DALLAS — Major-college football has just two undefeated teams remaining. Purdue had both on the ropes.
The Boilermakers lost 20-17 at Notre Dame on Sept. 8, when the Irish kicked a field goal with seven seconds left.
Purdue also lost 29-22 in overtime at Ohio State on Oct. 20, after the Buckeyes drove 61 yards to a touchdown and tying two-point conversion in the final 47 seconds of regulation.
So when Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short offers this cliché — “We can compete with anyone in the nation.” — he at least has some evidence.
But Purdue failed to consistently sustain those kinds of inspired performances. The 6-6 Boilermakers, who play Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Tuesday, became bowl eligible only by winning three straight to end the season.
Of Purdue's victories, five came against opponents that finished with a losing record (Eastern Michigan, Marshall, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana) and one came against I-AA Eastern Kentucky.
The 6-6 finish cost coach Danny Hope his job. Purdue will be led by interim coach Patrick Higgins for the bowl game. Beat Notre Dame or Ohio State — or heavens both — and Hope probably would have kept his job.
“We felt like we could have had an impact on our season,” Short said of pulling a big upset. “We would have changed our season tremendously.”
Backup quarterbacks rallied both Notre Dame and Ohio State against Purdue. Notre Dame's Everett Golson was banged up late, and Tommy Rees drove the Irish to the winning field goal. Ohio State played the fourth quarter without Braxton Miller, though the Buckeyes rallied without Miller.
The Boilermakers were not pushed around by either Ohio State or Notre Dame. They virtually matched the Buckeyes in total yards.
But that level of play was nowhere to be found in Purdue losses of 44-13 to Michigan, 38-14 to Wisconsin, 44-28 at Minnesota and 34-9 to Penn State.
Narrow victories over Iowa (27-24) and Illinois (20-17) gave Purdue a chance at bowl eligibility, which the Boilermakers achieved with a 56-35 drubbing of Indiana.
“We kind of got the ball moving a little bit,” said quarterback Robert Marve. “We're extremely happy about the bowl game. There's no other way we want to go out but with the win.”
Said Short: “We had high expectations. We didn't come up to it. But we did … get to a bowl game.”