1. Purdue is much, much better than last year.
With the hiring of Jeff Brohm, formerly of Western Kentucky, Purdue looks like it has made the hire it needed after the Darrell Hazell era. Brohm has already two Big Ten wins and a comfortable road win at Missouri. Purdue also played Wisconsin close and probably should’ve beaten both Nebraska and Rutgers. They have some steps to take toward becoming a great team, but things are looking up.
Purdue is no longer the doormat of the Big Ten statistically and is actually ahead of Northwestern in S&P+ (Bill Connelly’s rating system on SB Nation, which is still not mathematically impressed by winning three straight overtime games). They don’t excel much in areas other than defensive efficiency, but they have been a solid team.
2. Elijah Sindelar will be the primary option at QB.
Sindelar and veteran David Blough had been alternating quarterback duties, but Blough suffered a heartbreaking season-ending injury against Illinois. Sindelar is the man now, which could be a blessing for the Northwestern defense. Blough was more accurate (65 percent to 53 percent completion rate), averaged more yards per attempt (7 to 6.26) and was more mobile in the pocket. Sindelar is much better than most Big Ten backups and has plenty of time running this offense, but I still think Blough could’ve given Northwestern more trouble. Purdue’s weakest position group is probably its wide receivers, and even if Sindelar is on point, it’s tough to say whether the Boilermaker receivers will be open. Expect some offensive wrinkles from Brohm as well.
3. Purdue’s defense is stout.
Purdue ranks 30th in defensive S&P and 22nd in points per game. Despite losses to Rutgers and Nebraska, Purdue’s defense still played reasonably well in those games. Brohm was supposed to be an offensive genius when he arrived after his Western Kentucky team led the nation in scoring, but the defensive improvement has really made Purdue into a legitimate team this season.
Impressively, Purdue has been doing all this (holding Wisconsin to 17 points on the road, nearly shutting out Mizzou, etc.) without a consistent pass rush. Illinois was the first game that Purdue really got a pass rush going all season, but it was Illinois. You’d figure Purdue will need top cornerback Da’Wan Hunte and linebacker T.J. McCollum back from injury to shut down the Northwestern passing attack, which is on a roll.