A chance to play in a postseason bowl game will be fading quickly for either Nebraska or Purdue this weekend in West Lafayette. Both the Cornhuskers and Boilermakers will take the field in Big Ten West action looking to snap a two-game losing streak, and whoever can break out of the recent funk will see a chance to play in a bowl game begin to come into view. The loser will likely be staying home this bowl season, and that is an uncomfortable spot for Nebraska should the Huskers fail to win on the road this weekend.
Nebraska is coming off a bye week, one that came at a great time for the program. Things have not gone well this season in Lincoln and a change in athletics director brings questions about head coach Mike Riley's future. Riley may be able to navigate himself out of this season to hold the job, but getting to a bowl game feels like an absolute must in order to do so. If Riley is going to guide Nebraska to a bowl game, outfoxing Big Ten newcomer Jeff Brohm will be key. Brohm has helped bring new life to the Purdue program, but the Boilermakers are coming off back-to-back losses at Wisconsin and Rutgers after witnessing the offense go into a shell. Look for Purdue to get back on track offensively this week.
Nebraska at Purdue
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Purdue -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Purdue no longer letting teams score at will
When Jeff Brohm was hired as Purdue's head coach, it was expected the offense would turn things around and open things up. However, it is the addition of Nick Holt as defensive coordinator that may be having the more significant impact this season. Holt's defense is allowing just 19.3 ppg this season, which is half of the points allowed per game compared to a year ago when Purdue was allowing a Big Ten-worst 38.3 ppg. Purdue allowed 40-plus points six times last season. This year, only Louisville in the season opener has managed to crack the 30-point barrier and Purdue has held three straight opponents to fewer than 20 points, including Wisconsin in Madison two weeks ago.
2. Who comes up short in the red zone?
When Nebraska has entered the red zone this season, frustrating moments have been far too common for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska has the Big Ten's 13th-ranked scoring percentage inside the opponent's 20-yard line with 19 scores on 25 red zone trips. Purdue has been far more effective with 24 red zone trips out of 27 putting points on the scoreboard. However, Purdue's red zone touchdown percentage (55.5 percent, 15 TDs) is slightly lower than Nebraska's (56.0, 14). Nebraska had two red zone scores in five red zone trips in their last two games against Wisconsin and Ohio State.
3. Bowl ramifications make this a must-win game
It has been a decade since the last time Nebraska failed to play in a postseason bowl game and Purdue did, but we could be heading in that direction if Nebraska cannot find a way out of West Lafayette with a win. A win would put Purdue within two wins of their first bowl trip since the 2012 season with enough winnable games remaining to make the push. Nebraska, on the other hand, has quite the uphill journey to a bowl game if they lose this one. Nebraska would need three wins in their final four games that will include road games at Minnesota and Penn State and home games against Northwestern and Iowa.
It can be difficult to comprehend the mere idea of Nebraska being a road underdog against Purdue if you have not been paying attention to what has been happening this season. Purdue, up until last week, has been one of the biggest turnaround successes in the Big Ten this season. Returning home after two rough road games should be welcome, and playing a team that fails to shut its opponents down with defense and a turnover-filled offense like Nebraska looks like the kind of opportunity the Boilermakers can take advantage of. Purdue's defense should continue to keep things tied down enough for the offense to make some things happen, and Purdue will get back in the win column because of it.
Prediction: Purdue 27, Nebraska 23
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.