REGGIE HAYES: Purdue football wins in bowl season just by being there

Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm yells to an official during a game against Michigan on Sept. 23 at Purdue. (Photo by the Associated Press)

Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm yells to an official during a game against Michigan on Sept. 23 at Purdue. (Photo by the Associated Press)

Unless you’re making the trip to Santa Clara, Calif., the site, date and opponent for Purdue University’s bowl game is beside the point.

I’m tempted to say no one is interested in whether Purdue beats Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl on Dec. 27 at Levi Stadium, but that’s not true. Players are interested. Their families are interested. Fans of coach Jeff Brohm – the largest contingent for any 6-6 coach in the country – are interested. If Brohm is standing on the sidelines in late December that means he’s almost guaranteed not to jump ship. (Almost. Keep your fingers crossed.)

The rest of us? We might watch bits of Purdue vs. Arizona two days after Christmas if we stumble across it while channel surfing.

But outside the lines, Purdue’s bowl game is of huge importance because of what it sells recruits: A team on the rise.

Purdue remains a long way from the Rose Bowl. It remains a long way from a 9- or 10-win season, when it would be a real Big Ten player and have even less chance to retain Brohm for another five years.

The difference between sitting at home and playing in a bowl game, however irrelevant to the average fan, is in the perception it can sell.

Purdue won’t be able to use this season to take recruits away from Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. But if it’s battling Indiana and Iowa? Reaching a bowl game allows Brohm and his staff to push Purdue’s impending ascension. It doesn’t matter to most 17-year-olds whether the bar is low for a bowl berth these days.

Despite social media reports suggesting Brohm was bolting for Tennessee, he said the enthusiasm for Purdue recruits last week was high. He referenced last Wednesday, when the Tennessee rumors were flying, as a good day for his recruiting.

A 6-6 record and a bowl bid won’t carry as much weight moving forward. He has to strike with that rising tide now. Attendance is up, too, a sign of student enthusiasm that can be used as a peripheral selling point.

“We’ve got a good thing going,” Brohm told reporters Sunday. “We’ve got great resources. We’ve had great support this year. We’ve been able to improve. We’ve been able to kind of showcase the Purdue brand and it’s out there more now.”

Brohm will need more wins next season to sustain momentum, a task that could be even more difficult than the incredible magic he produced in 2017.

“Every year, every little thing’s going to matter, from how you play on the field, your win/loss record, the trust you can build and the relationships you can build,” Brohm said.

Those relationships include in-state, where the Old Oaken Bucket win means a bit more, to other areas of the country. Brohm hasn’t even reached the point where his offensive-minded approach attracts the interest of top skill players. That should happen next.

Speaking with reporters Sunday, Brohm wouldn’t touch the rumors of last week’s real or imagined negotiations with Tennessee. He didn’t deny them, per se. He said he wasn’t going to comment. Take from that what you will.

If Brohm continues to have success at Purdue, he’ll be a hot name in the coaching search every year. That problem is a tradeoff for success. It happens everywhere. Alabama’s Nick Saban’s name surfaces every NFL offseason.

Rumors aside, earning a bowl bid in his first season in West Lafayette is the best recruiting tool at Brohm’s disposal.

“You’ve got to be willing to go in any door to explore every option out there, regardless of where things stand, and sell what you’re all about,” Brohm said. “The more you do that, around the coaches and the players, the more they trust you. The more you deliver on what you’re selling, then these coaches and parents can trust who you are, what you’re about and what your coaches are about. (That’s) always positive.”

Purdue might beat Arizona. People who aren’t members of the Jeff Brohm Fan Club might even stumble across the game while channel surfing.

Ultimately, the outcome of the bowl game isn’t that important. Purdue has already won where it counts, in public perception, just by being there.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

COMMENTS