GOPHERS VS. WASHINGTON STATE

GOPHERS OFFENSE VS. COUGARS DEFENSE

Mitch Leidner was MVP of last year’s Quick Lane Bowl victory over Central Michigan. Now he has to bounce back after throwing four interceptions at Wisconsin. The Cougars rank 28th nationally against the run and 121st against the pass. Leidner will need help from his receivers. Advantage: Gophers

SPECIAL TEAMS

Cougars K Erik Powell is only 7-for-13 on field-goal attempts, compared with 21-for-23 for Big Ten Kicker of the Year Emmit Carpenter. Advantage: Gophers

PLAYER TO WATCH

Washington State junior Luke Falk ranks third in the nation in passing yards per game (350.3), and his .710 completion percentage ranks second behind Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. Falk sputtered a bit in late-season losses to Colorado and Washington.

THE OPPONENT

Washington State won its first seven Pac-12 games and climbed to No. 20 before a loss at Colorado. The Cougars still were Pac-12 North title contention before a 28-point home loss to Washington. Mike Leach is in his fifth season as coach.

GOPHERS DEFENSE VS. COUGARS OFFENSE

The Gophers have lost two starting defensive backs (KiAnte Hardin, Antoine Winfield) and two key reserves to suspensions. Washington State is the only team in the country with five players with 40-plus receptions. Advantage: Washington State

INTANGIBLES

The Cougars have a strong alumni base in San Diego and probably will have more fans. The Gophers will need to refocus after a turbulent month with 10 suspensions and a two-day player boycott. Advantage: Washington State.

JOE’S PREDICTION

Washington State 38, Gophers 27

The Gophers come out focused, but the Cougars pull away late.

JOE CHRISTENSEN