The 2015 season has not gone the way Jerry Kill and the Minnesota Golden Gophers had planned or even hoped thus far. Both losses have come to ranked opponents by a combined score of 50-17. All three of Minnesota's wins were by exactly three points over teams from the Group of 5. Needless to say, they are not the Big Ten contenders and national players we thought they might be heading into the season.
In West Lafayette, our eyes tell us that Purdue is a team on the rise. The bottom line (record), however, tells us that the Boilermakers are once again doormats in the Big Ten. At the end of the day, wins are all that matter — and Purdue only has one. They've played tough and kept three of their four losses competitive, but that's not what will keep head coach Darrell Hazell off the hot seat. For that, Purdue needs to avoid finishing in the basement of the Big Ten West. A win in their conference home-opener would be a huge step in that direction.
Minnesota at Purdue
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Minnesota -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Markell Jones
It looks like Jones has won the starting tailback job for Purdue outright. He absolutely shredded the Michigan State defense a week ago for 157 yard and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Give some credit to a mature, physical Boilermaker offensive line that was able to get a push against what many thought was one of the better defensive fronts in the nation early on. That said, it's easy to be motivated as a lineman when you have a special talent like Jones running behind you. If Minnesota wants any chance of winning this game, they need to get into the backfield and stop Jones before he gets loose.
2. Can Minnesota sustain a drive?
The Gophers didn't hit the century yard mark through the air or on the ground against Northwestern. That's obviously unacceptable, but I'm not sure they have any answers. The Gopher line is — injuries or not — simply not good. It's rare that Minnesota fields an O-line without top-level talent somewhere. They have no playmakers at the skill position and now are finally admitting that they have some issues under center. Regardless of the fact that it's against Purdue, I'm not sure the Gophers can move the ball without some creativity on the part of Kill and his staff. If that doesn't work, it's time to empty the bench and build for the future.
3. Peter Mortell
Yes, that's where we're at in this game. Minnesota's punter is "a thing to watch." Despite Minnesota's struggles, Mortell remains one of the better punters in the country. He's going to get plenty of opportunities to do his thing in this one. It could be one of Mortell's punts that changes the complexion of a close game late, allowing Minnesota's defense to make a play to win the game. If nothing else, he'll help the Gophers win the battle of field position.
Purdue has found themselves in shoot outs all year with teams who were infinitely more threatening than Minnesota on offense. They've held their own and were able to score in a variety of ways to keep pace. Minnesota has a respectable defense, but they simply aren't good enough to overcome the lack of production on the offensive side of the ball. Look for another big day from Markell Jones on the ground en route to Purdue's first conference win of the season.
Prediction: Purdue 27, Minnesota 10
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the editor-in-chief of KnowItAllFootball.com, a Big Ten site for Big Ten fans. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.