NCAAF Vegas Game Preview & Free Pick: Northwestern vs Minnesota

The no. 10 Minnesota Golden Gophers will try to bounce back from their first loss of the season this week when they hit the road to face the Northwestern Wildcats. Kickoff is set for noon EST on Saturday, November 23 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. The game will be nationally televised on ABC.

Current odds list the Golden Gophers as 13.5-point favorites on the road. The over/under for the game is set at 39.5 points. Click here to check out a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.

Northwestern vs Minnesota Vegas Game Odds & Betting Predictions

Minnesota’s undefeated run came to a crashing halt last week in Iowa. The Gophers made a valiant comeback attempt after falling behind 20-3, only to come up a little short in a 23-19 loss. P.J. Fleck’s team had some uncharacteristic errors that ultimately cost them despite out-gaining Iowa by over 100 yards.

Of course, while an undefeated season is no longer possible and a spot in the College Football Playoff is unlikely, the Gophers still have a lot to play for in 2019. Next week’s home game with Wisconsin is likely to decide the winner of the Big Ten West Division and determine what team plays in the conference championship game. With that in mind, it’s important for Minnesota to bounce back this week and regain any confidence they lost after last week’s loss.

Meanwhile, Northwestern is coming off a win for just the second time this season. The Wildcats took care of business against UMass last week, winning 45-6. The win snapped a 7-game losing streak for Northwestern, who now sits at 2-8 on the season and knows they won’t be going to a bowl game this season.

That being said, Northwestern’s performance in their last two games hasn’t been that of a team with no postseason hope. The Wildcats nearly knocked off Purdue a couple of weeks ago and had no problem dismantling UMass last week. Surely, Northwestern would prefer not to go through the season winless in conference play, so they should have plenty of motivation when they welcome the Gophers to town.

The Wildcats have also had plenty of success against the Gophers in recent years. Northwestern has won seven of their last 11 head-to-head meetings with Minnesota. That includes a 24-14 win last season and a 39-0 blowout the last time the Gophers visited Evanston. 

Free NCAAF Betting Prediction: Minnesota -13.5

This game comes with the caveat of Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan not yet being cleared from the concussion protocol. However, whether Morgan plays or not, I’m willing to lay down the points. Minnesota has beaten most of the teams in the bottom half of the Big Ten by a sizable margin. I don’t think Northwestern will be any different. Coming off a loss, the Gophers won’t be looking ahead to next week’s game with Wisconsin, which should allow Minnesota to be at their best and win by at least two touchdowns.

For what it’s worth, the Gophers have a total of three pass attempts this season thrown by someone other than Morgan. It’s certainly a concern if he doesn’t play. However, the Gophers have a top-notch receiving duo on Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson, who should make life easy for backups Jacob Clark and Cole Kramer. The Gophers haven’t shared what young quarterback will start if Morgan is ruled out, so Northwestern will have to prepare for both.

Even if the Gophers can’t trust their passing attack, running back Rodney Smith should be able to take on more responsibility within the offense. Both Penn State and Iowa did a nice job of containing him. But doing so is easier said than done, even for a Northwestern defense that’s been tough against the run most of the season. Backup Mohamed Ibrahim has also been a viable option coming out of the backfield this season.

Meanwhile, the Northwestern offense is the real problem when it comes to the Wildcats keeping this game close. Nobody should be fooled by the 45 points the Wildcats scored last week against 1-10 UMass. Even the 22 points they scored the previous week against Purdue is an aberration. Northwestern is averaging just nine points per game against Big Ten teams this season, as the NU offense has been nothing short of a disaster.

I’m not banking on the Wildcats doing much against the Minnesota defense. To be fair, the Gophers had some issues defensively during the first half of the season. But they’ve been able to shut down their weaker Big Ten opponents. Even Penn State and Iowa didn’t move the ball with much consistency against the Minnesota defense. I also think the Gophers will be able to create takeaways against a Northwestern team that turned it over three times last week against UMass.

Obviously, betters should be a little more careful with this game if Morgan doesn’t play. However, the Golden Gophers are far from a one-man team. Even with an experienced quarterback being pressed into duty, Minnesota shouldn’t need to score that many points to cover two touchdowns against a Northwestern team that’s been atrocious offensively all year. This isn’t a slam dunk, but I still feel safe taking Minnesota to cover.

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