No. 13 Minnesota looks to seal up Big Ten West

Published 2:31 am Friday, November 8, 2019

Minnesota was supposed to be an afterthought in the Big Ten West race.

But the surging Gophers might all but wrap up the division by Saturday night.

No. 13 Minnesota (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) enters Saturday’s home showdown with No. 5 Penn State (8-0, 5-0) with a chance to take a two-game lead in the West with three to play.

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Meanwhile, No. 18 Iowa (6-2, 3-2) travels to No. 16 Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2) in a battle of two preseason West favorites that are instead tied for second behind the Gophers. The losing team can essentially kiss its chances in the division goodbye, while the winner would still likely need to beat Minnesota to make it to Indianapolis.

Either way, the Gophers have already done enough to earn coach P.J. Fleck a seven-year contract extension, which was announced earlier this week.

“I couldn’t ask for a better group of young men,” Fleck said. “They were huge in this decision. I love coaching them every single day. This is a very fun team, it’s a very fun culture, very different.”

So much of the focus on Minnesota has been its soft schedule to date, and the College Football Playoff committee took notice of that when it ranked the Gophers 17th in its initial standings.

Penn State, which owns the same overall and conference record as Minnesota, was fourth in the eyes of the CFP.

Minnesota has caught fire in recent weeks. After needing double-overtime to win at Fresno State and squeaking by Purdue 38-31, the Gophers have been rolling. Minnesota’s last three wins, over Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland, came by an average margin of victory of 30 points.

Penn State is a much stiffer test. The Nittany Lions have already beaten the Hawkeyes and Michigan, and are 6.5-point favorites — even though the game is in Minneapolis.