Staff Predictions: No. 4 Penn State vs. No. 17 Minnesota

No. 4 Penn State football (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) will head to Minneapolis for a clash with No. 17 Minnesota (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) at TCF Bank Stadium at noon on Saturday.

This will be Penn State’s first chance to prove that it belongs in the College Football Playoff, as the Nittany Lions were ranked No. 4 in the nation by the committee’s first rankings on Tuesday night. Minnesota will be the third ranked opponent James Franklin’s squad has faced this year. The Golden Gophers remain unbeaten and sit atop the Big Ten West.

Despite the hostile environment and talent of PJ Fleck’s team, the majority of our staff is confident that the Nittany Lions will escape Minnesota with a win in an entertaining match up.

Andy Mollenauer (5-0): Penn State 31, Minnesota 17

The Golden Gophers are playing the best they’ve played in years and on home turf for this matchup, so they’re definitely going to put up a fight. Fortunately for the visiting Nittany Lions, however, Minnesota has yet to play a ranked team this season. The competition could be a rude awakening for the hosts.

I expect Sean Clifford to display his dual-threat capabilities en route to a solid offensive performance, and the defense will stifle the run as it’s done so well all season. While Minnesota will more than likely put up a few scores and keep things interesting, the Golden Gophers will struggle against the best defense they’ve seen this season. The offenses are scoring nearly the same number of points per game, but defense is where Penn State has a clear advantage and will build the foundation for a huge victory.

Gabe Angieri (2-0): Penn State 30, Minnesota 14

Both teams are coming off a bye and will be well-rested heading into this matchup of unbeatens. This will be the first real test for Minnesota, and it’ll prove to be too much for it to handle. The Golden Gophers will put up a fight, but Penn State will stay undefeated and handle the Gophers comfortably. The Penn State defense will continue to play well and the offense will do more than enough against a solid Minnesota defense.

Matt Noah (4-0): Penn State 31, Minnesota 17

Yes, this is a battle of two undefeated teams, but there’s a huge disparity between the difficulties of these teams’ schedules. Penn State will show that it’s faced better opponents and is better off for it on Saturday.

The Nittany Lions are ready for this test, as Sean Clifford will continue to play well at quarterback. Minnesota will have home-field advantage, but the Nittany Lions are truly a better team in all three facets of the game. This will be enough to lead James Franklin’s squad to victory.

Michael Tauriello (2-0): Minnesota 27, Penn State 24

I know, I know, I’m a non-believer, I should sit down and shut up — the whole nine. But I’ve been thinking about this for weeks on end, and I just have a bad gut feeling. Let me explain.

Minnesota started off its season with four wins that were all decided by less than 10 points. These were wins against South Dakota State, Fresno State, Georgia Southern, and Purdue. Through the other four games, the Golden Gophers have played, they’ve won by a combined 127 points. They have picked up some value momentum of late, even if it is against teams that have a combined current record of 33-37.

Penn State seems to have mirrored that a bit. It started off the season with a slew of wins against teams that aren’t typically regarded as competitive, all with dominating scores (exception: Pitt). The last three games — arguably the toughest games of the schedule so far — have been closer, and the offense has scored much fewer points. I don’t see the Nittany Lions as a team in decline, but they haven’t picked up as much steam as Minnesota has.

I’m a firm believer in momentum being a factor in deciding which team wins a game. That said, I feel that Minnesota’s current momentum outweighs that of Penn State’s by just enough for them to eke out a win. I think the Golden Gophers will actually trail for much of Saturday’s game, but I feel that Penn State may find that putting them away for good is a tougher task than it seems.

Jared Raggi (3-0): Penn State 20, Minnesota 17

My intuition thinks this game will be a blowout, but James Franklin’s road record against top 25 teams says otherwise.

The road win against Iowa was promising, and I believe the Hawkeyes are a more talented team than Minnesota. However, the Golden Gophers are rolling right now. They have an extremely talented receiver in Tyler Johnson who will continuously challenge the Nittany Lion secondary, and a potent running game headed by Rodney Smith.

