The Purdue Boilermakers understand the stakes.
Pull an upset Saturday at No. 14 Wisconsin and they still could become bowl-eligible. Lose and they will be home before Christmas.
It’s that simple, though coach Jeff Brohm prefers discussing just about anything else at this point of the season.
“It will be a challenge for us to be able to go up to Madison and find a way to win,” he said Monday. “I think our guys will be energized, enthused about the opportunity. Hopefully we can go out there compete hard, play hard, play to the end and see what we can do.”
Purdue (4-6, 3-4 Big Ten) doesn’t have any other choice if it intends to qualify for a third straight postseason game.
The Boilermakers must win their final two games, at Wisconsin and home against rival Indiana, just to reach the six-win threshold.
But the scenario looks, mathematically, much more feasible than it did three weeks ago having already staved off elimination twice. They rallied for their second straight win over Nebraska, 31-27, on Nov. 2 and used a 39-yard field goal to beat Northwestern 24-22 on the road the following week.
Now comes perhaps the most challenging part to stay alive: beating the Badgers (8-2, 5-2), who moved back into contention for the West Division title after Minnesota’s loss last weekend.
“When you watch Wisconsin's defense throughout the course of the season, you look at Ohio State, you look at some of the things Nebraska did — pretty much when you've had a running quarterback, you spread the field, that's what's hurt them,” Brohm said. “I don't know if that's what we can do at this point, but that is what's hurt them.”
Historically, this has not been a good series for Purdue, either. Wisconsin has won 18 of the last 23 and 13 in a row, dating to the Boilermakers’ last win on the road in 2003.
And despite having a second bye to get ready for the Badgers, Purdue still will be short-handed because of injuries.
The top two quarterbacks, Elijah Sindelar (broken collarbone) and Jack Plummer (broken ankle), are not expected to play so Aidan O’Connell, a former walk-on, will likely make his second straight start.
Brohm continues to be uncertain about the availability of All-American receiver Rondale Moore (hamstring), receiver Jared Sparks (ankle) or defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal (knee). Sparks missed four games with the injury, returned against Iowa on Oct. 19 then reinjured it and hasn’t played since.
Moore has been out since getting hurt Sept. 28 and Neal hasn’t played at all this season.
“We're as hopeful as you that at some point both of those guys will be back,” Brohm said. “It's still at the point where we'll see if they can practice this week. As we get going on Tuesday, we'll see what they can do and how they feel. Really, until that happens, I can't be truly optimistic. But I'm hopeful that eventually it can happen.”
Getting some of them back certainly would seem to give the Boilermakers the kind of boost it will need at Wisconsin with their postseason plans on the line.
“We’ve got a great opportunity against an outstanding football team that's played extremely well,” Brohm said. “They're big, they're physical, they're strong. They do all the small things correctly.”