A chance to prove

It's finally here, Michigan vs. Minnesota. It is the Gophers' chance to prove they belong with the conference contenders, but what do they need to do to make that happen? Here's the preview.

With the college football world watching Friday night, Glen Mason's undefeated team will take on Michigan in a game that could prove the Gophers are for real.

Minnesota has survived two Big Ten road games against Penn State and Northwestern, but the Wolverines bring a much more formidable offense to the table than either of those teams.

In previous years, there was an undercurrent of insecurity whenever the Gophers had a matchup with Michigan or Ohio State. That doesn't seem to be the case this time. The Gophers have momentum, confidence and are coming off a sensational game against Northwestern in which they fell behind early and ended up scoring a huge win.

Michigan may make the mistake of merely trying to stop the Minnesota ground game. Asad Abdul-Khaliq has been a solid Big Ten quarterback for three years and he was super last week in completing 12-of-17 passes for 331 yards with four TD passes.

Michigan's pass defense is clearly much better than Northwestern's, but if the Wolverines are selling out to stop Marion Barber & Co., that passing game could do a ton of damage.

The running game is the team's signature, with Marion Barber (two 31-yard TD runs vs. Northwestern) leading the way. When he has enough time, QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq can throw a beautiful deep pass. He hit two TD passes of 80-plus yards to WR Jared Ellerson against Northwestern, but the same questions dog him as they do the whole team -- can the Gophers get it done against top-shelf Big Ten competition?

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Minnesota defense has not been tested the way it will be by Michigan. John Navarre has torched nearly every defense he has gone up against and is coming off a 389-yard effort in the loss to Iowa. However, the Minnesota defense has come up big in key moments. Defensive back Justin Fraley will need to use his considerable athleticism against Michigan's sensational receivers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's having success because he's worked hard. He's the epitome of a team guy. We need more guys with his attitude." -- Minnesota defensive coordinator Greg Hudson on defensive back Justin Fraley.

Michigan at Minnesota, Oct. 10 -- Will Minnesota fade as it has in previous seasons when it hits the tougher part of the Big Ten schedule? The Gophers need to start turning around their reputation as a team that feasts on lightweights and gets knocked out by the big boys.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq -- He is coming off the best game of his career. Abdul-Khaliq threw four TD passes against Northwestern and did not have an interception. If the offensive line can give him a little time, he could cause problems for the Michigan defense.

WR Jared Ellerson -- He is a big-play weapon. He caught a 96-yard TD pass in the second quarter and then torched the Wildcats with an 82-yard scoring play shortly after halftime.

INJURY IMPACT: Offensive lineman Mike Nicholson (flu) is questionable for Friday's game against Michigan.

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