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BIG TEN SPOTLIGHT: First-year coaches create positive vibes

(AP Photo/Stacy Bengs, File)

By ERIC OLSON

AP College Football Writer

Purdue football is showing new signs of life on the field and on the airwaves, too.

Jake Query, who co-hosts an afternoon radio show on Fox Sports 975 in Indianapolis, said the Boilermakers didn't stimulate much, if any, audience participation the last couple years. Now six or eight listeners a day call in to talk Purdue.

That's progress, considering the fan base had been beaten down by having no more than three wins in a season since 2012.

Since Jeff Brohm has come along and led the Boilermakers to a 2-1 start, back-to-back wins for the first time in five years and the biggest margin of victory in a road game since 1999, fans are guardedly optimistic he might be the guy to revive the school's football tradition.

"The reaction is that it looks like he's already turned them around and it looks like there's a heartbeat here," said Query, adding there also is buzz over whether Purdue can make a bowl game.

But, Query said, Purdue fans are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"How long are they going to keep Brohm? What big program is going to come and sweep him away?" Query said.

Minnesota and Indiana also are off to good starts under their first-year coaches. P.J. Fleck has the Gophers 3-0, and the Hoosiers are 1-1 under Tom Allen.

The measuring-stick games are coming, starting Saturday for Purdue when No. 8 Michigan (3-0) visits. Athletic department spokesman Matt Rector said season-ticket sales are up 20 percent and more than 6,000 tickets have been sold for the Michigan game since the 35-3 win at Missouri last week. Rector said the game was nearing a sellout, which hasn't happened at Purdue since 2008.

Brohm seems to have instilled a belief in his players that they can compete with anybody. That was apparent in the opener when the Boilermakers, 26-point underdogs, led then-No. 16 Louisville in the fourth quarter before losing 35-28.

"Everyone knows there's a long season ahead," Brohm said. "Our schedule gets extremely difficult with the Big Ten Conference, especially opening up with Michigan. We'll see where we stand. We have a long ways to go, and we're going to get hit in the mouth a few times. We understand that. Our guys are gaining confidence that if we do those smalls things and we're in it in the second half, anything can happen."

Minnesota is off until its Big Ten opener at home against Maryland next week. The Gophers also were unbeaten through three games last season, but this year's accomplishment seems greater. The Gophers' starting quarterback, Conor Rhoda, is a fifth-year senior walk-on who was going to quit football and get a job before Fleck asked him to return. Five players were dismissed last winter following a sexual assault investigation. Nearly two dozen players had offseason surgeries. Running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks have been banged up early in the season.

With Fleck in charge, positivity abounds. Everyone around the programs appears to have bought in to the "Row the Boat" mantra he brought with him from Western Michigan. Season-ticket and merchandise sales are up and the team's all-gold uniforms and Goldy Gopher helmet were showcased on ESPN's "Sports Center" last week. Fleck's news conference after a 48-14 win at Oregon State drew 52,000 views on the school's athletic website, "and it was 1:30 a.m. in Minnesota when that was happening," spokesman Paul Rovnak said.

Indiana plays its last nonconference game at home Saturday against Georgia Southern and opens Big Ten play next week at No. 4 Penn State. The Hoosiers gave Ohio State a tussle into the third quarter of a 49-21 loss in their opener, and they've built some momentum with a 34-17 win at Virginia. Hurricane problems forced cancellation of a home game against Florida International on Sept. 9.

Allen is a Hoosier through and through. He was born in New Castle, Indiana, and coached high school and small-college football in the state.

"Indiana is kind of a provincial area," Query said. "People like their own. We don't dislike people from outside Indiana, but we feel a close affinity to people who have a root in Indiana. They have a coach who has that now. He coached at an Indianapolis high school and has a connection to high school coaches around the state. So people feel comfortable with that and feel encouraged by that."

The Hoosiers' 2007 Insight Bowl team is holding its reunion in Bloomington this weekend. Allen holds up that squad as an example of cohesiveness for his players. The '07 team lost head coach Terry Hoeppner to brain cancer before the season, clinched a bowl berth under Bill Lynch with a dramatic win over rival Purdue and lost to Oklahoma State in the bowl to finish 7-6.

"Just understanding the history of that and what they accomplished, and really what they did in memory of Coach Hoeppner," Allen said. "His goal was to get them to that bowl game, and to be able to do that with Coach Lynch and their staff was really special and a big part of what we are trying to re-create."

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Updated September 21, 2017

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