Week 2: Sept. 12, Purdue v. Memphis
Every year since 2014, Purdue has played three out-of-conference teams in its 12-game schedule. The last time more than one of those teams came from outside the Power Five conferences was 2016, when Purdue played Cincinnati, Nevada and Eastern Kentucky University. This year, Purdue was scheduled to play Memphis and Air Force, two Group of Five teams. Memphis would have been this weekend.
Comparing records on a matchup like Purdue-Memphis is hard, because Purdue has never faced the Tigers. The Boilermakers don’t even have a representative record against the American Athletic Conference, which hosts the team. Since the conference’s founding in 2013, Purdue has played only one of its teams, in a home-and-home series against Cincinnati between 2013 and 2016. The Boilermakers lost both games.
Purdue may well have beaten Memphis this weekend, but at a glance we have no way to be sure. But playing Memphis at this point in history brings up a topic I think is more interesting than this matchup: out-of-conference games have the most interesting potential in Purdue’s schedule.
Like most teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Purdue schedules its out-of-conference matchups years in advance. We know Purdue’s full schedule until 2025, every non-conference opponent the Boilermakers will face until 2028 and one or two teams for each of the two subsequent years. On top of that, Purdue scheduled a home-and-home series with Ole Miss in 2019 that it won’t start playing until 2033.
Purdue and Memphis scheduled this game in 2017, but I initially assumed that the game was set during the early 2010s, a period where neither team won more than four games per season — based on what we know about the future schedule, it’s not unreasonable.
Since then, Memphis has become much better, winning its conference twice and its division three years in a row, and Purdue has at least found the middle of the road. A game I initially assumed was scheduled by two struggling teams would have now been set between two teams on the come-up, who in any case couldn’t have known what the future held for either of them.
This is why Purdue’s out-of-conference games are so full of potential. Of the 130 FBS teams, 116 aren’t in the Big Ten, and 66 of those aren’t in the Power Five. Purdue has to schedule games against three of those 116 teams per year, years into the future. It’s a constantly rotating pool of new faces with the potential to look wildly different than they did when the games were scheduled.
There’s a fun sense of suspense that comes from facing a team you’ve never played before that has become dangerously good since it agreed to come over. To lose that mystery is a big disappointment, even in a year where we can’t take any more suspense.