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Minnesota's chances in the Big Ten West race could be increased or squashed against the 19th-ranked Hawkeyes on Saturday at what will be a sold-out Kinnick Stadium. 

Win, and the Gophers enter the final two weeks of the regular season at least tied for the division lead. Lose and they will be a game behind with two weeks to go, putting their chances of playing in the Big Ten Championship game on life support. 

Considering the crazy fact that P.J. Fleck's Gophers have never held a lead against the Hawkeyes, going into Iowa City and winning against a team that was ranked No. 2 in the country just three weeks ago seems nearly impossible, especially after the egg the Gophers laid at home against Illinois last weekend. 

The numbers say the Hawkeyes will win. They are a 4.5-point favorite playing at home and facing quarterback in Tanner Morgan who has lobbed up some ugly passes this season, which he cannot afford to do against one of the best defensive teams in the country. 

Iowa is No. 1 in the country in turnover margin, having forced 23 this season, including 19 interceptions. And the Hawkeyes are getting defensive back Riley Moss back from injury. Moss, who has four career interceptions against the Gophers, didn't play in each of the last three games for Iowa. 

More concerning for the Gophers is that their bread and butter of running ball will face its stiffest challenge this season. Iowa is one of nine teams in the FBS allowing fewer than 100 yards on the ground, ranking 8th nationally (Wisconsin is No. 1, by the way). 

The good news for Minnesota is that they are going up against a backup quarterback. Iowa starting QB Spencer Petras is out with a shoulder injury, so backup Alex Padilla will start. Padilla entered the game for Petras last week and completed 18 of 28 passes for 172 yards against Northwestern. 

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But this is the same Iowa offense that scored 14 points in 25 possessions during their two-game skid against Purdue and Wisconsin before ending the losing streak against Northwestern, which is good reason – combined with Minnesota's struggles to throw the ball – why Vegas oddsmakers have put the expected points total at a 37.5. 

The Gophers are going to have to rely on the defense to win Saturday, in addition to squeezing out some points with an inconsistent offense against one of the top defenses in the their house. 

Again, win and all eyes are still on the Big Ten West title. Lose and it's probably another date with a mediocre bowl game. 

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