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Monday, September 20, 2021
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Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck likely cost his team a 10-0 record with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third quarter of their loss to Iowa. 

Gameday I: Michigan, Penn State face tough road tests early

As part of Gameday One, The Daily Cardinal takes a look around the Big Ten for this week’s biggest matchups and storylines. 

While Wisconsin and Illinois will finish up their week one festivities late Friday night, the rest of the Big Ten’s fourteen teams have to wait a couple more hours before kicking off the season. A couple of big games highlight the week one slate:

No. 18 Michigan at No. 21 Minnesota – 7:30 PM ET, ABC

Once again, it feels like another crucial season for Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. Even though Michigan has never been *actually* bad under Harbaugh, it’s hard to deny the program just seems to have a cloud of disappointment hanging over its head. An 0-5 record against rival Ohio State is mostly to blame. 

But the Wolverines are talented nonetheless, and continue to pull in a top-25 recruiting class annually. Michigan will roll with first-time starting quarterback Devin Gardner to begin the season, but do return a solid run attack with Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins. Gardner will be without one of the team’s best wide receivers all year, as WR Nico Collins has recently opted out. 

As for Minnesota, things are headed in a much more positive direction. Head Coach P.J. Fleck has the Gophers in the perfect spot for a power-five coach–no extremely lofty expectations, and a team talented enough to win the Big Ten West. Fleck has turned the Minnesota program around in just three-plus years, and it seems like his players really buy into his “Row The Boat” theatrics and motivational speeches. 

The Golden Gophers finished off an impressive 11-2 season on New Year’s Day by taking down No. 12 Auburn 31-24 in the Outback Bowl. Yes, the validity of bowl games can be debated for hours on end, but a signature win over an SEC powerhouse like Auburn still carries some weight. 

Neither Michigan nor Minnesota has ever appeared in a Big Ten Championship game, and with a shortened schedule, this cross-divisional matchup arguably comes with more ramifications than ever. If Gophers QB Tanner Morgan is feeling it Saturday night, it will be tough for Michigan to keep pace with the boom-or-bust Minnesota offense. 

No. 8 Penn State at Indiana – 3:30 PM ET, FS1

For Penn State, this game is a classic case of ‘nothing to be gained.’ A perennial top-ten team, the Nittany Lions have had matchups against Indiana pencilled in as wins months and or even years in advance – even if they won’t admit to it verbally.

But Indiana has their most complete roster in quite some time, led by quarterback Michael Penix Jr. The Hoosiers didn’t crack the AP Top 25, but a win over PSU would probably slide them into the back fifth. What Indiana lacks is a signature win during the Tom Allen era; in three full seasons as head coach, Allen is 0-13 against ranked opponents.

The Hoosiers will have an easier time moving the ball on offense thanks to Micah Parsons’ decision to sit out the 2020 season. Parsons, a projected high-first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, opted out back in August long before anyone was certain a Big Ten football season would even happen. 

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Penn State is favored by about a touchdown in this matchup Saturday, but given their top-ten status juxtaposed against an unranked Indiana squad, this game feels like it could go either way.  Turnovers typically dictate a college football game, and whoever comes out with some good ol’ Turnover Luck should leave Memorial Stadium with a week-one victory. 

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