When Indiana and Purdue met last year in Bloomington, the only thing on the line -- besides the coveted Old Oaken Bucket, of course -- was pride.
Both teams had been eliminated from bowl contention despite looking more than capable of playing in the postseason at times in 2009.
Most 2010 preseason projections put both the Hoosiers and Boilers in the lower half of the Big Ten, but it's hardly a stretch to imagine this year's Bucket game having bowl implications for both squads. Indiana went 1-7 in Big Ten play last year but held sizable leads in four of its seven league losses. Purdue went 4-4 in league play, including historic wins against both Ohio State and Michigan, but stayed home for the holidays because of a maddening 1-3 performance in the nonconference slate.
As preseason camp dawns in several days, both the Hoosiers and Boilers know exactly what they must work on to make their Nov. 27 meeting at Ross-Ade Stadium significant. In keeping with the spirit of the rivalry, I give you both Indiana's and Purdue's Bucket lists.
INDIANA'S BUCKET LIST
Improve on third downs both offensively and defensively. The Hoosiers tied for seventh in the Big Ten in third-down conversions (39.1 percent) and ranked last in the league and 113th nationally in third-down defense (47.5 percent conversions). IU didn't fare much better in stopping fourth downs, allowing 83.3 percent to be converted, which ranked a distant last in the Big Ten.
Score in the red zone. Indiana finished 10th in the league and tied for 93rd nationally in red zone offense (77.3 percent, 34 scores on 44 chances). Given the Hoosiers' obvious strength at wide receiver with Tandon Doss, Damarlo Belcher and others, there's no reason why they shouldn't be a lot better here.
What they're saying
"There were a couple of those games where it's third-and-4, third-and-5, if we convert and keep the football, it changes the game. On the other side, it's third-and-4 and third-and-5 and we don't get a stop. And therefore we let them, whoever it was, make a play and go down and score and eventually win the game." -- head coach Bill Lynch
"Offensively, it's us scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Defensively, it's making stops on third down. It came down to 10, 15 plays you could look at from last season, and that's the difference between 4-8 and 8-4. We're in the right spots, so really, it's just us making plays." -- senior quarterback Ben Chappell
PURDUE'S BUCKET LIST
Hold onto the football. Turnovers in bunches really hurt the Boilers, especially during their 1-5 start to open the season. Purdue tied for the Big Ten lead and tied for 109th nationally in giveaways with 29. The Boilers coughed up the ball 20 times in their first six games, suffering the five losses by an average of just 6.6 points.
Better tackling/stopping the run. Head coach Danny Hope identified tackling as a problem early last season, and Purdue's struggles against the run bear it out. The Boilers have finished last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the last two seasons, surrendering 173.4 yards per game and a league-worst 26 rushing touchdowns in 2009.
Force more turnovers. Purdue ended up forcing 24 in 2009, but seven of those were interceptions by players no longer on the roster.
What they're saying
"If we had done a better job of taking care of the football from a ball-security standpoint, we probably would have been one of the great success stories in college football. ... Ball security on the offensive side, ball disruption on the defensive side, and we need to tackle better for sure." -- head coach Danny Hope
"If you look at a couple games last year, like Wisconsin and Minnesota, where we just got ran all over. They didn't need to throw the ball, so they didn't. So we definitely need to turn our attention toward stopping the run more this year." -- senior defensive end Ryan Kerrigan