Whatever happens next for Purdue seems like a bonus to what has been accomplished this season, as the Boilermakers have won 8 games, the conference’s West Division crown, a trip to Indianapolis for the title game and likely a bowl destination to a warm-weather locale.

If it can find a way to upset heavily favored, undefeated and 2nd-ranked Michigan on Saturday night in Lucas Oil Stadium, that’d be great for a program that is on the rise. But it’d be a monumental upset. The Wolverines are 16.5-point favorites, and not only that, the West hasn’t beaten the East in 8 previous chances. And Purdue, at 8-4 overall, is the only unranked team to ever play in the event.

But Purdue has historically — and recently — been a great underdog, so it’ll have a chance. Here are the 5 reasons why the Boilermakers will win:

AOC will be ready

Quarterback Aidan O’Connell and the Boilermakers’ vertical passing game will give Purdue a puncher’s chance.

And that’s all it’s asking for.

While the Boilermakers’ passing attack hasn’t been as deadly as it was a season ago — mainly because it doesn’t have the same weapons without David Bell or Milton Wright — it still has the potential to explode. Purdue ranks 2nd in the Big Ten in passing, averaging 280.7 yards per game, and it has enough playmakers, mainly receiver Charlie Jones and tight end Payne Durham, along with running back Devin Mockobee, who is a skilled pass-catcher, to get the ball down the field. Coach Jeff Brohm might have to scheme the Boilermakers into advantageous situations, but he’s proven to be able to do so.

O’Connell has endured an almost unspeakably tragic week, with the unexpected death of his older brother, Sean, last week, a few days before he led the Boilermakers to a win at Indiana. O’Connell, a 6th-year senior, has been away from the team early this week, as he and his family deal with the aftermath of the death.

But he’ll be back soon and have at least a couple days prep before Michigan. He’ll be ready. The quarterback has had a knack for big-game performances, like vs. Tennessee in the Music City Bowl last season, and a flair for the dramatic, with a school-record 5 4th-quarter comebacks during his career. There will be no bigger stage than Saturday.

No pressure

Purdue has nothing to lose.

The Boilermakers have already accomplished a ton this season, having won 8 regular-season games and the West Division title outright. What more could you ask for? If Purdue gets beaten by a couple touchdowns on Saturday night, no one will think any differently of the Boilermakers. It would be the expectation.

But if Michigan falls, then what happens? General consensus is that the Wolverines, who are No. 2 in the latest CFP rankings, will maintain a Playoff spot even if they lose on Saturday. But does UM really want to leave the door even slightly ajar and tempt the committee into leaving them on the outside? Unlikely. Michigan has the pressure to win and leave behind any doubt about whether it’ll be in the Playoff in a few weeks.

Purdue? It can play loose, free and without a care, and that can make it a dangerous team.

Been there, done that

Purdue shouldn’t be intimidated by the Wolverines’ status.

Last season, the Boilermakers beat then-No. 2 Iowa in Iowa City, then a few weeks later upended No. 3 Michigan State in Ross-Ade Stadium. Add a victory over No. 2 Ohio State in 2018, and Purdue is 3-0 vs. top-3 teams during the Brohm Era. Yes, Michigan is an excellent team, and probably the most well-balanced opponent the Boilermakers will have faced, either this season or last. But Purdue has to beat the Wolverines only once, on Saturday, and it’s shown an ability to rise to the occasion in the past.

Purdue is 6-3 as an underdog in games away from Ross-Ade Stadium in the last 9 such games over the last 2 seasons.

Not indestructible?

Maybe Illinois gave Purdue a pathway with its performance a couple weeks ago in Ann Arbor.

The Fighting Illini, who were coming off a loss to the Boilermakers, very nearly pulled off the upset, losing 19-17 to the Wolverines. Had it not been for a couple calls that went against Illinois, the underdog might have won. But perhaps it showed UM vulnerability, too. The Fighting Illini were great defensively, holding Michigan to its lowest point total of the season, and had balance on offense.

If Purdue can get Mockobee established, similar to Chase Brown’s performance vs. the UM defense (140 yards on 29 carries, with 2 TDs), then it can try to hit on big plays in the passing game while also keeping the Wolverines’ pass rush slowed down. Those objectives would keep the Boilermakers in the game in the 4th quarter. Illinois led 17-10 in the 4th in The Big House before being outscored 9-0.

Banged up Wolverines?

Look, there’s little doubt Purdue might need to catch a break somewhere.

Maybe it happens on the field, like a special teams or defensive score that evens the playing field. Or perhaps Michigan’s injury issues in the backfield crop up again, helping to limit the Wolverines’ offensive output. No. 1 running back Blake Corum played only 3 snaps vs. Ohio State Saturday after injuring his left leg in the 2nd half against Illinois the week before. It left the door open for Donovan Edwards, who himself had missed the 2 previous games with a hand injury, to step in. And Edwards delivered, rushing for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns vs. the Buckeyes, including late scoring runs of 75 and 85 yards. Edwards appears healthier now, while Corum is still a question.

Purdue’s rushing defense has been in the middle of the Big Ten statistically this season (allowing 128.8 yards per game), but the Boilermakers can step up to slow the 2 Wolverines down, at least to keep them from gigantic plays. It’ll be a big key to a victory.