LINCOLN, Neb. – Both teams are coming off losses, but the vibes around Nebraska and Minnesota couldn't be more different.
The 21st-ranked Cornhuskers (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) spent the week trying to come to grips with having allowed an FBS-record 408 yards rushing to Melvin Gordon in last week's 59-24 meltdown at Wisconsin. The Gophers (7-3, 4-2) hung with Ohio State in a 31-24 loss in the snow and are excited about controlling their destiny in the Big Ten West.
Even if Nebraska beats Minnesota on Saturday, the Huskers would be out of the division race if Wisconsin wins at Iowa. The Gophers have a direct, albeit difficult, path to the Big Ten championship game. They must win their final two games, on the road against both Nebraska and Wisconsin.
"The work we've put in is starting to pay off, but the job is not done," cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun said. "We still have Nebraska ahead of us. That's all we can control right now. We look at this as a playoff game. We lose, we're out. We win, we're in."
Nebraska offensive lineman Jake Cotton said early in the week that he and his teammates must make sure they're right mentally after the humiliation endured in Madison.
"If we want to sit here and think about Wisconsin all week," he said, "then we're going to get our butt kicked by a real good Minnesota team."
Minnesota is 8-4 in its last 12 Big Ten games, its best conference stretch since it went 9-3 over a span covering 1972-74. A win over Nebraska would give the Gophers their best Big Ten record since going 5-2 in 2003.
Coach Jerry Kill said he met with his players to discuss where they've been this season — from losses at TCU and Illinois to convincing wins over Michigan and Iowa — and where they want to go.
"Here we are in November in a situation that the kids had the opportunity and wanted to be in," Kill said.
The Gophers can draw confidence from having beaten the Huskers 34-23 in Minneapolis last year. David Cobb had 138 of the Gophers' 271 rushing yards, and he'll surely be eager to see what he can do in Lincoln after what Gordon did to the Huskers.
Things to watch:
PELINI BITES BACK: Lots of Nebraska fans were in a sour mood after last week's loss, and they had a direct line to coach Bo Pelini on his radio show this week.
In response to a caller who questioned the direction of the program, Pelini responded: "If that isn't the right direction, then you have a conversation with (athletic director) Shawn Eichorst and they're free to go in another direction."
SENIOR DAY: Nebraska will say goodbye to 13 players on Senior Day, including star running back Ameer Abdullah. Minnesota was the Senior Day opponent two years ago and left with a 38-14 loss. Kill remembered Tom Osborne, the Hall of Fame coach who was retiring as athletic director, jogging out of the tunnel with the team that day. "After I (say) this, Bo is probably on the phone seeing if he'll come out again."
FAMILIAR FACE: Minnesota is Nebraska's most frequent opponent in the Big Ten. The schools met 51 times before the Huskers joined the conference in 2011. Nebraska won 15 straight over the Gophers before last year's loss. The Huskers have won the past seven meetings in Lincoln. Minnesota leads the series 30-22-2.
COBB NEARS RECORD: Cobb needs 115 yards to break the Minnesota single-season rushing record of 1,464, set by Laurence Maroney in 2005.
STANDING PAT AT QB: Pelini is standing by QB Tommy Armstrong Jr., who's completing a Big Ten-low 49.4 percent of his passes in conference games and has five TDs against seven interceptions. Asked if he would consider trying backups Ryker Fyfe or Johnny Stanton, Pelini said, "I think the other guys are capable, but I think Tommy gives us our best chance of winning right now."