WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The Purdue Boilermakers are in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time in eight years under coach Joe Tiller.
A month ago, the Boilermakers were 5-0, ranked No. 5 in the nation and eyeing a Big Ten championship -- and even, perhaps, a national title. Then the bottom fell out and suddenly the Boilermakers are 5-4, needing a win in their last two games just to become bowl eligible.
The good news for Purdue is that it finishes the season with two home games, against Ohio State and Indiana.
"We have one game and one game only to worry about, and that's Ohio State," Tiller said. "I've told my players that the people who love them most will suggest you have two games to become bowl eligible. I say, 'No, worry about Saturday. Win there.'"
It appears his players think otherwise.
"We want to win the next two games and put ourselves in the position to make the best bowl game," quarterback Kyle Orton said. "We're looking to go 7-4 right now, and it would certainly be disappointing to not make a bowl game after the start we had this
The Boilermakers got off to their best start since 1945. But consecutive losses to Wisconsin, Michigan, Northwestern and Iowa -- by a total of 10 points -- have followed.
"They've had some awfully tight football games against good teams," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "When you get in our league, a play or two is going to make the difference in the game and they've had some battles."
Their next one comes Saturday against the Buckeyes, who have won three straight. This matchup has quickly turned into an intense rivalry, given how close the teams have played in recent years.
The Buckeyes have won three straight over the Boilermakers, but the last two did not come easy.
Last season, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes prevailed 16-13 in overtime when No. 11 Purdue kicker Ben Jones missed a 37-yard field-goal attempt.
Two years ago, Ohio State came into Ross-Ade Stadium and beat the Boilermakers 10-6 when Craig Krenzel hit Michael Jenkins for a 37-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-1. The Buckeyes went on to win the national championship.
Orton, who was a Heisman Trophy candidate when Purdue was 5-0, could miss his second straight game with a painful hip injury. Orton injured his right hip against Northwestern and said he has had trouble sleeping because of the pain.
Tiller said he will wait until the end of the week to make a decision on whether Orton will return or Brandon Kirsch will make his second start.