MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With a decisive win over rival Iowa, Minnesota regained a treasured traveling trophy and forged a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten West Division with three games to go.
Coach Jerry Kill could be forgiven, though, for his reluctance to revel the rest of the weekend.
"We come off a good win, and then you go home, and you’re going to kick back and relax and get you a bowl of ice cream and then you put on the TV and then you watch Ohio State," Kill said. "So then you don’t sleep the rest of the night, you don’t get a chance to enjoy the win, and now all you do is worry about what you’re going to do."
The Gophers knew how grueling November was going to be, but about eight hours after that 51-14 humiliation of the Hawkeyes the challenge came sharply into focus. The Buckeyes dismantled Michigan State’s daunting defense with a 49-37 victory that smoothed their path to the Big Ten championship and boosted their pursuit of a place in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Ohio State (8-1, 5-0), eighth in both the Associated Press poll and the latest CFP rankings that will determine the final four, has won 12 straight games in an opponent’s stadium. That’s the longest active streak in the FBS. The Buckeyes, though beaten by the Spartans in the conference title game last year, have won 21 regular season Big Ten games in a row. They’re 9-0 in November under coach Urban Meyer. They haven’t lost at Minnesota since 1981.
That’s all part of why this matchup with the Gophers (7-2, 4-1, No. 25 CFP) could be dangerous.
"This is kind of like one of those trap games. It’s going to be cold," Ohio State defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said. "We just have to go out and play because Minnesota is what, 7-2? They’re not a bad team."
Here are some key angles to know about the Ohio State-Minnesota game:
ABOUT THAT WEATHER
TCF Bank Stadium now has heating coils underneath the artificial turf, thanks to the upgrades paid for by the temporary tenant Vikings to make the venue NFL-suitable, but the forecast is for a high of 26 degrees and a chance of snow. The 11 a.m. kickoff time will help keep the air warmer, but conditions will hardly be ideal for the speed-based spread option offense the Buckeyes have humming behind quarterback J.T. Barrett.
"By any means, at all costs, as the coach says. The weather’s not going to be a factor. They put on their pants just like we do," safety Vonn Bell said.
They’ve played three straight night games, so this will be an adjustment in several ways. But don’t count on the Buckeyes being caught off guard by these hurdles.
"You just have to go out there and play. There’s always going to be some different reason why you’re not going to play your best game, but you have to push through that," defensive tackle Michael Bennett said.
BEYOND HIS YEARS
Barrett’s emergence for the injured Braxton Miller has been one of the biggest stories in college football this season, and the freshman was at his best at Michigan State, accounting for five touchdowns. He has 34 this year, second-most in the FBS.
"He does a good job getting us in the right play. He understands defenses really well now. And his accuracy, when he’s accurate, that’s a tough one to stop," Meyer said.
The Gophers are 2-36 against the Buckeyes since 1966, last winning at Ohio Stadium in 2000. The average score of the last five matchups has been 40-9, but this will be Kill’s first shot in four years with the program. Ohio State won the last meeting, 52-10 at Minnesota in 2010.
The Gophers are trying to go unbeaten at home for the first time since 1967, and this will be the last time playing in Minnesota for 22 seniors, many of whom comprised Kill’s first recruiting class.
"It hasn’t hit me yet, but I’m sure it will when they call my name and I run out and I meet my family," running back David Cobb said, adding: "It’s big to have that role and just be a part of something. When it wasn’t so good, you were here for it and now when it is good, you’re here for it."
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
Ohio State’s national championship quest was almost derailed by a 35-21 defeat at home against Virginia Tech when a still-raw Barrett threw three interceptions. Minnesota suffered a wince-worthy loss this season to a team that’s now 4-5, too, a 28-24 setback at Illinois that complicated a surprise push for a spot in the Big Ten title game.