After last week's developments around the Big Ten, the Wisconsin Badgers are now in a position to play for a Big Ten West Division title and return to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game after missing out last season. But first, Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) needs to avoid slipping up at home against Purdue (4-6, 3-4).
Minnesota will play at Northwestern earlier in the day, with the Golden Gophers owning a one-game lead in the division after their first loss of the season last week at Iowa. Regardless of what happens in Evanston, Wisconsin must win to ensure that it is no worse than one game behind Minnesota heading into the final game of the season. The Gophers could actually clinch the Big Ten West with a win at Northwestern and a Wisconsin loss to Purdue.
Purdue is a banged-up opponent, and Wisconsin seems to have rediscovered some of its mojo after a couple of rough weeks in the middle of the season. That all could be a bad sign for the Boilermakers, who need to win their final two games in order to become bowl eligible.
Purdue at Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Wisconsin -25.0
When Purdue Has the Ball
Purdue will most likely be without its star wide receiver Rondale Moore, yet again. Moore has appeared in only four games this season and could easily just be redshirted for the remainder of the season, but Purdue has likely been holding on to hope of playing in a bowl game, in which case Moore could return with plenty of extra rest. But with no Moore for another week, Purdue's offense has a tall order. Purdue managed to get just 345 yards of offense two weeks ago against lowly Northwestern. Freshman receiver David Bell has taken over the team lead in receiving yards with 791 yards and five touchdowns, and the Boilermakers still have John Mackey Award semifinalist Brycen Hopkins at tight end.
Sophomore quarterback Aidan O'Connell has made a nice impression in relief for Purdue, but the walk-on will face his stiffest test yet. Wisconsin owns the Big Ten's second-leading total defense and pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks have been intercepted nine times by the Badgers and have the second-lowest passer rating allowed among Big Ten programs. Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun will penetrate the backfield often. He comes into the week with 14.0 tackles for a loss. Chris Orr is also a force to be reckoned with, as he has 11.0 TFL this season.
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
Jonathan Taylor remains one of the most productive running backs in college football. Against a Purdue defense that is allowing 172.2 rushing yards per game, Taylor should be in for another big day. Taylor has already rushed for 1,463 yards this season and could eclipse the 2,000-yard mark for a second consecutive season. Last year, the Badgers running back rushed for a season-high 321 yards and three touchdowns in a 47-44 win at Purdue, and the year before, he rushed for 219 yards and a touchdown in a 17-9 win against the Boilermakers in Madison.
Purdue is still playing without its top defensive player, defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal (recovering from a torn ACL and not able to practice all season). With so much focus on the Wisconsin running game, Purdue may also struggle to contain Badgers quarterback Jack Coan. Purdue is giving up 238.5 passing yards per game this season and has allowed 15 touchdowns through the air, second among Big Ten programs (Michigan State has allowed 20).
Playing at home with so much at stake against a team continuing to struggle through this season without its best players, Wisconsin is clearly a heavy favorite here. The Badgers won't have to change the way they play, because their ground game should be more than capable of paving the way to a comfortable win. Jonathan Taylor gets his yards early as the Badgers take control of the game before halftime, and that could lead to an early rest for the workhorse running back as he and Wisconsin begin to get ready for a division-clinching game next week at Minnesota.
Prediction: Wisconsin 34, Purdue 13
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.