This was Purdue's best chance. Three injury-riddled seasons since Danny Hope took over as coach prevented the Boilermakers from regaining much relevancy on the national scene.
It was supposed to be different in 2012. Instead, the Boilers enter November in the midst of one of their most disheartening stretches in recent memory.
As Penn State prepares to head to West Lafayette this weekend, Purdue is on a four-game losing streak and still winless in Big Ten play. Hope has fallen under siege from fans and critics alike, prompting the athletic director to open the week with some damage control.
Our student-athletes, alumni, fans, coaching staff and administration all expect to see the program move forward and take a step up the postseason ladder, Morgan Burke said in a statement. Currently, our performance has kept us from reaching our goals. But we have a third of the season left to play, and our focus is to achieve that consistency over the remaining four games.
We need to press forward, converting potential into results and having fun playing Boilermaker football.
Hope essentially shrugged his shoulders when asked about it at his Tuesday press conference.
I think it's a pretty generic statement, Hope told reporters in Indiana.
Win or lose, there used to be plenty of fun associated with Purdue football. That was what former coach Joe Tiller brought with a wide-open spread attack to a Big Ten that was still clinging to traditional, I-form offenses.
And it's that spread scheme that helped Purdue recruit some impressive skill players from around the country. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. A string of record-breaking receivers like John Standeford, Taylor Stubblefield and Dorien Bryant.
Tiller retired after the 2008 campaign, with Hope coming on staff for that last season to help the transition.
The Boilers lost more than just a coach. They've lacked an identity for much of the three years since Hope took over for Tiller.
But that doesn't adequately explain Purdue's current freefall.
Entering the season, Purdue sported a veteran roster, returning more starters than any other team in the Big Ten. Ohio State and Penn State, walloped by NCAA sanctions weren't eligible to represent the Leaders Division in the conference title game.
That meant the Boilers needed to just find a way past two-time defending champ Wisconsin and a pair of dysfunctional programs in Illinois and Indiana to make it to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten championship.
They entered league play at 3-1, putting a serious scare into still-unbeaten Notre Dame before losing in the final minute.
Michigan hammered them by 31 points. They were listless in that all-important showdown with Wisconsin, giving up 645 yards to the Badgers.
Despite that, the Boilers were poised to erase the disappointing stretch the next week when they thoroughly outplayed Ohio State in Columbus.
They blew it. Purdue allowed the Buckeyes, led by a backup quarterback, to drive for a game-tying touchdown and 2-point conversion in the final 47 seconds of regulation.
The Boilers lost in overtime, and the season capsized.
Purdue traveled to face lowly Minnesota last week. The Golden Gophers were also winless in the Big Ten and were starting their third quarterback of the season – a freshman, no less.
Four minutes into the second half, the Boilers trailed 44-7. Three late touchdowns against the Gophers backups did little to soothe the situation.
I thought the team would bounce back and gain some momentum from the Ohio State loss, Hope said. But that wasn't the case.
Running out of options, Hope's latest attempt to shake things up was to open the week by installing Robert Marve as the starting quarterback.
Fellow senior Caleb TerBush had started the previous seven games, though Hope has actually used three quarterbacks in the same game this season, juggling between Marve, TerBush and even using Rob Henry for some zone-read option plays.
Asked if a rotation would be in effect on Saturday, Hope said, We'll see how the game goes.