Arguing that a team coming off a loss has jumped to the forefront as the favorite to play for a conference championship isn’t too common.
Well, it isn’t common unless the team plays in the Big Ten Leaders Division.
Despite a 20-17 loss to Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday, the Purdue Boilermakers have become the favorite to represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship game.
But, Purdue fans shouldn’t get too excited about their Boilers’ chances to win the division…yet.
Much of the speculation comes after a horrific second week of college football throughout the division. Here are just a few reasons why Purdue, through nothing of their own doing, should be considered the favorite in the division:
- Wisconsin fell to Oregon State 10-7; Montee Ball had only 61 yards
- Arizona State crushed Illinois 45-14; Nathan Scheelhaase was injured
- Indiana QB Tre Roberson suffered a season ending broken leg vs. UMass
Oh, and Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible for postseason play
Even though Purdue and Wisconsin are the favorites, Ohio State is, by far, the best team in the division. But because they cannot participate in the conference championship, we won’t waste any time discussing the Buckeyes’ chances of a “what could be” division title.
Prior to the loss to the Beavers, Wisconsin was the clear cut favorite to return to the conference championship, especially with the return of dynamic running back Montee Ball.
Not anymore. Well, not for now anyway.
While both Purdue and Wisconsin suffered road losses this week, it is safe to say the Badgers’ loss was much more significant, coming against a team that won only three games in 2011.
Purdue’s offense struggled against the #22 Fighting Irish, but the defense looked fantastic with the exception of the final drive (though CB Ricardo Allen sat out the final possession of the game). Guys like Kawaan Short, Bruce Gaston, Ryan Russell, Ricardo Allen, and Josh Johnson are the reason people are considering the Boilermakers as one of the teams that could win the division.
The big question lies with the offense and if it can be effective enough to win football games against other high-quality defenses.
Purdue also has a favorable conference schedule. The Boilers’ only true road test comes against Ohio State in mid-October. They will have the advantage of hosting both Michigan and Wisconsin in consecutive weekends to try to put their mark on the Big Ten Conference.
The Boilers will also travel to Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois during the conference season.
Obviously, Purdue isn’t a “hands down” favorite to win the division, and the college football world would not be at all stunned if the Boilermakers don’t end up representing the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship game.
But after two weeks of football and an in-depth eyeball test, Purdue has just looked like a better team than Wisconsin. The fact that the Boilermakers get home field advantage in the head-to-head with the Badgers also gives Purdue a slight edge as division favorites at this point.
There is a lot yet still to prove, and more will unravel when Big Ten Conference games get underway, but right now the Boilers look to be the front runner for the Leaders Division.