The Huskers are fighting for an outside chance at Scott Frost's first postseason as the head coach in Lincoln. If that's to happen, they need to do something accomplished only one other time under Frost: Win two Big Ten conference games in a row.
Minnesota, meanwhile, would like to end its season on a high note after a disastrous follow-up to a breakout 2020 campaign. P.J. Fleck's squad narrowly lost the Big Ten West title last season on a tiebreaker but is just 2-3 because of a suddenly porous defense.
The series has plenty of history with beginnings going all the way back to 1900, a 20-12 Minnesota victory in Lincoln. Since then, both teams saw their heydays. The Gophers were an established power during the mid-20th century, posting a 10-game win streak over the Big Red. Once Bob Devaney took over for Nebraska and they notched a 1963 14-7 victory in Minneapolis, they wouldn't lose again until 16 meetings later in 2013. Goldy's boys maintain a significant 33-25-2 edge overall.
For several years now, the winner has been presented with the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy. While an unofficial award, donations to both the Team Jack Foundation and University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital have solidified its legitimacy to college football fans across the country.
Who gets to hold the chair high this year? Let's break it down.
Minnesota at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 12 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Nebraska -10.5
When Minnesota Has the Ball
The Golden Gophers not taken the field since their 34-31 win over Purdue on Nov. 20. Perhaps an even bigger blow, Rashod Bateman — arguably the Big Ten's best receiver — opted out for the remainder of the year to focus on NFL aspirations. Quarterback Tanner Morgan has seen a stark contrast to his sensational 2019 performance, and Bateman's departure doesn't lend optimism to the idea of a brief rebound.
In his absence, the spotlight shines bright on Chris Autman-Bell to be Fleck's star receiver. Tight end Ko Kieft could see more targets if Morgan can't connect with Daniel Jackson and Seth Green. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim plays a huge role in any offensive success. He is having another stellar year with 163.4 rushing yards per game.
Considering the shrinking number of known quantities in Fleck's passing attack, seeing the Blackshirts execute a similar game plan to the one used against Purdue seems probable. Nebraska chose to force one of the conference's premier passing teams to beat them through the air. This resulted in the Boilermakers being held to negative-two rushing yards.
Look for linebacker JoJo Domann to continue his extensive role in both run and pass support as Ben Stille and Garrett Nelson work to agitate Morgan. It's then up to inside linebackers Luke Reimer and Will Honas to plug holes that open up outside Damion Daniels. This is also yet another opportunity for Cam Taylor-Britt and the Nebraska secondary to shine.
When Nebraska Has the Ball
Adrian Martinez had arguably his best game of the year last week and looks to build on that against a Minnesota defense full of holes. Dedrick Mills' return proved just how much of an impact he provides. Wan'Dale Robinson is dynamic as a run threat, but Mills is the only true running back Nebraska can currently rely on. Rahmir Johnson and Marvin Scott III simply aren't on his level yet.
Robinson continues to be a must-watch as both a runner and receiver, and true freshman Zavier Betts is growing right before our eyes. Levi Falck provides a reliable shorter yardage bruiser, with both tight ends Austin Allen and Travis Vokolek offering the potential for sizable gains.
In even better news, Cameron Jurgens' snaps were on point from start to finish last Saturday after several troubling games, and Connor Culp (12-for-13 FG, 14-for-14 PAT) continues to prove he's the best kicker Nebraska has seen in years.
The Golden Gophers feature a defense ranked 111th, 75th, and 100th nationally in rushing, passing, and scoring defense, respectively. Misdirection can keep Minnesota on its heels for the duration. Maryland's Taulia Tagovailoa showed what a legitimate dual-threat quarterback can do to this unit with a performance that generated 453 total yards and five touchdowns.
Now, they must deal with a rejuvenated Martinez.
Several aspects of this tilt trend in Nebraska's direction, though they've been heavily assisted by undisciplined play that has rivaled their own in both wins. The Golden Gophers average only four penalties per game to the Huskers' seven. Both teams claim a negative turnover margin, with Minnesota also converting third downs at a 53 percent clip versus the Big Red's 34.
Scoring in the second half has proved difficult for Nebraska, but the Gophers have a similar affliction having racked up all of 50 points over their schedule's latter 20 quarters (10 per). The Huskers have put up a scant 36 (six per) during their 24.
Another Big Red victory comes the same way those against Penn State and Purdue did. They take a comfortable lead into the half and hold on tight. Purdue managed 334 yards through the air including an 89-yard jaunt for a score courtesy of David Bell. Look for Ibrahim to break free for some big chunk plays — if not a couple of long touchdown runs — but the Huskers keep things interesting until the final moments yet again.
Prediction: Nebraska 30, Minnesota 27
Podcast: CFB Rankings, Coaching Changes and Week 15 Preview and Predictions