Northwestern will try to match its longest winning streak in 21 years when the Wildcats host Minnesota in a Big Ten game on Saturday. Northwestern has won six in a row in the same season for the first time since a seven-game winning streak in 1996, the only year the Wildcats repeated as Big Ten champions.
Northwestern and Minnesota each feature quarterbacks who can do damage on the ground and through the air. Minnesota quarterback Demry Croft ran for 183 yards and three touchdowns in a 54-21 victory Saturday against Nebraska, the most points scored for the Golden Gophers since a 63-26 win against Indiana in 2006. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson has eight rushing touchdowns this season and 18 in his career, tying him for third among quarterbacks in school history. When he needs to throw, Thorson has a dependable receiver in Bennett Skowronek, who caught seven passes for 117 yards and a touchdown in a 23-13 win against Purdue on Saturday.
TV: Noon, Big Ten Network. LINE: Northwestern -7.5.
ABOUT MINNESOTA (5-5, 2-5, Big Ten): The Golden Gophers need to win one of their last two games to become bowl-eligible for the sixth consecutive season. Minnesota’s best chance at a sixth victory will likely come against Northwestern, as the Golden Gophers will wrap up their regular season next week at home against No. 4 Wisconsin, who they haven’t beaten since 2003. If the Wildcats lock in on Croft, Minnesota has a dependable running back in junior Rodney Smith, who had a season-high 134 rushing yards last week against Nebraska and also returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (7-3, 5-2): The Wildcats have the second-best run defense in the Big Ten at 109.6 rushing yards allowed per game, and they’re led by one of the top middle linebackers in the nation in Paddy Fisher, who comes in second in the conference at 9.5 tackles a game. Northwestern will need to get through the first half without cornerback Montre Hartage, who was ejected for targeting against Purdue, the fourth such penalty for the Wildcats this season. Kyle Queiro has emerged as the top defensive back for Northwestern, and he comes in tied for sixth in the Big Ten with 11 passes defended.
1. Northwestern still owns the NCAA record for the longest losing streak, a stretch of 34 straight losses from 1979 and 1982.
2. The Wildcats have won five games in a row in the same season for the sixth time since 2008.
3. Minnesota is tied with Georgia Tech for the fewest penalties in the nation at 36.
PREDICTION: Northwestern 31, Minnesota 20