After the first six games of Purdue's 2009 football season, super-hyped freshman running back Al-Terek McBurse hadn't seen the field for a single play. Quite a surprise, since McBurse was the only four-star recruit in the Boilermakers' entire class (according to some recruiting services), and much had been expected of the first-year speedster from Florida.
However, with the Boilers set to feature breakout sophomore tailback Ralph Bolden, backed up by senior and former starter Jaycen Taylor, there wasn't a lot of extra carries to be had.
As the weeks ticked by and McBurse never left the bench, redshirting the promising back seemed to be a no-brainer.
Let's face it, with Purdue 1-5 (before the OSU game) at the season's halfway mark, what would be the point of playing McBurse now? Conventional wisdom would say that the season's obviously a hopeless cause and everything in West Lafayette is pointed toward the future, and burning one of McBurse's four years of eligibility doesn't make the slightest bit of sense.
Try telling that to Danny Hope.
The Boilermakers' new head coach didn't hesitate to insert McBurse into Saturday's game against Ohio State--not as a tailback, but as a kickoff returner--and the freshman responded with 3 returns for 61 yards.
On the surface, those may seem like pedestrian numbers, but there's one important statistic missing. Purdue didn't fumble a kickoff for the first time in three weeks, and the Boilermakers' improvement in the all-important turnover battle was a critical key in pulling a stunning 26-18 upset of the heavily favored Buckeyes.
Now, let me be honest, I'll admit to screaming at my television as I saw McBurse's first year of eligiblity go down the tubes after he wasn't utilized at all in the season's first six games.
But I've come around to the coach's way of thinking, and here's why:
Danny Hope hasn't given up on the 2009 Purdue Boilermakers. While logical fans are already scheming for and dreaming about next year, the never-say-die head coach is still fully engaged in trying to figure out how to win games this year.
And as a Boilermaker supporter, I like that.
After my initial outburst of disgust at Hope's "ill-advised" decision to waste McBurse in the second half of a meaningless season, I decided to put myself in the young freshman's shoes for a few minutes.
How would I like to sit on the bench as an explosive playmaker and watch my teammates drop kickoffs every single week, not being able to do a thing about it? After all, some plays in football are extremely difficult to execute, but catching a kickoff isn't one of them.
Hope had tried Aaron Valentin (fumble), Jaycen Taylor (fumble), Keith Carlos (fumble), and pretty much everyone short of Joe Tiller to try and perform the elementary task of receiving a kickoff without yielding the football to oncoming opponents.
And the merry-go-round at the returner spot was costing Purdue football games.
As Boilermaker fans sat at 1-5 last week, and looked down the remaining schedule, we started to play the "who else can we beat?" game, and there weren't many answers.
If Hope's team were to finish 1-11 or 2-10 in his first year, who knows how many of those redshirters even stay in the program? For all that, who knows if Hope still has a job in 2010?
Playing for the future is a dangerous thing to do, so Hope chose to fill a need with an explosive threat-in-waiting. He decided to go for broke.
And it paid off, as I will treasure the memory of Purdue 26, Ohio State 18 for a long, long time.
Who knows? With the momentum from the program's biggest victory in years, there may be some more wins left in 2009.
Personally, I'm hoping one of them is sparked by an Al-Terek McBurse kickoff return touchdown.
And I'm glad he's not redshirting.
For more Big Ten football coverage from Bleacher Report writers Tim Cary, Kristofer Green, and Kevin Paul, visit FirstandBigTen.com .