MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – No. 13 Minnesota has not started a season 9-0 in 115 years, and it would need to knock off fellow unbeaten and fifth-ranked Penn State in a mammoth Big Ten matchup Saturday at home to achieve that goal. "This is what college football is all about," Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck told reporters. "You've got two 8-0 football teams, two top-13 teams playing at TCF Bank Stadium ... this is what it's all about."
TV: Noon ET, ABC. LINE: Penn State -7
Fleck's squad is 8-0 for the first time since 1941 after routing Maryland 52-10 two Saturdays ago and it owns a two-game lead in the Big Ten West. The Nittany Lions are the first ranked opponent to appear on Minnesota's schedule and they are looking to go 9-0 for the first time since 2008. Penn State, which entered the first College Football Playoff rankings at fourth, also had a week off after a 28-7 win at Michigan State and it enters this one tied with Ohio State atop the Big Ten East, although an upcoming matchup with the Buckeyes won't mean as much if the Lions cannot solve the improving Gophers. "As the year has got on, like good programs and coaches do, they keep getting better," Penn State coach James Franklin told reporters of Minnesota. "They just keep getting better. They know how to win."
ABOUT PENN STATE (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten)
Sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford is second in the Big Ten in passing yards (1,931) and touchdowns (20), four of which came in the win over the Spartans. Freshman Noah Cain leads a fleet of running backs with 350 yards on the ground and six scores, and Franklin indicated Cain should be good to go after suffering an apparent injury versus Michigan State. The nation’s second-ranked scoring defense (9.6 points allowed per game) continues to be led by sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons with 57 tackles, while defensive ends Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney both have a team-high 5.5 sacks.
ABOUT MINNESOTA (8-0, 5-0)
Senior Rodney Smith has rushed for at least 100 yards in all five Big Ten games and boasts six touchdowns in that span for the league’s third-ranked ground game (204.5 yards per game). He led an attack that had possession for over 42 minutes in the rout of Maryland and kept things relatively easy for sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan, who leads the Big Ten with 10.2 yards per completion. Sophomore Rashod Bateman (644 receiving yards, six TDs) and senior Tyler Johnson (626, seven) are the top receivers in that big-play passing game.
1. Golden Gophers sophomore defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. is tied for second among FBS players with five interceptions - three over the last two games.
2. Nittany Lions WR KJ Hamler sits just behind Bateman and Johnson with 620 receiving yards and is tied atop the Big Ten with eight receiving TDs.
3. Penn State owns a 9-5 series advantage, winning the last meeting in 2016 on an overtime TD run by Saquon Barkley.
PREDICTION: Penn State 28, Minnesota 21