WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The stakes for the Purdue-Michigan State football game resemble those of a pre-tournament basketball game between two teams on the bubble.
Purdue (4-6, 3-3 Big Ten) must win to remain in contention for a bowl game. Michigan State (5-5, 3-3) can become bowl eligible with a win, and this week's matchup, at least statistically, looks better than next week's home game against Penn State.
November madness, indeed.
"It's a playoff-type situation, I guess you would say, for both football teams," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "When it gets like that, you know, you get to a point probably where sometimes I guess you take chances. You have an opportunity, there's risk there obviously, but you're in a situation where you've got to win. So I think it's similar for both football teams."
Purdue coach Danny Hope is glad to be even talking about a bowl game. The Boilermakers went 4-8 last year, then started this season 1-5.
Now, Purdue has won three of four, including victories over Ohio State and Michigan.
"I'm so very, very proud of our football team to be in this position," Hope said. "If we don't make many mistakes and play hard for 60 minutes, we can play with anybody, and we felt that way all season long."
Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott said the team is working overtime, knowing that postseason play is within reach. It will be Senior Day for the Boilermakers, who hope to win and make next week's game at Indiana more important than usual.
"That's good motivation for practice and extra work outside of just practice, going in to watch extra film because you know what's on the line," Elliott said.
Elliott said the non-conference schedule, which included games against Notre Dame and Oregon, helped the team prepare for Big Ten play. He feels the Boilermakers can silence some critics with a strong finish.
"Our Big Ten record hasn't been the greatest since I've been here," Elliott said. "Everybody always talks about how we've padded our schedules early. We think we can compete with the Big Ten."
Both teams could argue that their records don't tell the whole story. Purdue won its opener against Toledo before losing its next five games by a combined 33 points. Michigan State's five losses have come by a combined 23 points, none by more than eight.
Dantonio said he likes the way his team has continued to fight after tough losses.
"We've never lost ourselves, come back the next game and bombed," he said. "We've always found a way to come out focused, enthusiastic, ready to play. We've always basically fought into the fourth quarter with the football team, win or lose."
The game could come down to two of the Big Ten's most productive quarterbacks.
Elliott leads the conference with 2,448 yards passing, and has added 257 yards rushing. He was the Big Ten's offensive player of the week after passing for 367 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-36 win at Michigan, Purdue's first at Michigan Stadium since 1966.
"He gets out of the pocket, runs with the football when he has to, he makes throws, is lucid," Dantonio said. "I think they've gotten great play out of their quarterback."
Michigan State's Kirk Cousins has passed for 2,097 yards and leads the conference in passing efficiency.
"The quarterback has a great feel of what he's doing, and he's getting the ball to the right guy," Hope said. "He's not just going to one guy. He's spreading it around and makes good decisions and gets the ball out of his hand fast. Very accurate passer, and he personally doesn't make very many mistakes as far as the turnover part of it goes. He's, I think, a difference maker in their football team."
Cousins will need to avoid Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who leads the Big Ten with 11 sacks, good for seventh in the nation.
The teams also boast two of the league's top receivers. Purdue's Keith Smith leads the Big Ten with 71 catches and 863 yards. Michigan State's Blair White is among the league leaders with 58 catches for 836 yards.
Dantonio doesn't expect to see the Purdue team that lost 37-0 to Wisconsin two weeks ago. He expects to see the team that beat Ohio State and Michigan and battled Oregon and Notre Dame down to the final minutes.
"We look for them to be a great football team on Saturday, prepare for them to be at their best," he said. "That's how we'll look at them and how we will prepare for them."
Hope expects the intensity level to be high.
"It's a game that we have to win for every reason that there could possibly be," he said.