With the exception of the titanic clash between LSU and Alabama, Penn State’s trip to Minnesota on Saturday had been earmarked as the game of the week—as it features two of just seven undefeated programs left in the FBS.
The matchup, however, has taken on an even bigger dimension after the Nittany Lions debuted at No.4 in the first College Football Playoff ranking of the year, with the Golden Gophers at No.17.
Ranked fifth in both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today coaches’ polls, Penn State made the top four in the CFP for the first time in school history.
Lions coach James Franklin, however, insisted he paid little attention to the ranking.
“We are completely focused on Minnesota,” he said in his press conference on Tuesday as per USA Today.
“Preseason rankings mean nothing. Middle of the season rankings mean nothing. People will tell us at the end of the season where we are and where we’re going.”
With the Lions leading the Big Ten East along with Ohio State—which tops the CFP ranking—and Minnesota holding a two-game lead at the top of the Big Ten West, Saturday’s matchup at TCF Bank Stadium will in all likelihood have a major impact not only on both teams’ postseason hopes, but potentially on the CFP ranking as a whole.
Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck described the matchup against Penn State as “one of the biggest games in Minnesota history,” despite the fact Minnesota faces two more ranked opponents this month.
“This is what it’s all about,” he said on WCCO radio on Sunday.
“Gophers are in the hunt for the Big Ten West title race. This is what we said could happen at this point. And here we are. [… ]It’s fun to be a part of, and I want everybody to be a part of that, experience that and really help us.”
The Gophers rank 13th in both the AP and coaches’ poll and are in the midst of a historic season after getting off to an 8-0 start for the first time since 1941.
This year is also the first time since 1961 that Minnesota is 5-0 in Big Ten play and Fleck has been rewarded for his team’s performances with a new deal on Tuesday.
The 38-year-old signed a seven-year extension through the 2026 season, which will start at $4.6 million in 2020 with a $10 million buyout if he leaves after this season.
“It is a tremendous honor to lead this team and represent the University of Minnesota and this great state,” Fleck said in a statement.
“We are building a championship culture—one that our fans can be proud of.”
Minnesota has had a relatively easier schedule so far, but faces No.18 Iowa on the road next week and No.16 Wisconsin at home on November 30.
Both Penn State and Minnesota rank among the top 15 offenses in terms of points scored, but the Nittany Lions have been far tighter on the defensive side of the ball—they have the second-best scoring defense in the nation and rank eighth in total yards allowed.
That defense will be boosted by the return of cornerback John Reid who, like running back Noah Cain, is back from injury after last week’s bye.
Here’s all you need to know ahead of Saturday.
When and where is the game?
The Minnesota Golden Gophers host the Penn State Nittany Lions at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, on Saturday, November 9.
Kick-off is scheduled for 12 p.m. ET.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC.
A live stream will be available via ABC’s digital platforms.
Saturday marks the 15th time the two programs have met, with Penn State winning nine times and Minnesota prevailing on five occasions.
The Nittany Lions won the most recent meeting, defeating the Golden Gophers 29-26 at home three years ago.
According to Oddschecker, Penn State is a 6.5-point favorite and is 22/25 to cover the spread, while Minnesota is a 2/1 underdog.
The over/under line in terms of total points scored is set at 47.
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