LINCOLN, Neb. — There’s no relaxing in the Big Ten, but if there was ever a week Nebraska could take a tiny step back and take a deep breath, it’s this one.
After a tough road win against Indiana on Saturday, Nebraska will return home to face a 3-3 Purdue team that just fired its head coach.
The Boilermakers rank near the bottom of most defensive categories in the Big Ten and are 24-point underdogs for Nebraska.
With that said, here are five key things to watch this week.
1. Revenge, revenge, revenge
It doesn’t really matter how you put it, this is a revenge game. Coaches don’t like saying that, and on Monday neither did safety Kieron Williams. But let’s face facts: More so than Illinois, more so than Northwestern, this game is absolutely payback.
The 55-45 loss to Purdue last year was one of the worst losses in Nebraska football history. Purdue smeared the Nebraska brand and name into the grass in West Lafayette, Ind., and the Huskers have been trying to restore their brand ever since.
Now 6-0 and No. 8 in the country, Nebraska has the clear upper hand, and it wouldn’t be shocking if a small part of its motivation this week is to avenge what Purdue did last year.
2. New coach, new system?
With Purdue’s firing of head coach Darrell Hazell comes a tricky task for Nebraska.
How do you prepare for a team transitioning between coaches and systems in one week?
The Purdue offense will likely not change much from Hazell to interim head coach Gerad Parker, but there really isn’t any assurance that will be true.
There’s a difference between preparing for a team like Indiana, which Nebraska had never played in the Big Ten, and playing a team that changes head coaches the week before the game.
Following how Nebraska preps for the change will be something to watch.
3. Can Nebraska get off the field
Nebraska is a 24-point favorite on Saturday.
They also have a banged up team, with a not 100 percent quarterback Tommy Armstrong, an offensive line that changes from week to week due to injuries, plus senior WR Jordan Westerkamp, senior TE Cethan Carter are still out with injuries.
Nebraska talks often about how it still needs to put together four full quarters, but maybe this is a game to put together three really good quarters to rest the starters in the last one.
Nebraska might get the opportunity to get up big early and rest its starters in the fourth, or at least halfway through the fourth, which would be huge for Wisconsin next weekend.
It’s doubtful Nebraska will say that’s a plan, but it’s hard to not picture something like that being on the minds of the coaches, considering No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 2 Ohio State are both looming after this week.
Speaking of …
4. How large does Wisconsin loom?
Purdue isn’t a trap game. They’re not a sneaky good team like Indiana.
But the vindication Nebraska wants in terms of being taken seriously for the College Football Playoff and respect it wants nationally sits with Wisconsin in two weeks. And though teams will not talk about games besides the next one up, Wisconsin has to be somewhere in Nebraska’s mind, particularly considering the implications of that game.
So how much focus will Nebraska have on Purdue, and will it also have one eye on Wisconsin?
5. The Bo Pelini question
Yes. That guy, again.
There are rumblings that former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini is interested in the now-vacant Purdue job.
If that is true, think about how massive that would be if Purdue were to hire him.
Not only would Pelini be back in the Big Ten, he’d be back in the Big Ten West. He’d play Nebraska every year.
Can you imagine? With how he left Nebraska and the conflicted relationship he had with fans during his time in Lincoln, that would have a big reaction.
I’m not sure we’ll hear anything on the direction Purdue will take this week, but if Pelini eventually gets the job it would be something to watch for the next few years.