With their hopes of a bowl game dead, the Northwestern Wildcats will look to hand the same fate to the Purdue Boilermakers in this week’s Big Ten West showdown. Kickoff is set for noon EST on Saturday, November 9 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. Fans can watch the game on the Big Ten Network.
Northwestern actually opened the week as 1.5-point favorites. That line has actually grown with the Wildcats favored by 2.5 points. The over/under for the game is set at 38 points. Be sure to check out all of this week’s college football betting odds.
One year after winning the Big Ten West and playing in the Big Ten title game, Northwestern won’t even play in a bowl game. The Wildcats were blasted by Indiana 34-3 last week, handing them a sixth consecutive loss. Even with four games left on their schedule, the 1-7 Wildcats are no longer in contention to become bowl eligible. It’s obviously a huge setback for Pat Fitzgerald, who led Northwestern to a bowl game in nine of the last 11 years. Nevertheless, the Wildcats will have to find a way to stay motivated over the final four weeks of the season and at least avoid a 1-win season.
As for the Boilermakers, facing a must-win game last week, they found a way to beat Nebraska 31-27 and keep their bowl hopes alive. It wasn’t easy with quarterback Jack Plummer suffering an ankle injury that will end his season. But third-stringer Aidan O’Connell led the game-winning drive to give the Boilermakers a win. At 3-6, Purdue still has slim bowl hopes. If the Boilermakers can win again this week, they’ll get a bye week to regroup before playing Wisconsin and in-state rival Indiana in their final two games. It’s a long shot, but the Boilermakers are still alive.
Of course, to keep those hopes alive, Purdue will have to do something they haven’t done since 2010, which is beat Northwestern. The Wildcats have won five straight games against the Boilermakers since they started playing every year as Big Ten West foes in 2014. That being said, these two teams have played close games the past two seasons, including a narrow 31-27 win for the Wildcats in last year’s season opener.
I know that Purdue is down to their third-string quarterback with injuries to both Plummer and Elijah Sindelar. But that’s still not enough for me to buy Northwestern as a favorite. The Wildcats have suffered what can only be called a lost season, which is why I view them as a lost cause. With their backs against the wall last week, they completely laid an egg. I can’t imagine that’ll change this week now that a bowl game is off the table, so I’ll lean toward Purdue to win on the road and keep their bowl hopes alive.
There’s no way to sugarcoat how bad the Northwestern offense has been this season. The Wildcats have scored a total of six points over their last three games. Admittedly, two of those games have come against Ohio State and Iowa. But that still doesn’t sound like a team that should be favored in a Big Ten game by any margin.
Even with Clemson-transfer Hunter Johnson returning from a personal leave last week, it did nothing to spark the Northwestern offense. Both he and Aidan Smith saw time at quarterback and the Wildcats still turned it over three times and had less than 200 yards of offense. The Indiana defense isn’t exactly one of the elite defenses in the Big Ten, showing that the Wildcats can’t move the ball consistently against any Big Ten opponent.
To be fair, Northwestern’s defense might belong among the top in the Big Ten. That side of the ball shouldn’t get any of the blame for the team’s 1-7 record. Outside of the 52 points that they gave up against Ohio State’s explosive offense, the Northwestern defense has played at a high level for most of the season. However, last week, we started to see them start to crack after a season of getting little to no support from the NU offense. Once Indiana went up 10-0 midway through the first quarter, the Northwestern defense knew the game was all but over.
Even a Purdue offense that’s being forced to use a third-string quarterback should have some success against the deflated Wildcats. O’Connell actually looked sharp late in the Nebraska game, so all hope is not lost for the Boilermakers. Even with a running game that isn’t yielding much, Purdue has a nice set of receivers led by David Bell and Brycen Hopkins who can give the Wildcats trouble and help out their young quarterback.
Despite some ups and downs this year, I’ve seen enough promise from the Purdue offense to make me think they can manage a reasonable point total in this game, even with a third-string quarterback. At the same time, I have no such hope for Northwestern’s offense. In the end, I refuse to buy the Wildcats as a favorite, so I have to take Purdue as a road underdog.