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Wisconsin football 2020 opponent preview: Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue was extremely young last year. Does another year of development give them a chance against the Badgers in 2020?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Purdue at Wisconsin Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While the Big Ten football season should be a month old by now, we are still stuck in neutral waiting to kickoff. The Wisconsin Badgers and the rest of the conference don’t get going until October 24, but we can’t really wait that long to start talking about football. It is time to start previewing Wisconsin’s opponents now!

The Badgers will play eight games in the regular season, all six division opponents and two cross-division opponents, and then a ninth game on B1G Championship Sunday against their place-doppelgänger from the East.

Let’s keep our preview rolling with the big drum smackers...Purdue.

Team name: Purdue Boilermakers

Location, stadium: West Lafayette, Ind., Ross-Ade Stadium

Head coach (years with team): Jeff Brohm (fourth year at Purdue)

Coordinators (years with team): Brian Brohm (fourth year as co-offensive coordinator), JaMarcus Shephard (third year as co-offensive coordinator, fourth season as wide receivers coach), Bob Diaco (first season as defensive coordinator)

2019 record, place in division: 4-8 overall (3-6 in Big Ten), No. 5 in West

2019 result vs. Wisconsin: L (45-21)

2020 game date vs. Wisconsin: Saturday, November 7, Camp Randall Stadium, Madison.

Illinois v Purdue Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Three key departing players: tight end Brycen Hopkins (870 yards receiving and seven touchdowns), linebacker Markus Bailey (drafted by the Bengals after missing most of 2019), linebacker Ben Holt (114 tackles, six tackles for loss).

Three key returning players: wide receiver Rondale Moore (387 receiving yards in only four games), wide receiver David Bell (1035 receiving yards and seven touchdowns), defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal (missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL).

Overview of team: Purdue was absolutely crushed by injuries last season. The Boilermakers were forced to turn to a lot of freshman in order to stay afloat. While the overall record was a step down compared to 2018 as a result, many underclassmen were able to gain valuable experience heading into 2020.

The Boilermakers received huge news with the return of wide receiver and special teams ace Rondale Moore. One of the more explosive players in the conference, he should see the ball plenty this year. After missing most of last season due to injury, the combination of he and fellow wideout David Bell should be one of the better receiving combos in the entire Big Ten.

Jeff Brohm likes to be very creative in his offensive play calling, but the strength of the team is definitely the pass catching threats. Redshirt senior Jared Sparks and Jackson Athrop, as well as freshman Maliq Carr round out a pretty impressive wide receiver room. If Purdue can figure out the offensive line and a quarterback can emerge they should have a solid offense that is built around that core of receivers.

Here’s what Travis Miller from Hammer and Rails had to say about the Boilermakers heading into 2020:

Purdue was an extremely young team last year and had to play a lot of freshmen because of injuries. I believe at one point freshmen scored something like 17 straight touchdowns. We were also starting freshmen at QB, RB, WR, S, CB, and more. I feel this is a year of maturation. Our 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes were the best they have been in years and they will form a base for what I think is a real breakthrough in 2021.

Defensively is where the greatest question marks remain for Purdue though. Last season the Boilermakers ranked No. 87 in total defense, surrendering a smidgen over 30 points per game. New defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has seemingly bounced from job to job the past few seasons since his stint as the UConn head coach. Can he recapture the magic he had as DC at Notre Dame?

The return of Lorenzo Neal to fortify the interior of the Purdue defensive line should greatly help against the run, as the Boilermakers gave up 4.7 yards per carry a year ago. Stud defensive end George Karlaftis is another key player along the defensive line, and his presence as a pass rusher will be huge.

Overall though, Purdue will need to replace some linebackers, and will need to be better in the secondary if they want to bounce back to where they were in 2017 and 2018 seasons where they were bowl bound.

Prediction for 2020 game vs. Wisconsin: Home field advantage should not matter nearly as much this year with a lack of fans, but the Badgers have a crowd of talented players in the secondary to stick with Purdue’s stellar wide receivers. Assuming Wisconsin comes out firing and is not looking ahead to Michigan, I see Bucky winning 41-24.