Week 7 - Northwestern at Minnesota

Posted Oct 12, 2012

Fearless Predictions & Game Preview - Northwestern at Minnesota

Northwestern (5-1) at Minnesota (4-1) Oct. 13, 12:00, ESPN2

Here's The Deal: Northwestern took a step back last week with a tough loss to a rejuvenated Penn State team, but it's still on the path to go to a bowl game and continue to be a player in the Big Ten Legends race with all the big games coming up. Winners of four of the last five games in the series, the Wildcats have been great against Minnesota over the years, but now they need this win or else things might get a little bit sketchy with tough games against Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State as part of the mix. Basically, this is the time when Northwestern has to get its groove back, but the Gophers are rested and should be ready.

Minnesota, like Northwestern, beat Syracuse on the way to an unbeaten stat, only to see it all slow down with a bruising road loss. After getting pummeled by Iowa, the Gophers can get back on track with three road games in the next four, and while there should be another win or two somewhere left on the slate, getting a home victory now would do wonders for bowl hopes.

Why Northwestern Might Win: Minnesota doesn't have the offensive pop and punch that Northwestern has. The Wildcats are doing a variety of different things utilizing several different players for the ground game to keep defenses guessing, and they're doing a terrific job of exploiting mismatches. Northwestern's ground game struggled a bit running for 122 yards and two scores against Penn State, but Minnesota doesn't have the Nittany Lion linebackers. The speed and quickness of the NU attack should be able to keep the chains moving against a defense that couldn't handle the power of the Iowa ground game, but more importantly this week, the Wildcats should be able to capitalize on mistakes. Minnesota turned the ball over four times against the Hawkeyes, and while turnovers haven't been a problem, Northwestern has been fantastic at pouncing on every error.

Why Minnesota Might Win: Is this the week the Gophers start getting things going through the air? The bulk yards might not be there, but the passing attack has been the second most efficient in the Big Ten and was rolling just fine before all the picks given away last week. The Northwestern secondary has been the worst in the Big Ten getting ripped up by Syracuse to start the season and Indiana and Penn State over the last two weeks. The Hoosiers and Nittany Lions have improved their passing games, but they're not good enough to be dinking and dunking on anyone. As long as the Gophers are able to get the short to midrange passing game going early on to keep the chains moving, control the clock, and keep the Wildcat offense on the sidelines, they'll have a shot.

What To Watch Out For: To start the season, both teams boasted two of the Big Ten's best all-around quarterbacks. Now the respective coaching staffs are trying to find the right fits for their talented playmakers. Kain Colter went from leading the team to wins from under center, to doing a little of everything in the victory over Indiana, to getting just five carries for 24 yards and a score and catching three passes for 17 yards against Penn State. It has been Trevor Siemian's offense to run lately, while Minnesota has turned to Max Shortell with MarQueis Gray trying to fight through an ankle injury. Gray got a few weeks off to rest and is expected to be back soon, but like Colter, there's a chance he could be used in a variety of different ways if Shortell can prove he can handle the work. A former receiver, Gray can be effective anywhere, but first, Shortell has to bounce back from the three-pick day against the Hawkeyes.

What Will Happen: Penn State was able to beat Northwestern with Matt McGloin throwing and throwing some more on short passes to hold on to the ball for over 39 minutes. Can the Gophers control the clock and win the time of possession battle? They're going to have to settle for too many field goals, but they'll be just effective enough offensively to come up with the best victory of the season.

CFN Prediction: Minnesota 26 … Northwestern 24
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Northwestern -3.5 O/U: 50.5
Must Watch Rating (5 – Argo, 1 – Pitch Perfect): 3