In the blink of an eye, the Wisconsin women’s soccer team (5-3-2) has gone from a legitimate top-25 program to a team struggling to find momentum.The once highly ranked Badgers began conference play last weekend, falling to Illinois in overtime, 3-2, and tying Iowa 2-2. The pair of losses knocked the former No. 13 team out of the national rankings this week.Though last weekend’s games were a tough blow for the Badgers, head coach Dean Duerst is hoping to bounce back this weekend.”We need to rebound,” Duerst said. “We are a great team and will find a way. There is a ton of parity in our conference and we know that. We just have to dig down and keep working hard.”The Badgers will attempt a rebound this weekend when they host border rival Minnesota Friday and No. 2 Penn State Sunday.”It’s just going to be a great weekend because this border battle is starting to really grow with our team,” Duerst said.Duerst is setting high expectations for his recovering team, hoping a Friday night game under the lights will motivate the Badgers to a victory.”We have an experienced group of players,” Duerst said about his team. “Our team is very balanced right now in our scoring, which is what a coach wants. We’ve got numerous players getting points for us.”Leading the way for the Badgers are senior forward Amy Vermeulen and junior forward Allison Priess. Vermeulen leads the cardinal and white with five goals. Both Priess and Vermeulen lead Wisconsin in scoring with 10 points apiece.Goalkeepers Lynn Murray and Stefani Szczechowski have combined for 48 saves this season, with Murray accumulating 45 of them.Both goalkeepers will be put to the test Sunday when they face Tiffany Weimer of Penn State. Weimer currently leads the Big Ten with 15 goals and has been the sole leader for the undefeated Nittany Lions.”I think we’re going to have to devise some scheme with Weimer,” Duerst said. “She’s just someone special that has to be paid attention to. We’re ready for that challenge.”Weimer, a Hermann Trophy candidate, garnered Soccer America National Player of the Week Honors after scoring three goals in the Nittany Lions’ Big Ten opening weekend. Weimer has managed to score a goal in all 10 Penn State contests.Last year, the senior pulled off her second career hat-trick en route to leading the Nittany Lions to a 4-0 victory over the Badgers.”Last year we lost pretty badly to them,” assistant coach Carrie Barker said. “I think we need to have a recap and let them know that we are going to remember last year’s game and not be afraid to play them again. It’s important for us to evaluate ourselves.””We are a year older, more experienced and more driven to prove to them that last year’s game was an embarrassment and we will not let that happen again,” Barker said.Both Minnesota and Penn State are coming off overtime wins. Last Sunday Penn State managed to beat Purdue 3-2 and Minnesota defeated Indiana 2-1.The Badgers have seen overtime five times this season, going 1-2-2. Though Duerst said overtime exposure helps the Badgers gain experience, he agrees five is too many.”We’ve played 10 games and five were in overtime,” Duerst said. “As a coach I don’t like that because that’s too many, but it’s given us some great experience as we head into the meat of our season. And, you know, you win some of those, you lose some, you tie some, and it gives you this experience I think which is valuable down the road. And for us to improve and get better each weekend is real important.”The Badgers will host the Gophers Friday at 7 p.m. and the Nittany Lions at 11:30 a.m. Sunday. Both matches will be held at the McClimon Soccer Complex.
WEEK 11 PICKS: Straight up | Against the spreadMinnesota continues to improve under third-year coach P.J. Fleck, and the Gophers have scored 34 points or more in every Big Ten game this season. Minnesota has a chance to keep its Big Ten West hopes alive, given its two-game lead on Wisconsin and Iowa.The Nittany Lions and Gophers can improve their conference championship hopes with a big victory here. With that in mind, here’s everything you need for Saturday’s matchup:Penn State vs. Minnesota oddsSpread: Penn State -6.5Point total: 48Moneyline: Minnesota -110, Penn State-110Penn State is a 6.5-point favorite, according to odds at Sportsbook Review, with 56 percent of the wagering coming in favor of the Nittany Lions.Get the latest NCAA odds & betting advice at Sportsbook ReviewMinnesota vs. Penn State all-time seriesPenn State leads the all-time series 9-5, and this is the first meeting between the teams where both are ranked in the AP Top 25. The Nittany Lions won the last meeting 29-26 in overtime on Oct. 1, 2016 — a game that helped kick-start a Big Ten championship run.Three trends to know— Minnesota is 3-2 against the spread as a home underdog under Fleck. The Gophers have beat the spread in their last five games.— The Gophers are 9-5 against against the Nittany Lions in those 14 meetings.— The Nittany Lions have been favored in every game and are 5-3 against the spread this season. Penn State is 10-8-1 against the spread as a road favorite under James Franklin.WEEK 11 PROJECTIONS: Bowls | PlayoffThree things to watchSean Clifford’s accuracyThe Penn State quarterback thrives on limiting mistakes. He has 20 touchdowns and three interceptions this season, and that included eight touchdowns and one interception against the Hawkeyes, Spartans and Wolverines. That said, Clifford didn’t hit 60 percent of his passes in any of those victories, and the Gophers have similar defensive numbers as Michigan. Clifford will need to find a rhythm against a secondary that features Antoine Winfield Jr., who leads Minnesota with five interceptions.Penn State’s pass rushTanner Morgan continues to improve at quarterback for the Gophers, and he has 18 touchdowns and four interceptions this season. Minnesota has allowed 16 sacks this season, but the Penn State pass rush is the best unit they have faced this season. Shaka Toney (5.5 sacks) and Yetur Gross-Matos (5.5 sacks) are excellent pass-rushers, and Micah Parsons (57 tackles) must be accounted for as well.Which receiver shows out?NFL scouts will be Penn State’s KJ Hamler (37 catches, 620 yards, eight touchdowns) and Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson (43 catches, 626 yards, seven touchdowns) with great interest. Both are big-play receivers who can make the game-changing play, and this is the kind of game where one or two plays in the passing game could make the difference.MORE: Who should Playoff contenders root for in Bama-LSU? No. 5 Penn State (8-0) travels to No. 13 Minnesota (8-0) in a battle of Big Ten unbeatens at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. The game will be televised nationally at noon ET on ABC.Penn State remains ranked in the top five and is coming off a bye week after an impressive string of victories against Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State. Sean Clifford has been solid at quarterback, and the Nittany Lions rank second in the FBS in scoring defense at 9.6 points per game. Stat that mattersMinnesota’s Rodney Smith has rushed for 100 yards or more in five straight games. The veteran back has been with the program since 2014, and the Gophers are 15-1 when he rushes for 100 yards or more. Smith averaged 20 carries in those last five games. If he can have that kind of success against a stingy Penn State front, then Minnesota will have a chance to spring the upset.Penn State vs. Minnesota predictionThe Gophers will be fired up, and Fleck might even pull out a few trick plays early to fire up the crowd. If Smith settles in, Minnesota could take an early lead and build from there. Penn State running back Noah Cain was a nonfactor against Michigan and Michigan State, but he could be the counter in this game. Clifford settles in by the third quarter, and Hamler is the receiver who makes the big play. Penn State seals the victory with a late interception.Penn State 24, Minnesota 16