No. 5 Penn State (8-0) travels to No. 13 Minnesota (8-0) in a battle of Big Ten unbeatens at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. The game will be televised nationally at noon ET on ABC.
Penn State remains ranked in the top five and is coming off a bye week after an impressive string of victories against Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State. Sean Clifford has been solid at quarterback, and the Nittany Lions rank second in the FBS in scoring defense at 9.6 points per game.
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Minnesota continues to improve under third-year coach P.J. Fleck, and the Gophers have scored 34 points or more in every Big Ten game this season. Minnesota has a chance to keep its Big Ten West hopes alive, given its two-game lead on Wisconsin and Iowa.
The Nittany Lions and Gophers can improve their conference championship hopes with a big victory here. With that in mind, here’s everything you need for Saturday’s matchup:
Penn State vs. Minnesota odds
Spread: Penn State -6.5
Point total: 48
Moneyline: Minnesota -110, Penn State-110
Penn State is a 6.5-point favorite, according to odds at Sportsbook Review, with 56 percent of the wagering coming in favor of the Nittany Lions.
Get the latest NCAA odds & betting advice at Sportsbook Review
Minnesota vs. Penn State all-time series
Penn State leads the all-time series 9-5, and this is the first meeting between the teams where both are ranked in the AP Top 25. The Nittany Lions won the last meeting 29-26 in overtime on Oct. 1, 2016 — a game that helped kick-start a Big Ten championship run.
Three trends to know
— Minnesota is 3-2 against the spread as a home underdog under Fleck. The Gophers have beat the spread in their last five games.
— The Gophers are 9-5 against against the Nittany Lions in those 14 meetings.
— The Nittany Lions have been favored in every game and are 5-3 against the spread this season. Penn State is 10-8-1 against the spread as a road favorite under James Franklin.
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Three things to watch
Sean Clifford’s accuracy
The Penn State quarterback thrives on limiting mistakes. He has 20 touchdowns and three interceptions this season, and that included eight touchdowns and one interception against the Hawkeyes, Spartans and Wolverines. That said, Clifford didn’t hit 60 percent of his passes in any of those victories, and the Gophers have similar defensive numbers as Michigan. Clifford will need to find a rhythm against a secondary that features Antoine Winfield Jr., who leads Minnesota with five interceptions.
Penn State’s pass rush
Tanner Morgan continues to improve at quarterback for the Gophers, and he has 18 touchdowns and four interceptions this season. Minnesota has allowed 16 sacks this season, but the Penn State pass rush is the best unit they have faced this season. Shaka Toney (5.5 sacks) and Yetur Gross-Matos (5.5 sacks) are excellent pass-rushers, and Micah Parsons (57 tackles) must be accounted for as well.
Which receiver shows out?
NFL scouts will be Penn State’s KJ Hamler (37 catches, 620 yards, eight touchdowns) and Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson (43 catches, 626 yards, seven touchdowns) with great interest. Both are big-play receivers who can make the game-changing play, and this is the kind of game where one or two plays in the passing game could make the difference.
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Stat that matters
Minnesota’s Rodney Smith has rushed for 100 yards or more in five straight games. The veteran back has been with the program since 2014, and the Gophers are 15-1 when he rushes for 100 yards or more. Smith averaged 20 carries in those last five games. If he can have that kind of success against a stingy Penn State front, then Minnesota will have a chance to spring the upset.
Penn State vs. Minnesota prediction
The Gophers will be fired up, and Fleck might even pull out a few trick plays early to fire up the crowd. If Smith settles in, Minnesota could take an early lead and build from there. Penn State running back Noah Cain was a nonfactor against Michigan and Michigan State, but he could be the counter in this game. Clifford settles in by the third quarter, and Hamler is the receiver who makes the big play. Penn State seals the victory with a late interception.
Penn State 24, Minnesota 16
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