WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Tenth-ranked Wisconsin goes into Saturday's game at No. 5 Purdue with a score to settle.
Last year, then-No. 13 Purdue went into Camp Randall and squeaked out a 26-23 win over then-No. 14 Wisconsin, sending the Badgers into a tailspin.
This time, Purdue (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) hosts Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0), with the winner getting an early leg up in the race for the conference title.
If last year's meeting is any indication, the rest of the season could hinge on the outcome.
Quarterback Kyle Orton, perhaps the early front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, played a big part in the win that helped the Boilermakers to a New Year's Day bowl game.
Orton was 38-of-55 for 411 yards and a touchdown and led an 82-yard drive in the final 3 minutes of the game that culminated with Ben Jones' winning field goal.
The Badgers came in 5-1, but the loss sent them into a downward spiral in which they lost four of their last five games.
Orton would be only too happy to see that happen again.
''I'd love to throw it quite a few times,'' said Orton, who has thrown for 1,642 yards, a nation-leading 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions this season.
This time, however, the Badgers have a much stingier defense, allowing just 6.5 points a game, tied for tops in the nation.
The players don't have to be told it's a big game.
''These guys are college students,'' Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. ''I think they're smart enough to figure out that it's two rated teams playing and whoever wins is going to stay undefeated in the league. And the longer you win, the more important the game gets, the more that's at stake there.''
The coaches are doing all they can to keep the players focused.
''We've almost tried to ignore it, but we haven't ignored it (because it would be) almost impossible to do,'' Purdue coach Joe Tiller said.
Tiller is trying to maintain his team's routine. But ignoring the hype might be easier said than done for Purdue, which hasn't been ranked this high in 25 years.
Besides their best start since 1945, the Boilermakers have their first legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate since Drew Brees in 2000.
''This is a big game for the school and for the athletic program at Purdue,'' tight end Charles Davis said. ''We have to eliminate all of those distractions, and we have to remember why we are 5-0 and why we are ranked so high because we work to win the game from Tuesday until Friday.''
The Badgers will bring a defensive line comprised of what Tiller dubbed as four NFL first-rounders, including Erasmus James and Anttaj Hawthorne.
These teams were supposed to finish the regular season in a Big 12 title game rematch at Arrowhead Stadium.
That game would have had it all: the revenge factor, national title implications and two Heisman contenders in Oklahoma quarterback Jason White last year's winner and Kansas State running back Darren Sproles.
Barring a second straight spectacular comeback by the Wildcats, that's probably not going to happen. Much of the shine is off the regular-season meeting, too.
Going into Saturday's game in Manhattan, Kan., the second-ranked Sooners (5-0) have lived up to expectations. The Wildcats, who started the season ranked 13th and made it as high as No. 12, haven't.
Kansas State, the defending conference champion and preseason Big 12 North favorite, is 2-3 and coming off its first loss to Kansas in 12 years. Three more losses and the Wildcats could miss the postseason for the first time since 1992.
''We can't focus on the postseason right now,'' Kansas State quarterback Dylan Meier said. ''There's too much to worry about with Oklahoma.''
Florida State's running back tandem of Lorenzo Booker and Leon Washington will be countered Saturday by a similar setup used by sixth-ranked Virginia (5-0), which has a trio. Tailbacks Wali Lundy, Alvin Pearman and Michael Johnson have totaled 1,024 yards with Lundy getting about half the carries.
Florida State's twosome splits the load equally. Booker has 75 carries to Washington's 69.
''It's one of those things where we've got a back come in and we're not losing a beat,'' Washington said. ''We complement each other well.''
The seventh-ranked Seminoles (4-1) have not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn did it three straight years between 1994-96. It's possible Florida State could have two this season.
Washington has 541 yards and Booker 371 through five games, an average of nearly 182.4 yards a game for the duo. Washington's 7.8 per carry average is the best in the nation with backs who have more than 500 yards.
Peninsula Clarion ©2015. All Rights Reserved.