A favorite cliché used in sports is asking if such-and-such team “is for real.”
Well, we’re about to find out a lot about this year’s Minnesota Gophers.
Minnesota bludgeoned three straight opponents – none of which has a win this season, and this includes an FCS team – in getting off to a 3-0 start in nonconference play.
Now comes the start of Big Ten games with the Gophers going on the road to face Michigan State, which beat up on two MAC teams before losing at Washington last week.
Has the lack of competition bolstered feelings about Minnesota, which now has to contend with the absence of top receiver Chris Autman-Bell? Well, Las Vegas has the visiting Gophers as three-point favorites.
Have we witnessed a smokescreen and Minnesota’s perfect record will come to an end Saturday or is the perception indeed reality?
Here’s this week’s predictions from around the web:
Pete Fiutak of Collegefootballnews.com: Minnesota 31, Michigan State 27. "Minnesota isn’t screwing up. That’s the biggest takeaway from the easy first three games – the team is sharp even though it doesn’t have to be. There have been just two turnovers and ten penalties in the three games, and it’s not going to start making the big mistakes in a game like this. Michigan State will play better than it did in Seattle, but Minnesota will continue to dominate the time of possession battle – it’s holding the ball for a nation-leading 40 minutes per game so far – and it’ll survive a tough fight with a late, grinding drive to close it out.”
Detroit Free Press writers: Carlos Monarrez – Minnesota 37, Michigan State 30; Rainer Sabin – Michigan State 26, Minnesota 23; Jeff Seidel – Michigan State 27, Minnesota 24; Chris Solari – Minnesota 31, Michigan State 27; Shawn Windsor – Michigan State 26, Minnesota 24.
Mlive.com’s Matt Wenzel: Michigan State 27, Minnesota 24. “Minnesota could go on to win the West Division or this may just be a decent team that bludgeoned lesser programs through the first three weeks. Meanwhile, Michigan State’s inability to run the ball and the reemergence of pass defense woes last week are major red flags. If the Spartans can at least limit the damage Ibrahim does on the ground, force Morgan to make plays with his arm and generate pressure that was lacking against Washington, they’ll have a good chance of avoiding an 0-1 start to Big Ten play.”
Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal: Michigan State 30, Minnesota 27. “The Gophers are 3-point favorites, which, given last week’s MSU performance and the Gophers’ 3-0 start, is somewhat understandable. But that’s a line based on faith and the luck of the schedule. Because if MSU last week had played at home against Colorado (which might be the worst team in a power-five conference), they might also be 3-0, with all the good vibes Minnesota has. It’s tough to pick MSU after what we just saw. But, at home, after being humbled, I think the Spartans put together a focused performance. And I don’t think the Gophers’ passing game is built to hurt MSU the same way Washington’s was.”
Former Mississippi State and Florida head coach Dan Mullen: Ohio State.
Kerry Miller of Bleacher Report: Michigan State 31, Minnesota 28. “Michigan State's front seven is solid, though. It's the Spartans secondary that leaves an awful lot to be desired, and Minnesota has not been anything close to prolific through the air dating back to the start of 2020. Michigan State holds Minnesota under 200 rushing yards and escapes with the home victory.
J.P. Scott of Athlon Sports: Minnesota 30, Michigan State 16. “While Minnesota will likely feel the impact of Autman-Bell's absence early on, it feels like the Golden Gophers will, by and large, be able to operate normally on offense. The same can't be said for Michigan State's attack, however. Minnesota appears to have a clear advantage in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and the statistics back it up. The Spartans also are coming off of a bad loss on the road to Washington where they got exposed in a number of areas. Barring a significant turnaround, especially on defense, look for the visiting Gophers to stay undefeated with a fairly comfortable win in their Big Ten opener.”
Brad Crawford of 247 Sports: Michigan State 31, Minnesota 30. “For those of you expecting a bounce-back game for the Spartans, P.J. Fleck and Minnesota may have other plans. If the Golden Gophers can make Michigan State one-dimensional and stack the box against Jalen Berger, that's a recipe for success with the expectation plays are made in the passing game. Michigan State's porous secondary doesn't appear to be fixed yet and that's going to hurt the Spartans during conference play. This is an important game for Mel Tucker's crew coming off a New Year's Six appearance, but a win for Minnesota vaults this team into the Big Ten title conversation as the West favorite after the first month of the season. I'll try to hit the middle here and take Michigan State to win and Minnesota to cover.”
Randy Johnson of the Star Tribune: Minnesota 27, Michigan State 20. “The combination of coordinators Kirk Ciarrocca on offense and Joe Rossi on defense has helped the Gophers maintain a calm, detail-oriented approach. Morgan is spreading the ball around, and Ibrahim keeps gaining yards after contact. A Spartans defense that allowed Washington's Michael Penix Jr. to pass for 397 yards could be something the Gophers can exploit. If Minnesota's defensive line can keep Thorne from breaking contain, good things can happen for the Gophers because of their deep secondary, which is playing with confidence.”
Spartans Wire writers: Andrew Brewster – Michigan State 21, Minnesota 17; Cory Linsner – Michigan State 35, Minnesota 30; Robert Bondy – Michigan State 31, Minnesota 27.
Trent Knoop of Wolverines Wire: Minnesota 31, Michigan State 28.
Riley Donald of Hawkeyes Wire: Michigan State 28, Minnesota 21. “Michigan State lost last to Washington last weekend in a hostile environment, but can likely rely on the experience of a big matchup. Michigan State at home in this one being Minnesota’s first test of the season may tell quite a lot.”
Picks and Parlays: Minnesota 24, Michigan State 20.
Dominick Petrillo of Sportsbook Wire: Michigan State 24, Minnesota 21.
Bill Connelly of ESPN: His S&P+ projection has it Minnesota 26, Michigan State 26.
Two of three Athlon Sports analysts are picking Minnesota to win.
Two of four analysts at FootballScoop.com predict a Minnesota victory.