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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 28 Digital 3

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Page 9 of 81

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 28, ISSUE 3 10 W hen Anthony Mahoungou hauled in that game-winner against Arizona, with a bum shoulder that left his arm practically limp, from a quarterback playing minus one fairly important knee ligament, it not only won the Foster Farms Bowl, but also capped a surreal year for Purdue and, it hopes, gave a pre- view of what's to come. If not for those thoughts of a brighter tomorrow, Purdue collectively might have never wanted 2017 to end. It was an about-face sort of year, one that first saw men's basketball win the Big Ten outright, then experience its first meaningful NCAA Tournament success in a half-de- cade. It closed with football defying all odds and turning things around immediately. Consider where Purdue's two signature sports were when the ball dropped a year ago at this time. Basketball was winning, just not when it mattered most, coming off a pair of bizarre NCAA Tournament flameouts. Football was quite possibly the worst team at its level in college football several years running, a winner of nine games in four seasons under its prior coaching staff, not a single one of those too-few victories mattering all that much considering the invasive apathy all the losing bred. Today, basketball's coming off that Sweet 16 appear- ance and conference title and ended 2017 trending toward the top-10 nationally, likely to be the biggest thorn in top- ranked Michigan State's side in the race to be conference champs. Football's results this season have changed the outlook entirely, perhaps to unreasonable levels. No one harboring a shred of objectivity could have pre- dicted seven wins in Year 1 under new coach Jeff Brohm, and now he and his staff have positioned themselves to be victims of changing standards, of their own success. That's a damn good problem to have, by the way. Purdue football was not fixed overnight, though the re- sults may suggest so, but the construction job would cer- tainly appear ahead of schedule. The "culture" — however you want to define it — has improved tenfold, thanks in part to an outgoing group of se- niors who'll be missed way more than you'd have thought a few months back. Recruiting is markedly better. Purdue just flipped a commitment from Texas. That's Texas, not Texas State, not North Texas. Texas. And maybe most importantly, the fans are back, re-engaged. That's what Mike Bobinski, Mike Ber- ghoff and upper university leadership bet on, spending money to make money, investing in big-boy football hoping for big-time payout. It didn't come without risk, you know. A year in, it's been the best-case scenario. Fans came back to the stadium they'd fleed years ago, drank beer (in moderation, of course), more often than not stayed past halftime and transformed Ross-Ade Stadium back into a major college football-like game-day environ- ment. I still say the Ohio game was one of the best nights the program has seen, marking the return of legitimate en- thusiasm about Purdue football, enthusiasm that endured even during a mid-season lull that seemed to the throw the Boilermakers' season sideways, only for things to be right- ed in almost stunning fashion with that win at Iowa, trig- gering the three-game winning streak to finish the season, capped by the '98 Alamo Bowl-like win over Arizona. Indeed, when it was '17, it was a very good year. Sinatra nods aside, it was a memorable year for Purdue, one it hopes lays the groundwork for more to come. Challenges will lie ahead. Football has now changed the paradigm. It won quickly, quicker than anyone could have imag- ined, and now the goal posts have moved. Again, the pro- gram is ahead of schedule, but not fixed, per se. Purdue will open next season with almost as many ques- tions as it did this season, but also expectations of more. And senior night for basketball in a couple months will be a bittersweet one, because the 2014 class that played such a leading role in re-establishing this program is leav- ing. It will be missed in ways I'm not a good enough writer to describe. For Purdue, it's been a great present, signs of a great tomorrow, it hopes. The future comes with no guarantees, but the recent past sure has been memorable. j Neubert can be contacted at 2017 Will Be Hard To Top From Editor Brian Neubert

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