This week’s college football schedule is highlighted by an unexpected matchup of undefeated teams as the no. 17 Minnesota Golden Gophers play host to the no. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions. Kickoff is at noon EST on Saturday, November 9 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The game will be televised nationally on ABC.
Oddsmakers list the Nittany Lions as 6.5-point road favorites. The game also has an over/under of 47.5 points. Click here to check out a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
The Golden Gophers have had an incredible and unexpected journey to being 8-0 at this point in the season. It’s almost been a tale of two seasons for them. Each of Minnesota’s first four wins came by a touchdown or less, including close calls with Fresno State and Georgia Southern. The Golden Gophers didn’t hit their stride until they began Big Ten play, scoring convincing wins over Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland.
Of course, the Golden Gophers are lacking marquee wins, which is something they’ll be able to change with games against Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin left on their schedule. As it stands, Minnesota has a two-game lead in the Big Ten West division over both Iowa and Wisconsin. Even if they don’t remain undefeated, the Golden Gophers have a great chance to reach the Big Ten Championship Game.
Penn State, meanwhile, is 8-0 after facing a more challenging schedule than Minnesota. Prior to last week’s bye, the Nittany Lions knocked off Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State in consecutive weeks, winning two of those three games on the road. Those wins have Penn State in the mix for a spot in the College Football Playoff if they can keep winning.
Win or lose on Saturday, Penn State’s Big Ten title chances will likely come down to a showdown with Ohio State in a few weeks. But if the Nittany Lions want to stay in the CFP discussion, they need to remain undefeated, making this another must-win game for Penn State.
Despite playing in different divisions, Penn State and Minnesota are considered rivals who play for the Governor’s Victory Bell trophy every time they meet. The Nittany Lions own the all-time series and have won five of their last six head-to-head meetings with Minnesota. However, the Golden Gophers were victorious the last time they hosted Penn State in 2013.
As much as I respect what Minnesota has accomplished this year, I think the buck stops here. The Golden Gophers have managed to beat a lot of average and below-average teams, but they simply haven’t faced a team anywhere close to the Penn State’s level. I can’t say for sure if Minnesota will be ready, which is why I’ll eat the points and lean toward battle-tested Penn State to cover the 6.5-point spread.
Again, I’ll give the Golden Gophers all of the credit in the world for averaging over 41 points per game in their five Big Ten games. Running back Rodney Smith has been outstanding and Tanner Morgan has done more than his fair share to help keep the Minnesota offense rolling. But they’ve done it against some of the worst teams in the Big Ten. That’s tough to overlook.
Meanwhile, there’s a strong argument that Penn State has the best defense in the Big Ten. Michigan is the only team to score more than 13 points against the Nittany Lions this year, and even the Wolverines only managed 21 points. Penn State has consistently shut down the run this season while also applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks with a dominant front-7. I’m not sure if Minnesota can continue to have success running the ball against the PSU front-7. If they can’t, I’m not sure Morgan can do it himself. His performances during Big Ten play have been a little unconvincing.
On the other side of the ball, the Minnesota defense looks great on paper. They had some issues in September, but they are allowing just over 10 points per game over their last four wins. However, the level of competition they’ve faced during that time has to be called into question. There’s no way of knowing if the Golden Gophers are prepared to face a legitimate top-10.
Admittedly, the Nittany Lions don’t have the most dynamic offense in the Big Ten. But quarterback Sean Clifford has grown on me over the course of the season. He gives defenses a lot of headaches because of what he can do with his legs. Plus, Penn State has faced quality defenses in recent weeks against Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State. Clifford has eight touchdown passes and just one interception in those three games. Even if the Minnesota defense is for real, Clifford will be well-prepared to face them.
All things considered, I can’t say with certainty that Minnesota is ready for a game like this. On the other hand, the Nittany Lions have won on the road against good teams, and with Minnesota being undefeated, Penn State isn’t going to take them lightly. There’s at least a chance that the Golden Gophers won’t be able to run the ball or play top-notch defense the way they have for the past month, which is why I feel more comfortable taking Penn State to win and cover on the road.