A week ago, Wisconsin and Purdue were still in the chase for the Big Ten West Division. Then both teams lost on the road, and Northwestern took the crown with a win at Iowa. Now, when the Badgers and Boilermakers meet in West Lafayette this weekend, the stakes will be considerably less rewarding in this Big Ten West matchup, but there will be plenty to watch this weekend for Purdue fans.
With a coaching change at Louisville this week, the calls for Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm are as loud as ever from the state of Kentucky. But Brohm still has a job to do with Purdue, and it will be his job to ensure any distractions about his future are not a factor in preparing for this weekend’s game. It can be easier said than done, especially for a program that has taken some steps forward but still has much room to grow like Purdue.
Can Brohm put aside talks about his future and get a win against Wisconsin? Here are some keys to pay attention to this week.
Wisconsin at Purdue
Kickoff: Saturday, No. 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Purdue -5.0
Three Things to Watch
1. Purdue’s freshman star is a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist
Rondale Moore is the Big Ten’s second-leading receiver with an average of 90.9 yards per game this season, accounting for 909 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Named a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award earlier this week, Moore is looking to become Purdue’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Keith Smith had 1,100 yards in 2009.
2. With no division to play for, what now for Wisconsin?
Northwestern officially clinched the Big Ten West Division last week, in part because Wisconsin lost on the road at Penn State. A preseason favorite to play for the Big Ten title and possibly a spot in the College Football Playoff, Wisconsin is now simply looking to end the season on some winning notes and get a chance to play in one of the Big Ten’s New Year's Day bowl games even with the New Year's Six well out of reach. Paul Chryst will be tasked with keeping his team motivated and focused on moving on from some of the disappointments of this season and in recent weeks. The last time Wisconsin lost consecutive games on the road in back-to-back weeks was in 2011. The Badgers hope to avoid duplicating that this weekend.
3. Alex Hornibrook still questionable for Badgers
Hornibrook did not start last weekend’s game at Penn State due to lingering head injury concerns. Hornibrook still remains questionable for this weekend, which means Wisconsin could once again start Jack Coan at quarterback with the game plan continuing to be heavy on the running game, led by Jonathan Taylor. Purdue just gave up 265 rushing yards to Minnesota in a blowout loss last week, and the Boilermakers have allowed six rushing touchdowns in their last two games.
Trying to figure out Purdue has been difficult to do at times this season. A week after smashing Ohio State at home, Purdue was shut down by Michigan State. And a week after topping Iowa to create a brief stir in the Big Ten West, the Boilermakers were obliterated at Minnesota. How do they bounce back this week against a team that is banged up but still a stronger and deeper team in Wisconsin? It’s honestly anyone’s guess, and with conversations swirling about Brohm’s future, this game could go any number of ways. But one thing remains consistent, and that is Wisconsin’s ability to run the football. Expect Wisconsin to take control with that and find a way to bounce back into the win column on the road.
Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Purdue 20
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. 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.