haven't won since. The 1982 team reached the Elite 8 and hosted the Mideast Regional finals but fell to USC in straight sets. Purdue finished the season 33-1 after an undefeated regular season, so this is definitely the best volleyball year ever.


Another recent one, as Purdue's 45-14 season in 2012 accomplished a large number of firsts:

  • Highest ranking in program history
  • First Big Ten Championship in 103 seasons
  • First ever Big Ten Tournament Championship
  • First NCAA Appearance in 25 years (and second ever)
  • First time hosting an NCAA Regional
  • First NCAA Tournament win ever
  • Shattered the previous record of 37 for single-season wins

If anything, Purdue just ran out of gas after a 41-10 start and went 4-4 after clinching the Big Ten, with three wins in the Big Ten Tournament. Purdue also beat 2013 College World Series teams Indiana, UCLA, and Louisville. The RPI was boosted by wins over 2012 NCAA Tournament teams East Carolina, Missouri State, Louisville, Michigan State, UCLA, and Indiana State.

Women's Basketball

This is one of the few that occurred during my time at Purdue. The 1998-99 Women's basketball team was dominant from start to finish, losing just one game by a single point at Stanford early in the season. It began the year by defeating three-time defending NCAA champion Tennessee and ended by going 34-1 and winning the National Championship game 62-45. Purdue won all six NCAA Tournament games by double figures. It is possibly the best Purdue team across all-sports of all-time, as it dominated nationally all season long and rolled undefeated through the Big Ten. Stephanie White-McCarty, Ukari Figgs, and current WNBA champion Katie Douglas were key players on this great team.


Finally, we're down to the last two sports. They are the most famous sports at Purdue, or anywhere in college athletics for that matter. They are also the most difficult to pick a "best team" from. Both football and men's basketball have several worthy candidates, but I am going to throw a curve ball and say the 1943 team was the best one ever at Purdue.

1943 was the last time Purdue had an undefeated season in football, but it was flat-out robbed of a rightful National Championship. That team outscored opponents 214-55. Most notably, they defeated Great Lakes Navy 23-13 in the first game of the season. That was a significant victory, as GLN was a temporary war-time team that only played from 1942-45. In 1943 they were 10-2 against the top programs in the Midwest, losing only to Purdue and Northwestern. On November 27, however, they defeated Notre Dame 19-14 in Chicago for the only loss the Fighting Irish would have that season.

Incredibly, this result was ignored as every major poll still named Notre Dame the National Champion despite Purdue going undefeated and beating the only team that beat Notre Dame. Purdue had the unfortunate luck of not playing Michigan (went 8-1, only losing to Notre Dame) in Big Ten play and Minnesota was the lone team it played with a winning record other GLN.

This was one of the last time Purdue and Notre Dame did not play in football, as the series has been uninterrupted since 1946. The record of 16 rushing touchdowns by Tony Butkovich was not matched until Kory Sheets did it in 2008 while playing three more games. In a bizarre twist from that season Purdue turned the ball over 11 times against Illinois but won 40-21. This is still an NCAA record for most turnovers in a single game by a winning team, as were the nine fumbles lost.

Other teams that could be considered here are the 1931 team (the only one recognized as a National Champion according to Parke-Davis) that went 9-1 and the 1967 team that was No. 1 in the nation for a good portion of the season, but dropped games to Oregon State and the best Indiana team ever.

Men's Basketball

Again, there are lots of choices here. The 2010 and 1988 teams particularly stand out as possibly the best regular season teams in Purdue history, but both fell short of the Final Four by getting knocked off in the Sweet 16. The 2010 squad at least has the Hummel injury as an excuse. The 1988 team flat out choked against Kansas State and probably should have won the National title.

For best team ever I am going to go with the 1968-69 Boilers. That team broke a 29-year drought of not winning the Big Ten Championship, which is the longest in program history. It was also the first Purdue team that ever played in the NCAA Tournament (though the 1940 team won the Big Ten and Indiana went to the NCAA Tourney for some reason instead).

The 1968-69 team was loaded with Herm Gilliam, Billy Keller, and some guy named Rick Mount bombing away from all over the floor. They began the season by falling by 12 to mighty UCLA in Los Angeles 94-82 and was 7-3 before starting Big Ten play. Once there, the Boilers rolled to the title by going 13-1 against the league, losing only 88-85 at Ohio State.

In the NCAA Tournament Purdue beat Miami (OH) 91-71 and Marquette 75-73 to reach the program's first Final Four. Against No. 4 North Carolina Purdue blew out the Tar Heels 92-65 to set up a rematch with UCLA. 7' center Chuck Bavis, the only player who could guard the great Lew Alcindor in his final game was lost to a broken collarbone and both Gilliam and Keller played hurt. UCLA won the title 92-72 because, well, that's all UCLA did when Alcindor was in LA.

Mount averaged 30.25 points per game over the four tournament games and Purdue's runner-up finish could almost be viewed as a championship in an era where it was UCLA, then a large gap to everyone else.