At certain points this season Nebraska and Minnesota had reason to believe they would be able to at least qualify for a bowl game. With both programs facing an uphill battle the rest of the way to achieve that goal, the Cornhuskers and Golden Gophers square off in Minneapolis on Saturday in what amounts to be a postseason elimination game.
Nebraska blew a golden opportunity to put itself within one game of bowl eligibility last weekend, failing to hold a fourth-quarter lead or finish off a potential go-ahead scoring drive late in regulation en route to a 27-24 overtime loss to Northwestern. Instead, the Cornhuskers, who need to win one of their final two games - No. 13 Penn State and Iowa - in addition to this contest to reach six victories, face the strong possibility of their second losing season in three years under coach Mike Riley. Minnesota started the season with three straight wins under new coach P.J. Fleck, but it has since dropped five of six, with only a home win versus West division cellar-dweller Illinois over that stretch. The Gophers, who are coming off their worst showing of the season surrendering a season-high 371 rushing yards in a 33-10 defeat at Michigan last weekend, end their season with matchups against Northwestern and third-ranked Wisconsin.
TV: Noon ET, Fox Sports 1. LINE: Minnesota -2.5.
ABOUT NEBRASKA (4-5, 3-3 Big Ten): Junior wideout Stanley Morgan Jr. (team-high marks of 43 catches, 690 receiving yards and seven touchdowns) tallied four receptions last weekend to push his career total to 101, becoming only the 10th player in school history to top 100; his 1,447 career receiving yards already ranks 10th on the Cornhuskers’ all-time list. After 19 carries for 32 yards in his previous two outings, Devine Ozigbo returned to a workhorse role against Northwestern with 23 attempts for 72 yards, allowing him to become the 65th Cornhusker to run for at least 1,000 yards in his career. Senior linebacker Marcus Newby tied a career high with 10 tackles and ran an interception back 48 yards for a touchdown - the longest such score for a Nebraska player since 2009.
ABOUT MINNESOTA (4-5, 1-5): Sophomore Tyler Johnson is far and away the Gophers’ top receiver, as his 32 receptions are 19 more than any other Minnesota player, while his 620 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns account for 46.8 and 77.8 percent of the team’s totals in those respective categories. Sophomore quarterback Demry Croft relieved an ineffective Conor Rhoda four games ago and went 11-of-20 from 163 yards and three TDs over the final two-plus quarters against Michigan State, but he is a combined 19-of-55 for 260 yards and one score in three games since. Linebacker Thomas Barber, who leads Minnesota with 82 tackles and nine tackles for loss, paces the Big Ten and ranks sixth in FBS with 57 solo stops.
1. Nebraska WR/KR JD Spielman needs 105 more all-purpose yards to break Ahman Green’s school freshman record of 1,259 set back in 1995.
2. Minnesota ranks among the top three teams in FBS in fewest penalty yards (277, third), fewest penalties per game (3.67, tied for first) and fewest penalties (33, second).
3. At his current pace of 262.8 passing yards, Cornhuskers QB Tanner Lee will finish with 3,153 - a total that would place him third on the school’s all-time single-season list.
PREDICTION: Nebraska 27, Minnesota 24