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B1G Thoughts: Can Purdue Contend in the West?

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The Boilermakers have turned heads in both of their games this season.

NCAA Football: Louisville vs Purdue Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll be honest, that headline you just read was one of the last things I ever thought I’d type into a keyboard in 2017. Be that as it may — now two weeks into the college football season — here we are and there it is.

Sure, it’s early. That doesn’t mean we can’t be talking about the Purdue Boilermakers as legitimate contenders for the Big Ten West title. We’ve seen the other six teams play two games each, and we’ve learned quite a bit about them — including our own Hawkeyes.

So let’s look at Purdue, what they’ve done, and who they’ve done it against.

In Week 1, they went blow-for-blow with Louisville on somewhat neutral turf in Indianapolis. We’re talking about a Louisville team led by the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner who could very well end up winning the ACC. It truly resembled a Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed fight for four quarters.

Many expected the Boilermakers to serve as nothing more than a punching bag for the Cardinals. Instead, Jeff Brohm’s squad gave Louisville all it could handle and made Bobby Petrino sweat in the process. Purdue hung around on the back of its passing game for the most part, but also leaned heavily on an underrated defense that took a lot of options away from Lamar Jackson and made the Heisman winner beat them on his own.

Fast-forward to Week 2, when Purdue played host to an Ohio team out of the MAC who many still think could win that conference. In what I now look back on as a sign of disrespect from Vegas, the Boilermakers were only three point favorites against the Bobcats. After all, this is a sound MAC squad, coached by Frank Solich — a respected X’s and O’s guy who has been around the block. I was shocked that Ohio wasn’t favored, siding with the wise guys in the desert who chalked up the Louisville game as a fluke.

We quickly learned it was no fluke, with Purdue dispatching the Bobcats with ease, looking very impressive in the process.

The result of that game certainly caught my eye this weekend:

Now let’s take a quick, honest look at the other six teams in the division and what they’ve done to this point.

Nebraska

After escaping a shootout at home against Arkansas State, the Huskers travelled west to Oregon and turned in a mistake-marred performance. Tanner Lee does not appear to be the savior at quarterback, and despite a second half shutout of the Ducks, the transition to Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense is beginning to look like a liability.

Northwestern

A less-than-impressive win against Nevada was followed up with a blowout loss to what appears to be a slightly above average Duke team. Northwestern’s lack of offensive output against the Blue Devils was shocking and raises questions about the offensive line.

Illinois

The Illini are quietly 2-0 in this young season, but both wins came against what now appear to be middle-of-the-road Group of Five teams. There was nothing in either game that stood out about the Illini on either side of the ball. At this point, they still look like the worst team in the division.

Minnesota

The Gophers are also 2-0, however both wins came against what appear to be very bad teams. They have yet to be truly challenged through the air on defense and haven’t played a team that can match them size-wise on both lines.

Wisconsin

The Badgers, as many expected, look like the cream of the crop in the West at this point. That said, they didn’t look real impressive against FAU and took a while to get rolling against Utah State. I’m not sure their secondary is as good as it has been in recent years.

Iowa

We were all wowed with the Hawkeye defense against Wyoming. Then we watched in drunken horror as Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park hung 347 passing yards against Iowa. Purdue may not have the caliber of weapons to a man that Iowa State has, but I feel like they are much more diverse in terms of who the ball is going to. That could give the Hawkeyes some issues when they go head-to-head.

As far as Purdue’s schedule once they get into Big Ten play, their toughest home games are against Michigan and Nebraska. I’m not sure Michigan is as good as Louisville to be honest. As far as road games, Purdue’s toughest trips are to Wisconsin and Iowa City.

The fact that the Boilermakers look like they can hang with any team in the West at this point — combined with not having to play Ohio State or Penn State — makes the idea of Purdue punching a ticket to the B1G Championship game a very real possibility...for now.

Is it likely? Who knows, honestly? But the fact that it’s on the radar at this point only adds to the excitement of the 2017 season as the full Big Ten slate inches closer.