The feel-good story of Minnesota football has gone national this week, and that’s a good thing.
USA Today and ESPN.com were among the media outlets looking in on the Gophers (8-2, 4-2) ahead of Saturday’s home game against No. 16 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1).
It’s a great story, made more poignant by how the team and coaching staff have rallied while coach Jerry Kill took an in-season leave to deal with his epilepsy.
Here is what Minnesota has accomplished:
Ľ The first four-game Big Ten winning streak in 40 years, though Nebraska fans will cringe upon reading the USA Today line: “The streak has not included a team anywhere near Wisconsin’s caliber.”
Ľ The most wins at the school in 10 years, since Glen Mason posted a 10-3 mark.
Ľ The first national ranking (No. 23 in the coaches poll) in five years.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has noticed what Kill has done as the Gophers have progressed in three seasons from 3-9 to 6-7 to 8-2.
“I have a lot of respect for him and his program,” Andersen said, “and what they’re doing and what he has done in his career.”
Now, Minnesota remains alive for a shot at its first Big Ten title in 46 years. The Gophers must defeat Wisconsin and No. 13 Michigan State, and have the Spartans lose to Northwestern on Saturday.
It’s not likely, but it’s not likely anyone before the season would have dreamed such a possibility would exist the third week of November.
Unfortunately for those who like an underdog success story, the dream ends here.
As Kill noted this week about Wisconsin: “They’ve been to the Rose Bowl three years in a row and done a lot of good things. But I’m not so sure this isn’t their best team.”
Wisconsin has too many weapons and Bowl Championship Series at-large hopes it wants to protect.
My pick: Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 17
Nebraska (7-3, 4-2) at Penn State (6-4, 3-3), 2:30 p.m., BTN: The Nittany Lions have a lot to play for. Since they can’t go to a bowl because of NCAA sanctions, a win here would send the seniors out with a guaranteed winning record. What Nebraska has to play for is simple pride and bowl pecking order. The key here: NU’s Ameer Abdullah breaking a couple of long ones against Penn State’s slo-o-o-o-w defense, and Husker Randy Gregory making PSU true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg miserable. Nebraska 27, Penn State 21
No. 13 Michigan State (9-1, 6-0) at Northwestern (4-6, 0-6), 11 a.m., ESPN: The Spartans got a wakeup call when Nebraska gouged them for 392 yards while using a backup quarterback, three backup offensive linemen and two backup receivers. Northwestern can make plays, but probably can’t hang in for four quarters. Michigan State 28, Northwestern 20
Michigan (7-3, 3-3) at Iowa (6-4, 3-3), 11 a.m., BTN: A year ago, Michigan turned to Devin Gardner at quarterback after Denard Robinson’s injury, and Gardner went wild against Iowa. The Hawkeyes haven’t forgotten. It’s get-even time. Iowa 20, Michigan 13
Indiana (4-6, 2-4) at No. 4 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0), 2:30 p.m., ABC: Besides having style points for the BCS on its mind, Ohio State also remembers how it struggled to hang on last season to beat Indiana 52-49. I see Ohio State scoring 52 again, but the other side not nearly as much. Ohio State 52, Indiana 17
Illinois (3-7, 0-6) at Purdue (1-9, 0-6), 11 a.m., BTN: The good news is somebody gets a W. Illinois needs the win more, in order to break a 20-game skid in Big Ten games and to possibly save second-year coach Tim Beckman’s job. Illinois 27, Purdue 17