No. 6 Wisconsin understands the stakes this weekend at Purdue.
Win on Saturday and the Badgers might be booking another trip to the Big Ten championship game. Win on Saturday, get some help and they just might resurface in the playoff chase. Lose, and it could all vanish.
Those who doubt the potential danger in Purdue's home finale need only to hear coach Paul Chryst recite the evidence from last weekend: Iowa 14, No. 2 Michigan 13; Pittsburgh 43, No. 3 Clemson 42; Southern California 26, No. 4 Washington 13.
“There's recent history, real recent, if you just assume something. We do a little dictionary game and make sure they understand what assume says,” Chryst said, drawing laughter. “That's the truth, we've got to make sure we put the focus on the things we can control.”
For most of the season, Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2, No. 7 CFP) hasn't had a choice.
Over the first eight weeks, they faced five top 10 opponents — beating LSU, Michigan State and Nebraska while losing 14-7 at Michigan and at home against Ohio State, in overtime.
The last two weeks as the schedule lightened up, the Badgers won by double digits at Northwestern and routed Illinois. Another win coupled with losses by Nebraska and Minnesota on Saturday gives Wisconsin the West Division title.
Purdue (3-7, 1-6), has lost five straight, including all four since interim coach Gerad Parker replaced the fired Darrell Hazell. The Boilermakers also are in the midst of a record 10-game losing streak in this series.
Just don't expect the Boilermakers to roll over on Senior Day.
“We talk about all the time, 'What is the right thing?'” Parker said. “The right thing to do is to play your guts out, to celebrate playing a great football team this weekend and celebrate your seniors. Those seniors have been awesome. And I hate we couldn't do for them — I hate that I couldn't do more for them — to put them in the position of winning.”
The Badgers know they still must earn it.
“You have to take them seriously each and every week no matter who you're playing,” Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt said. “When you see it (the upsets) happen, it's kind of a reality check of we need to take each and every game seriously.”
Here are some other things to watch Saturday:
FLOUNDERING FINISHES: During Parker's short tenure, Purdue has been competitive with just about every team it's played — for one half. In the final two quarters, the Boilermakers have been blown out 114-17. Parker has been hard-pressed to find a solution and knows that if he doesn't this weekend, Wisconsin could roll.
AT THE TOP: Wisconsin likes dictating the pace of the game, leading the nation with an average possession time of 35 minutes, 6 seconds. They've done it this year with a running back rotation of Corey Clement, Dare Ogunbowale and Bradrick Shaw. Plus, after some instability on the offensive line, the Badgers have settled on a lineup anchored by left tackle Ryan Ramczyk and center Michael Dieter. The result: Last weekend Wisconsin rushed 64 times for a season-high 363 yards against Illinois.
TURNOVER TROUBLE: If there's one glaring difference this weekend, it's the turnovers. Wisconsin is a solid plus-four. The Boilermakers are last in the Big Ten at minus-16. No other conference team is worse than minus-6. If Purdue can't clean it up, they'll be in trouble.
GOOD HANDS: Pass-happy Purdue is facing a defense that has picked off 14 passes, including four interceptions against the Illini. The staunch play of the front seven has overshadowed a secondary that has played well all season, capitalizing on the errors forced by the linebacker-led pass rush. The secondary has been rejuvenated with the return of No. 3 cornerback Natrell Jamerson, who missed much of the year with a leg injury.