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If anyone in the Big Ten gets to wonder what might have been since 2004, it's Purdue.
In 2004, Purdue started out the season under Kyle Orton 5-0, which doesn't sound really amazing until you realize it was the first time the Boilermakers had done so in nearly 60 years. In the process, Purdue had slapped Notre Dame 41-16 in Week 4 and risen as high as fifth (fifth!) in the AP poll going into a game with fellow unbeaten Wisconsin.
And then Purdue's heart was ripped out of its chest and beaten mercilessly for a month straight.
Against Wisconsin, Purdue took a 17-7 lead with 8:01 left to play when Kyle Orton scored on a quarterback keeper, only to see Wisconsin turn around and score a touchdown and force the Boilermakers to run out the clock. On a 3rd-and-3 with under 3:00 left to play, Orton kept the ball on a bootleg and dove for a first down, only to have the ball punched out and returned for a game-winning touchdown.
The next week at Michigan, Purdue gave up a late field goal to Garrett Rivas and gave the 16-14 lead to Michigan for the first time in the game, but had enough time for one last drive. On it, Dorien Bryant took a slant and was headed into Michigan territory before being upended and crushed by Michigan safety Ernest Shazor (seen above), fumbling and leading to a miraculously inbounds recovery by Wolverine CB Leon Hall. Ballgame.
The abuse didn't stop there.
Purdue faced Northwestern the next week and held the high-flying Wildcats to only one score in 59 minutes, taking a 10-7 lead late into the game. Of course, Noah Herron scored with 38 seconds left to give Northwestern a 13-10 lead, and a last-second Hail Mary from backup quarterback Brandon Kirsch to Taylor Stubblefield was knocked away.
By comparison, the ensuing loss to Iowa was downright tame; Purdue lost 23-21, but the score was only that close after a Purdue TD with under 30 seconds left; Purdue hadn't threatened to score in a one-possession game all afternoon long there.
Nonetheless, that was four losses in four weeks...by 10 points. Purdue went from a Rose Bowl favorite with a Heisman candidate at quarterback to a 4-4 Big Ten team in the most brutal of fashion, a tale of heartbreak someone wouldn't write for their own worst enemy. Purdue hasn't been ranked in the Top 10 since, and hasn't been ranked higher than 23rd since one magical week in 2007.