Purdue-Illinois game definitely ... unique

Big Ten bargain hunters are in for a deal this weekend, as a quick peek beneath the couch cushions could treat a family of four to a Saturday trip inside Ross-Ade Stadium.

Tickets on the secondary market are selling for less than a pack of bubblegum at 40 cents — but there is a catch. You actually have to watch Saturday afternoon’s football game, the Big Ten Basement Bowl, which pits two sputtering teams with winless conference records against one another.

In one corner is Illinois, a squad that hasn’t won a Big Ten game in its last 20 tries dating back to Oct. 8, 2011. In the other is Purdue, which has gone 362 days without beating an FBS team and has lost games this season by an average of 25 points.

So — wait — why are fans going to this game again?

“Yeah, I’m going this weekend. Unfortunately,” said Purdue student Damian Schuler, a junior. “I figured I might as well because I bought the tickets. I don’t really want to sell them for that.

“Plus, I like the traditions. We do the ‘Shout’ song every fourth quarter, and that’s always fun … but I haven’t actually made it to the fourth quarter yet.”

There’s some morbid curiosity surrounding this contest since, well, it’s a game one of these two winless conference teams has to win. It’s like watching the 2008 Detroit Lions take on the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars, or like watching two offensive linemen duke it out in a long footrace.

The difference between these two is Illinois has played in at least one close Big Ten game, a 24-17 overtime loss to Penn State. But that doesn’t exactly mean fans in Champaign, Ill., are any more excited for this matchup.

Pictures of Illinois students/fans made national rounds last weekend when the sparse crowd tried -- and failed -- to spell out back-to-back I’s with blue-and-orange signs. The end-zone attempt at making a picture of the U.S. also didn’t work too well; the end result looked more like a misshapen heart.

So Illinois student Eliot Sill, sports editor of the The Daily Illini, didn’t have to think long when asked if he knew of anyone — friend, acquaintance or otherwise — who was making the two-hour trip to West Lafayette, Ind.

“Ummm — no. I’m not expecting there to be a student contingent in Purdue at all,” he said. “Illinois football fans don’t travel. I think our volleyball fans travel better than our football fans.”

But there are still those Purdue and Illinois faithful who can't help but go to the game. Some are curious how such a bad matchup will play out on the football field (i.e. - Illinois ranks No. 114 in total defense; Purdue is No. 101). Others want to finally see their team win a game. And a small minority, bless their hearts, remain die-hards who love and watch their team no matter what.

"It might seem that people are disheartened, but there's a core group [who'll] be there no matter what," said Purdue senior Brittany Crawmer, president of the student-group Boilermaker Sports Alliance who counts herself in the latter category. "This is definitely one we can win. I'm excited about it. I'm hyped for Saturday."

Crawmer remains one of the few optimists. Most of Black and Gold nation has moved on to basketball or has just tried to close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears and ignore the season. Take the Ohio State game, for example. The Boilermakers called for a “Black Out” -- only the stands weren’t exactly full, and scarlet-and-gray seemed to outnumber black after halftime. The previous home game against Iowa wasn’t much better.

“Honestly, I looked around me and there were at least five rows of empty bleachers in front of me and behind me,” Schuler said. “You could bring a boat in there. It was bad.”

Tickets are even cheaper for this game, a reflection of the fact that that excitement from both fan bases is lower right now than Tim Beckman's job security. But somebody has to win Saturday's sideshow and, for either team, it's a good chance this will be their only conference win.

And when tickets cost less than a candy bar or a can of soda, what do fans really have to lose?