WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- For Purdue receiver Justin Siller, there's only one thing better than going to Detroit for the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl:
“The Rose Bowl would have been better,” the senior said with a laugh, “but we'll make do with this. It's a great opportunity.”
Purdue's return to bowl relevance starts with Tuesday's clash with Western Michigan at Detroit's Ford Field. That's the home of the NFL's Detroit Lions. It's also Siller's hometown. He was a standout three-sport athlete at Saint Mary's High School there.
“It means a lot to play my last college game in Detroit at the Lions' facility,” he said. “It's a very big deal to me. I have a lot of friends and family who will make it to the game. It's always good to have that.”
Siller figures to have at least 32 people coming to see him. That will make a small dent in Purdue's bowl ticket allotment of 5,000 it needs to sell.
Siller said he grew up a Lions fan, although for most of that time the team ranked among the NFL's worst. This season the Lions are 9-5 and in contention for a playoff berth.
“I can admit to being a fan now,” he said with a smile. “Hopefully they make a run in the playoffs.”
Siller redshirted the last time Purdue (6-6) was in a Detroit bowl. That was in 2007, when the game was called the Motor City Bowl. Purdue edged Central Michigan 51-48.
“We had a drought and didn't make it to a bowl,” Siller said. “Making it this year is big because, as a senior class, you want to leave your legacy. Getting Purdue back to a bowl game is big a big accomplishment for our class and the program.”
Western Michigan (7-5) has two of the nation's best players in defensive tackle Drew Nowak and receiver Jordan White. Nowak was the Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year. He tied for the conference lead in sacks (8.5) and ranked fifth nationally with 20 tackles for loss. White leads the nation in catches (127), receiving yards (1,646) and receiving touchdowns (16).
Quarterback Alex Carder threw for seven touchdowns in a 66-63 loss to Toledo. He directed an offense that ranked eighth nationally in passing and 18th in scoring. That offset a defense that allowed 28 points a game.
“We have a pretty good grasp of what they'll be doing,” Siller said. “They have a very explosive offense and an experienced defense. It will be a nice challenge for us.”
Siller enters his last game with a team-leading 45 catches for 450 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 10 times for 27 yards and a TD.
The receiving numbers reflect his development at the position. Siller previously was a quarterback and a running back at Purdue before making the receiver transition last year. At 6-3 and 215 pounds, he has NFL caliber size and athleticism.
“There's always room for improvement,” he said. “There are things I'm not perfect at, but I have made progress. I don't think I've reached my peak at all.”
Siller hasn't thrown a pass in three seasons, when as a redshirt freshman he threw for 496 yards and three touchdowns. He earned Big Ten co-offensive player of the week honors for leading Purdue over Michigan.
He's had a few plays in Purdue's Wildcat package this season, but all involved the run. The Wildcat, he added with a smile, could make a Little Caesar's Bowl appearance.
“That would be good. Maybe I'll even get to throw a pass. That would be fun.”
Suspensions and arrests
It's been a bad couple of days for the football program. Two key players won't play in the bowl game because of suspensions, and two more were arrested.
The Boilers will be without linebacker Dwayne Beckford and receiver O.J. Ross for the Little Caesar's Bowl, Beckford because of last week's arrest for driving while intoxicated, Ross because of failure to adhere to team policy and rules.
Ross is Purdue's third-leading receiver with 33 catches for 356 yards and three touchdowns. Beckford is the team's leading tackler (91).
Defensive end Gerald Gooden and linebacker William Lucas were arrested on suspicion of theft in connection with unpaid parking tickets. No charges were filed.
According to the Lafayette Journal-Courier, Gooden and Lucas were arrested Monday night for removing wheel locks placed on their cars for unpaid parking tickets. They were released Tuesday morning. School officials said Gooden and Lucas will pay the parking tickets. They might also face disciplinary action by the Purdue dean of students office.