The Minnesota Golden Gophers will be their undefeated record on the line this weekend when they welcome the Nebraska Cornhuskers to town for a Big Ten rivalry game. Kickoff is set for 7:30 EST on Saturday, October 12 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Fans can watch the game on FS1.
If we check our Week 7 college football odds, the Gophers are 7.5-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 50.5 points.
Most casual college football fans may not even realize that Minnesota is 5-0. It’s probably because outside of last week’s 40-17 win over Illinois, all of Minnesota’s wins have come by a touchdown or less, knocking off the likes of Fresno State, Georgia Southern, and Purdue. Starting the season 5-0 hasn’t even been enough to put the Gophers in the top-25.
Nevertheless, the Golden Gophers need just one more win to assure themselves of a bowl bid for the second straight year. Minnesota also has a chance to be a serious competitor in the Big Ten West division if they can remain unbeaten. Eventually, Minnesota’s schedule will get a lot more difficult, as three of their four games in November are against ranked teams. However, the Golden Gophers will likely be favored in their three remaining October games, giving them a chance to stay undefeated and maybe start to draw some attention nationally.
Nebraska, meanwhile, is also hoping to reach a bowl game and make some noise in the Big Ten West division. The Cornhuskers got blown out by Ohio State a couple of weeks ago but bounced back with a win over Northwestern last week. They currently sit at 4-2 overall and 2-1 inside the Big Ten.
Of course, a second conference loss will likely take them out of contention inside the Big Ten West. Nebraska also faces a difficult November schedule that includes two games against ranked teams and two potentially tricky road games. If Scott Frost’s team can get a road win in Minnesota, it’ll give their bowl hopes a huge lift and give them a nice confidence boost heading into next week’s bye.
On top of that, there’s also an unofficial trophy called the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy on the line in this game. That may sound like a joke, but it’s a real trophy the teams started playing for in 2014. Since these teams started playing on a yearly basis when Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, the Cornhuskers have won five of the eight meetings. However, the Golden Gophers held serve on their home field two years ago.
I’m as surprised as the rest of the country to be looking up the second week of October and seeing Minnesota at 5-0. Despite winning all five games, the Golden Gophers have just one win by greater than a touchdown, which came last week against perennial Big Ten basement dweller Illinois. That’s why I was surprised to see the line at 7.5 points. Of course, that makes it easy to lean toward Nebraska and the points, figuring that if Minnesota wins again, it’ll be another close game.
Honestly, I’m surprised that the line is over a touchdown. I’d almost take Nebraska in a straight-up PK with the way the Cornhuskers can score points. In fairness, they’ve been held to just 20 total points over the last two weeks. But one of those games was against Ohio State and the other was against Northwestern, who has one of the best defenses in the Big Ten despite a poor record. I don’t think Adrian Martinez will stay down for long. His confidence may be down, but he’s too good to be shut down three straight weeks.
Moreover, the Minnesota defense hasn’t been anything special this season. They’ve given up over 30 points in three of their four games against FBS opponents. To be fair, 14 of the 17 points they gave up against Illinois came from the Illini defense, so the Minnesota defense only gave up a field goal. But I’m not going to overreact to that performance. Facing the Nebraska offense will be far more difficult and I think the Cornhuskers will move the ball consistently against the Minnesota defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Minnesota offense isn’t set up to pull away from teams and win by comfortable margins, which is why they haven’t done so outside of the Illinois game. Quarterback Tanner Morgan is averaging just 250 passing yards per game. He’s also been sacked at least four times in every game against an FBS opponent before last week. The Gophers are more comfortable pounding the ball on the ground with running back Rodney Smith. To be fair, Smith has been great in the two Big Ten games. But run-heavy teams aren’t always going to put a lot of points on the board and gain separation from their opponents.
In the end, I can’t get past the fact that most of Minnesota’s wins were close games. Plus, their best win came against a Purdue team playing without their starting quarterback and best wide receiver. There’s no doubt that Nebraska will be the toughest team the Gophers have faced this year. I’m just not comfortable eating more than a touchdown, so I’ll take the Cornhuskers and the points.