For the first time in nine years, the Wisconsin Badgers and Purdue Boilermakers will go to battle in an evenly-matched game.
Last year, Bret Bielema's squad was favored by 26. It barely covered during its 62-17 blowout. The year before that, more of the same. 20-point favorite, 21-point win. The Badgers, always as heavy favorites, have had Purdue's number, winning the last six matchups dating back to October of 2004.
Purdue is ready for that to change.
For the first time since the Boilmakers left Madison with a 26-23 win back in 2003, these two teams will meet with the spread less than seven points, and while neither squad is a powerhouse in the disappointing Big Ten, the even matchup will provide a must-see game.
Let's take a look at everything you need to know about Saturday's contest.
When: Saturday, Oct. 13, at noon ET
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
Watch: Big Ten Network
Live Stream: Big Ten Network 2 Go
Betting Line: Purdue (-2.5), according to Covers
Wisconsin Injuries (via USA Today)
OL Kyle Costigan, Knee, Probable
WR Isaiah Williams, Groin, Out
LB Cody Byers, Concussion, Out
Purdue Injuries (via USA Today)
WR Ishmael Aristide, Knee, Questionable
RB Ralph Bolden, Knee, Out
What's at Stake?
A win for Purdue would give Danny Hope's team some, um, hope, heading into Columbus to face No. 8 Ohio State next week.
But more than just an important momentum builder, a win over the Badgers—a team that has basically turned these games into practices over the past decade—would be a true sign that Purdue, which is coming off it's first .500 season and bowl game since 2007, is finally rising back to prominence in the Big Ten.
As for Wisconsin, everything opposite is true.
The Badgers have been a powerhouse in the conference under Bielema, going to two Rose Bowls and finishing the season with double-digit wins four out of six times. But following a disappointing 4-2 start after beginning the year ranked No. 12, it appears as though Wisconsin's arrow is pointing down.
A loss at Purdue would only further help that argument.
Wisconsin Player to Watch: Montee Ball, RB
The Heisman finalist from a year ago has seen his numbers dip significantly without the consistency of the dangerous Russell Wilson under center, but he's still clearly Wisconsin's workhorse (23.8 carries per game) and has the talent and bruising style to wear down defenses.
Ball has seen his yard-per-carry average drop from 6.1 (2010) and 6.3 (2011) to a mediocre 4.0 this year, but his ability to hit the holes with a quick first cut, break tackles and move piles for extra yardage give the Badgers a weapon most teams can't rely on.
Will the senior break off a bunch of 80-yard, Barry Sanders-like—whose touchdown record Ball happened to break last year—runs? No, but his consistency and ability to stay on the field for every down make him a player that will win you games.
Purdue Player(s) to Watch: Akeem, RB
No, Purdue doesn't have a running back who is taking the Cher or Prince one-name-only route. It just happens to have two running backs with the same first name.
Shavers and Hunt may have the same first name, but they have two very different styles.
The senior Shavers is the all-down back. He's not going to blow anyone away with his skill set, but 68 carries for 274 yards and four touchdowns are useful numbers nonetheless.
Hunt, on the other hand, is the home-run threat. He hasn't done much outside of his huge game against Eastern Michigan when he took four carries for 106 yards and a touchdown and also caught a 50-yard score, but then again, he had a game where he took four carries for 106 yards and a touchdown and also caught a 50-yard score.
Who cares if he hasn't done anything else?
The sophomore won't get a ton of carries, but he also catches passes and returns kicks He's a threat for a huge play every time.
A contrasting 1-2 punch from guys with the same name? Has anyone sent the script to Hollywood yet?
Key Matchup: Montee Ball vs. Kawann Short
There's no question that the lack of consistent quarterback play will result in the reliance of the running game on both sides of the ball—the Big Ten wouldn't have it any other way.
Montee Ball is undoubtedly the most dangerous weapon in what will be the most important aspect of Saturday's matchup, but if he's going to plan on running the ball up the middle, he's going to have to deal with Purdue's best defensive player.
Defensive tackle Kawann Short leads Purdue—by far—with eight tackles for loss and four sacks. He's strong, quick off the snap and absolutely clogs up running lanes. If he bottles up Ball, Purdue has a very good shot at winning this one.
Who ya got?
Both of these teams are similar, but in the end, Danny Hope's unwillingness to go with Robert Marve over Caleb Turbush at quarterback is going to hurt the Boilmakers, who don't have as good of a running game to fall back on as Wisconsin does.
Look for the Badgers to feed Ball all game long, limit turnovers on the road and win a close, low-scoring battle.
Wisconsin 20, Purdue 13