The game will come down to the battle at the line of scrimmage, and I believe the Wild Dogs will come through. They will generate pressure constantly and cause quarterback Tanner Morgan to panic. Ultimately, the defense will force multiple turnovers in a somewhat sloppy game, and Penn State will survive with a win once again.

Jarod Kutz (2-0): Penn State 30, Minnesota 3

There are high expectations for this game, as both teams will enter the contest 8-0. However, Minnesota will be no match for Penn State. Given everything they have accomplished this year, the Golden Gophers are definitely good. The only problem for them is that Penn State is a great football team.

Minnesota actually averages more total yards than Penn State offensively heading into the game, but that’ll quickly change when the Gophers get a taste of Yetur Gross-Matos and co. At least five different Nittany Lions will catch the ball on Saturday, as they’ll have a great day through the air. If Noah Cain is healthy enough, I think he’ll punch in a couple of short-yardage touchdowns as well.

Coming into the game as the No. 4 team in the country per the College Football Playoff rankings, the Nittany Lions will play with fire and show exactly why they’re a top-four team.

Matt DiSanto (8-0): Penn State 31, Minnesota 17

Contrary to its suspiciously easy schedule, Minnesota won’t be a pushover opponent for Penn State this weekend. I imagine the Nittany Lions’ offense will take some time to get going and kick off the rust after the bye week, but electric playmakers such as KJ Hamler and Pat Freiermuth should help Penn State take a comfortable lead.

The Golden Gophers’ offense is averaging 38.4 points per game, which is virtually equivalent to Penn State’s 38.5. I believe Minnesota will challenge the Nittany Lions more than you’d think, but James Franklin’s team will ultimately come out on top and remain perfect at 9-0.

Samuel Brungo (4-0): Penn State 45, Minnesota 17

Minnesota is a great story. An undefeated season up to this point is awesome for that school. I think the Golden Gophers will come out strong with something to prove, in efforts to show that they are more than just the product of a weak schedule, but a real playoff contender. I hope they have a successful rest of the season, but I don’t think they are as good as their record shows this year. The Golden Gophers have too many close wins against bad teams. I think Penn State will finish strong this weekend. Set your alarms, we got a day game. State by 28.

Will Pegler (8-0): Penn State 38, Minnesota 27

It’s no secret that third-year head coach PJ Fleck has this Minnesota team playing some very good football — most notably on offense. The Golden Gophers boast the third-best rushing attack in the Big Ten, thanks in large part to their dominant offensive line. They also have a pair of talented wide receivers in Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson.

While this Minnesota team is clearly solid, it hasn’t faced any noteworthy competition in 2019. This is going to change on Saturday, and the Golden Gophers will not be able to keep pace with James Franklin’s squad. I expect Minnesota’s defensive unit to struggle to stop Sean Clifford and co., as Ricky Rahne simply has too many valuable weapons at his disposal. The #LawnBoyz should be able to run with ease on Saturday, and I expect a resurgent day for Journey Brown.

Despite the fact that Minnesota’s offense is clearly talented, I don’t think it’ll do enough to beat the Nittany Lions. This isn’t to say that PJ Fleck’s team won’t put up points, though, as the team’s massive hog-mollies of offensive linemen will make it tough on the Wild Dogs to get to quarterback Tanner Morgan.

The Golden Gophers will find a way to hang with Penn State for three quarters, but a few late scores from the Nittany Lions will give them a double-digit victory and a 9-0 record to fly home with.

Mikey Mandarino (8-0): Penn State 21, Minnesota 13

I’m expecting Saturday’s game to be a perfect example of the smash-mouth, defensive brand of football the Big Ten is notorious for. This game should come down to which team has the better defensive unit, and in my opinion, that distinction belongs to Penn State.

Minnesota’s passing game has largely leaned on Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson, so I think Penn State’s secondary will do an excellent job in shutting down the Gophers’ two top-priority targets in the passing game. Penn State’s defensive line will have a tough task in dealing with Minnesota’s, uh, large offensive line, and I pray for whichever one of Sean Spencer’s Wild Dogs has to line up against Daniel Faalele — the Gophers’ 6’9″, 400-pound right tackle.

Getting to the quarterback and forcing losses of yardage in the run game may be an issue, but I still have faith in Penn State going 1-0 this week.

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