It's game day in Minnesota and the 13th-ranked Gophers are preparing to host the fifth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions in what is far and away the biggest game to played in the 10 year history of TCF Bank Stadium.
Still, no matter where you look it's all about the Gophers being a solid team that probably isn't good enough to take down Penn State. But here are five reasons (not to mention a sold-out crowd and home-field advantage) the Gophers shouldn't be overlooked in Big Ten battle of 8-0 teams.
1. Hey, ESPN, the Gophers are good
Look at ESPN Saturday morning and you'll find a heavy dose of intimidation, with a preview of the game discussing Penn State's sixth-ranked defense (No. 1 against the run) and a quarterback (Sean Clifford), wide receiver (KJ Hammier) and tight end (Pat Freiermuth) connection that has been an unstoppable trio of late.
Hamler and Freiermuth have combined for 62 catches, 901 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Think ESPN might mention Minnesota's duo of Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman? Not a chance.
In fact, ESPN's preview simply says "Tanner Morgan throws a pretty deep ball, and he has a lot of WRs capable of running underneath them."
It just so happens that Johnson and Bateman have put up more impressive numbers – 74 catches, 1,270 yards and 13 touchdowns – then Penn State's dynamic duo.
2. Johnson and Bateman against freshmen?
With a wounded secondary, Penn State enters the game with expectations that true freshmen Keaton Ellis and Marquis Wilson will get a ton of playing time. If Minnesota's huge offensive line can give Morgan time to throw, it could be an amazing chance for Johnson and Bateman to run circles around inexperienced defensive backs.
3. Penn State down a key defensive lineman
Antonio Shelton isn't the best player on Penn State's defense, but he's a key cog on the defensive line who will miss the game due to suspension for spitting on a player two weeks ago in Penn State's win over Michigan State.
4. Minnesota's defense is also pretty good
The Gophers have played a softer schedule than Penn State so far, but that doesn't really diminish the fact that Minnesota has the ninth-ranked pass defense in the nation. Minnesota leads the Big Ten with 11 interceptions, making it one of the toughest tests for Clifford, who owns an impressive 20:3 touchdown to interception ratio.
5. Penn State's schedule really all that difficult?
There's a lot of talk about Minnesota playing a weak schedule, but has Penn State really been challenged by the best teams on a weekly basis? Take a look, it's not as impressive as some of the national media have made it seem.
Penn State beat Idaho, Buffalo and Pittsburgh in the non-conference, so they should get credit for one good win (Pitt) in those three games. In the Big Ten, they've crushed Maryland (horrible), smoked Purdue and then won at Iowa, at home against Michigan and at Michigan State.
All in all, half of their wins are against quality teams. But it's not like Penn State has taken down an Ohio State or Wisconsin, and they certainly haven't faced an offense as dangerous as Minnesota.