A year that was supposed to be marked by Big Ten contention has begun to veer off course for Pat Fitzgerald's squad. The Wildcats have lost two straight, and looked genuinely overmatched against Wisconsin in a 35-6 loss last week. To make things worse, they are still without a conference win.
Although there are no more ranked teams on their schedule, the Wildcats have a tough stretch in November against division rivals Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State. Their quest to right the ship -- and the season -- will begin against a 4-2 Gophers team that has suffered two consecutive losses of its own.
Meanwhile, Minnesota is without head coach Jerry Kill, who is on a leave of absence from the team as he continues to receive treatment for his epilepsy condition after being forced to miss last week's game against Michigan.
Rankings and records: Minnesota leads the all-time season series, 50-33-5. Northwestern will look for its fourth consecutive win on Saturday, which would mark its longest string of success against Minnesota.
Vegas: Northwestern opened as a 13-point favorite.
Weather: Weather in Evanston is set for a partly cloudy day, with a high of 54 and a 30% chance of rain.
Three names to know
Tracy Claeys (Minnesota coach) - With Coach Kill taking an indefinite leave of absence, Claeys was at the helm for a 42-13 loss to Michigan two weeks ago. Claeys normally serves as the team's defensive coordinator, and will look to get his first win this weekend.
Mitch Leidner (Minnesota quarterback) - Freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner got the start under center in the Gophers' last outing, going 14 of 21 for 145 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Those numbers were just about on par with anything Philip Nelson did earlier in the season. Keep your eye on if he gets the start again.
Chi Chi Ariguzo (Northwestern linebacker) - Ariguzo leads the Wildcats with 52 total tackles, but has been a versatile, turnover-creating nightmare all season long, with two interceptions, a forced fumble and a recovery. He also has several passes defensed, too.
Two things at stake
After losing each of its conference games by over two touchdowns, Minnesota will be looking to keep this one a lot closer. Like Northwestern, the Gophers will be battling for their first B1G win, and fighting to stay out of the cellar. The loser in this one will go to 0-3 against conference opponents and essentially be out of the running for a Big Ten championship.
Northwestern could work its way back into the rankings with an impressive win and some help -- despite two consecutive losses, the Wildcats remain within striking distance of a Top 25 berth. Several losses ahead of them could get them back in it as early as next weekend.
How to witness
TV: 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Radio: Northwestern's radio affiliate is WGN AM 720, while Minnesota's radio affiliates can be found here.