The Gophers arguably have not faced a Northwestern football team that has fallen on harder times than the opponent that will line up across from them Saturday at Ryan Field.
The firing of longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald in July for alleged hazing within his program marked a low point for Northwestern. But the struggles on the field existed before the scandal.
Since winning the Big Ten West division three years ago, the Wildcats are 5-22, including only two wins in their past 21 games. They'll be playing host to the Gophers (2-1) with an 11-game losing streak against Power Five opponents.
A case can be made that Northwestern (1-2) is the worst program in Power Five football right now. Last week's 38-14 loss against Duke didn't help.
"Plenty to learn from everyone included," said Northwestern interim coach David Braun, who got his coaching start as a Winona State graduate assistant in 2008. "Starting with me. We did not go down to Durham and play our best football. I think that was very apparent."
Another Power Five team that has sunk this year is 0-3 Virginia, but two of the Cavaliers' losses were to No. 12 Tennessee and Maryland. Vanderbilt has only two wins vs. Power Five opponents since 2019. Stanford just fell to 1-2 with a loss to Sacramento State, and 1-2 Arizona State just got blanked 29-0 at home against Fresno State.
The last time the Wildcats defeated a Power Five opponent was in the 2022 season opener against lowly Nebraska.
Four other Big Ten teams have a 1-2 record, but Northwestern ranks last in the conference in total offense (286.3 yards per game) and 12th both in scoring offense (19.7 points) and scoring defense (23.0).
After dropping the season opener 24-7 to Rutgers, Northwestern was only a one-point favorite for its Week 2 game against Texas-El Paso (UTEP). The Wildcats regained some respect by winning that game 38-7, showing off their playmakers.
Gophers safety Tyler Nubin grew up in Illinois playing against Northwestern receiver A.J. Henning, who scored a rushing touchdown against UTEP and a receiving TD vs. Duke.
"Knowing him, he's obviously an explosive player," Nubin said. "He's someone who could go the distance every time he touches the ball. He's a main focal point of their offense."
Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis is from Antioch, Ill., and was recruited by Northwestern. The Wildcats have experienced a downward spiral in recent years, but Kaliakmanis doesn't see players in that program feeling sorry for themselves.
"I think they're a really connected group of guys. It reminds me of my team here," Kaliakmanis said. "That shows who they are as a team. They're always responding. No matter the situation or the circumstances, they're together. I think that's really special."