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Monday, December 26, 2011
Little Caesars Bowl: Purdue vs. W. Michigan

By Brian Bennett

Big Ten bowl season kicks off Tuesday night as Purdue faces Western Michigan in the first of 10 bowl games for the league. Here's a quick preview of the Little Caesars Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit:

WHO TO WATCH: Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen. The Boilermakers are a little light on star power, but Allen is one of the best cover corners in the Big Ten, with a knack for making the big play. The sophomore will be matched up frequently against Western Michigan star Jordan White, who led the nation with 127 catches and 1,646 receiving yards (along with 16 touchdowns) this season. White is likely to get his yards -- he had at least 98 receiving yards in all but two games this season -- but Allen will need to at least make him work for it and try to keep him out of the end zone. Allen also had three interceptions this season, and turnovers could be big in what looks like a close game.

WHAT TO WATCH: Purdue's running game. Leading rusher Ralph Bolden suffered a torn ACL in the season finale against Indiana, so the team's two Akeems -- Akeem Shavers and freshman Akeem Hunt -- will have to come through. Both have had their moments this season, and Hunt averaged 8.6 yards per carry in limited duty. Starting quarterback Caleb TerBush can also take off and run. The Boilermakers don't own an explosive downfield passing game, but they might not need one against a Western Michigan team that allowed 216 rushing yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry this season. The Broncos faced and lost to two other Big Ten teams this season: Michigan ran for 190 yards (at 7.3 yards per carry) in less than three full quarters of a weather-shortened game, while Illinois produced two 100-yard rushers while rolling up 296 on the ground.

WHY TO WATCH: This is Purdue's first bowl game since 2007. The fan base has been slow to accept third-year coach Danny Hope, but the school showed faith by extending his contract last week. The Boilers failed to win back-to-back games all season and need a good bowl performance to build some momentum in the program. But how focused is the team? Three players have been arrested and another suspended since the end of the season, and receiver O.J. Ross and linebacker Dwayne Beckford won't play in the game. The Big Ten has some difficult matchups this bowl season, and the league could use a victory over a MAC opponent to get things started.

PREDICTION: Purdue 34, Western Michigan 33. The Broncos' dynamic passing game with White and quarterback Alex Carder will cause some problems for Purdue, which needs defensive tackle Kawann Short to disrupt things in the middle. The Boilermakers could have a tough time if they fall behind early. But Western Michigan struggles mightily against the run, something Purdue ought to be able to exploit all game even without Bolden. I see this one going down to the wire, with perhaps a key special-teams play deciding it.