November often makes or breaks a college football season, and the Gophers have been bracing themselves for months for these next four games: Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Minnesota is 3-1 in Big Ten play against four teams — Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois — that are a combined 6-14 in conference play. This next foursome is 14-3.

The Gophers had a bye week to get over their loss to last-place Illinois, and the entire roster tried hitting the reset button. Quarterback Mitch Leidner, running back David Cobb and the offense still need to face four of the Big Ten's top five scoring defenses.

Meanwhile, linebacker Damien Wilson and the Gophers defense still must contend with four of the Big Ten's top six scoring offenses. Some of the league's most explosive players — Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah and Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett — are still on the schedule.

Along the way, the Big Ten West title will be decided. The top four teams all have one conference loss, and none of them has played any of the others. So this month will feature a four-team round robin among Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

"Like I told our kids, it's like the playoffs, the way it's all lined up," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said.

Here's a closer look at these next four games:

Saturday: Iowa (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten)

This one will set the tone for the month. Las Vegas oddsmakers view it as a virtual tossup, with the Gophers listed as 1 ½-point underdogs.

Win, and the Gophers will prove the Illinois loss didn't derail their season. Lose, and it will be fair to wonder if this team can recover to win another game all season.

Iowa's first loss came against Iowa State, a team that now sits 2-6, but the Hawkeyes showed their mettle the next week when they won at Pittsburgh. And they bounced back from a seven-point loss at Maryland by dominating Northwestern last week 48-7.

The Hawkeyes still have Mark Weisman at running back, but it's not just smash-mouth football for 16th-year coach Kirk Ferentz. Jake Rudock has found a groove at quarterback. In conference play, the Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten in pass offense (260.8 yards per game), and the Gophers just had a hard time containing Illinois quarterback Reilly O'Toole.

The Hawkeyes held the Gophers to 30 yards rushing in last year's 23-7 victory at TCF Bank Stadium. That was the worst game Minnesota played all season.

Nov. 15: No. 13 Ohio State (7-1, 4-0)

Many figured Ohio State's Big Ten title chances were dashed in August when quarterback Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. But redshirt freshman Barrett has left Buckeyes fans saying, "Braxton Who?"

Barrett threw three interceptions in the Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech, but since that game he has 25 touchdowns — 20 passing, five rushing — and three interceptions. He is surrounded by playmakers, including sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, and an offensive line that had to replace four starters this season has turned into a strength.

Then there's the defense. If the Gophers had trouble running the ball against Illinois, how are they going to fare against Ohio State, which is allowing a Big Ten-low 84.2 rushing yards per game?

The Gophers are 1-24 against Ohio State since 1982, with the lone victory in that stretch coming in Columbus in 2000. Their best hope in this one might be catching the Buckeyes with a hangover, coming off this Saturday's showdown against Michigan State.

Nov. 22: at No. 15 Nebraska (8-1, 4-1)

The Gophers had their best day last year on Oct. 26 at TCF Bank Stadium, when they beat Nebraska for the first time since 1960. They know it'll be a much steeper challenge in Lincoln, where Nebraska is 12-3 in Big Ten home games since joining the conference in 2011.

The Cornhuskers, whose only loss was by five points to Michigan State, have a bye this week to get ready for a huge game at Wisconsin on Nov. 15. Heisman candidate Abdullah suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee last week against Purdue, but coach Bo Pelini remains optimistic Abdullah will be back to face the Badgers.

Last year, the Cornhuskers stuck with a gimpy Taylor Martinez in their loss to the Gophers. He has since graduated, and Nebraska almost looked better off during nonconference play with sophomore Tommy Armstrong Jr. at quarterback.

But in Big Ten games, Armstrong has four touchdown passes and six interceptions.

"If we play like this, we're going to lose one of our games," Armstrong said after last week's 35-14 victory over Purdue.

Nov. 29: at No. 25 Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1)

If the Gophers could pick only one game to win the rest of the way, it would probably be this one. They are 0-10 against Wisconsin since they last won Paul Bunyan's Axe in 2003 and haven't won at Camp Randall since 1994.

The Gophers were 8-2 heading into last year's game against Wisconsin and fought tough in that 20-7 loss.

Wisconsin had to replace nine seniors from last year's defense, including Chris Borland and Beau Allen. That unit looked shaky in a second-half collapse against LSU to open the season and again in the loss at Northwestern on Oct. 4.

But the Badgers got nose guard Warren Herring and linebacker Marcus Trotter back from injury and manhandled Maryland and Rutgers the past two weeks by a combined score of 89-7. The defense suddenly looks potent again, Joel Stave's re-emergence has helped stabilize the quarterback position, and Gordon ranks second in the nation in rushing (162 yards per game).

Who knows where the Badgers and Gophers will stand two days after Thanksgiving, on what figures to be a chilly day in Madison? A lot can change in the next three weeks.