The Minnesota Golden Gophers enter their game this Saturday against the Illini undefeated in Big Ten play and already bowl eligible at 6-1. But they have their redshirt freshman kicker to thank for that. Ryan Santoso missed an extra-point that bounced off the uprights early in the fourth quarter against Purdue last week, and things were looking grim for the Gophers. But down two points with little time remaining, Santoso redeemed himself by hitting the game-winning 52-yard field goal. "Coach Kill wouldn't put you out there if he didn't believe in you," Santoso later said.
That's exactly the kind of culture Jerry Kill has slowly-but-surely built at Minnesota, and it's been impressive. Kill went 3-9 in 2011, 6-7 in 2012, then jumped to 8-5 last season and has his team currently sitting at 6-1 in the 2014 campaign. The last time the Gophers got off to this good of a start was back in 2008. So to say that the Illini have a chance to upset them on homecoming weekend is certainly bold, but that didn't stop some of our staff writers from saying so...
Jim Vainisi --- Minnesota 34, Illinois 21
I actually think Illinois will play pretty well on Saturday, but I don't think they can hang with the Gophers for an entire game. I'm expecting it to be close for about 2.5 quarters, but Minnesota will eventually pull away. One week closer to freedom (and basketball season).
Mark Primiano --- Minnesota 42, Illinois 21
The Gophers are off to a fantastic start, but that record does seem a little hollow. The only good team they've played, TCU, absolutely jojowhomped them. But we aren't TCU. David Cobb is going to have one hell of a day marching through our squishy soft defense. Happy Homecoming.
Aaron Rench --- Illinois 27, Minnesota 24
Homecoming, new jerseys, new quarterback -- all of these combine to get the Illini to their best level of play this season. Our defense will still have the flood gates open, but it will be the offense, just like most weeks, that saves the day.
Colin Whitchurch --- Minnesota 38, Illinois 30
I know the Gophers barely hung on against Purdue and Northwestern at home, but I'm just not that confident in picking the Illini to lose by less than a touchdown to anyone right now.
Bryce Smith --- Illinois 31, Minnesota 27
I haven't predicted very many upsets this year, but I'm going to for this game, which will come down to the defense being able to stop anything against Minnesota's run. I truly believe Aaron Bailey and Mike Dudek could have huge days and lead us to victory. I might look back on this and say my prediction was stupid, though. One other note: if this is a blowout then Beckman might be gone and the countdown will really start for basketball season.
Brandon Cain --- Minnesota 35, Illinois 14
Minnesota is one of the most underrated teams in the country and will have Illinois beat on both sides of the ball this weekend. This game should not even be close.
Brad Repplinger --- Illinois 77, Minnesota 70 (OT)
In a complete shootout of a football game, Josh Ferguson scores four touchdowns in the first half a-la Red Grange and Donovonn Young adds another four in the second half. Throw in a kickoff and punt return from V'Angelo Bentley, and the Illini and Minnesota head into overtime tied at 70. Ferguson scores on his first carry of overtime, and with an added extra point, the Illini match the Galloping Ghost's number at 77. Minnesota puts the ball on the turf the next series, and the Illini win on Homecoming weekend.
Trevor Vallese --- Minnesota 31, Illinois 14
I'm liking the optimism in this thread, but I just can't bring myself to join in on it. There seems to be a lot of disconnect between Beckman ("You'll see both Bailey and O'Toole this weekend, a 2-QB system") and Cubit ("I don't know... I've never done this before") this week regarding the offense, and quite frankly, that's the only thing that might be able to keep the Illini in the game. Bailey was impressive for one series against Wisconsin but I'll wait to jump on the bandwagon until I see an entire 60 minutes of him under center. David Cobb will run all over the Illinois defense and despite a close first half, this one will be a blowout.
BONUS PREDICTION: Josh Ferguson finally has a nice game. He will run for over 100 yards, including several screen passes that he takes for long gains. He will score all of Illinois' points this weekend (okay, maybe not the extra points).
Matt Silich's prediction can always be found in his excellent weekly game preview (seriously, check it out). Be sure to drop by below to tell us what you think is going to happen against Minnesota!