The Penn State Nittany Lions and Minnesota Golden Gophers will meet up for a Big Ten showdown of undefeated teams Saturday. Both teams have started this season 8-0. Penn State is battling the Ohio State Buckeyes for the top spot in the Big Ten East, with both teams coming into this weekend with 5-0 conference marks. Minnesota currently has a two-game lead in the Big Ten West race, ahead of both Wisconsin and Iowa.
This week the NCAA released its first look at its ranking for this year’s College Football Playoff, naming Penn State the No. 4 team in the nation and adding pressure to every game they play. The Golden Gophers are off to their best start since 1941 and are currently ranked 17th in the country.
A Lot To Play For
Penn State is now in the mix to make the College Football Playoff for the first time since the NCAA introduced the playoff format for college football. They are in a very tough conference with Ohio State and Minnesota still undefeated. They need to avoid an upset here against a very good Gophers team to hold their No. 4 spot.
Penn State is favored by 6.5 points in this game, but the Minnesota defense could cause problems for the Nittany Lions if they are not careful. Penn State is averaging 38.5 points per game right now with 422 yards of offense. They should be able to push the tempo against the Gophers in this game and get them uncomfortable early.
On defense, the Nittany Lions are allowing an incredible 9.6 points per game with just 280 yards of offense. They have played tough-nosed Big Ten defense all year long even against teams like Michigan and Iowa, where they only gave up 33 points in both games combined. Minnesota has been successful, but it doesn’t have the resume Penn State does, and it has not played a defense of its caliber either.
Leading Penn State on offense has been their sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford. With 1,931 yards, 20 touchdowns, and three interceptions this year, Clifford has been great for the Lions. He also has four touchdowns and zero interceptions against top-25 teams this year.
The Gophers are off to a historic start for their program, going 8-0 for the first time since 1941. If they can pull off a big upset in this game over the No. 4 team in the country, it will lift Minnesota to the middle of the national spotlight.
While they are happy with their season so far, this will be their first game against a ranked opponent. They will take on three ranked teams over the next four weeks, and if they can continue their winning streak against those teams, they could be in the fight for the top of the Big Ten West.
Minnesota is averaging 38.4 points a game this season while allowing just 20. They are almost even with Penn State in terms of yards, posting 429 per game while allowing 283.8. The big difference between these two teams is who they have played so far, as Penn State will be the toughest opponent the Gophers have played this season. But you can only play who is on your schedule, and they have handled everyone so far.
The Gophers’ biggest weapon on offense so far this season has been senior running back Rodney Smith. Smith has 154 carries for 889 yards and seven touchdowns this season. If Smith can get the chains moving against this tough Penn State defense, it will gives the Gophers a chance to keep this game close and keep the Lions’ offense off the field.
What To Expect
While I love the Gophers’ remarkable story so far this season, and they do have the advantage of playing this game at home, I just do not see enough evidence on their schedule to suggest they can hang with this caliber of team. They have not played a ranked team this season, and it took them double overtime to beat Fresno State. I like Penn State to win this by more than 6.5.