The Minnesota Gophers Football Team clinched post-season bowl eligibility during its wins over Illinois and Purdue several weeks ago. This is quite the success story for a school whose football program was decimated by the incompetencies of former coach Tim Brewster.
But that’s not to say that current head coach, Jerry Kill, is heroically rebuilding the program at an appreciable rate.
The Gophers are .500 for the first time in three years since they, again, went 6-6 and lost in the Insight Bowl to Iowa State. This year’s team has an identical record, but one cannot help but feel this team is not nearly as potent.
A reason? The 2009 Gopher team accumulated their six wins by beating Syracuse, Air Force, Northwestern, and Michigan State, to name a few. This year’s team accumulated four of its six wins from non-conference teams, Syracuse being the most challenging of that group.
The other issue at play here is that all four non-conference wins by the Gophers were the first four games of the season, so they were quickly forgotten as conference play began. In addition, the Gophers beat only Purdue and Illinois in conference play. (These teams have combined for a dismal 3-13 conference record.)
In terms of the fan-base, this year’s team lacks a heroic player to support full-heartedly. After all, every team has at least one. Since the Gophers have used three different quarterbacks this season, that position is hard to find a hero. Within the last week, star wide reciever AJ Barker quit the team because of alledged pressure imposed by Jerry Kill during Barker’s injury rehabilitation.
What is the actual atmosphere of this team? The fan base certainly has improved from last year’s toxic disgust to this year’s general apathy toward the team. Is there unnecessary pressure in the locker-room that is keeping this team from being successful?
Honestly, the Gophers really only had to win one or two more games to call this season a “major” improvement over last year. Had the Gophers been able to win against Northwestern, they would have proved to skeptics that this team is a contender.
Yes, it would have only been one extra win, but Northwestern this season finished 9-3 in an exclusively weak Big Ten. Though the latest Michigan State loss the Gophers suffered was not by a close margin, a different feel for the game could’ve sent the Gophers to a bowl with some serious momentum.
Honestly, if you want your season to be remembered as a moderate success or complete success, it comes down to late-season victories against challenging opponents.
Likewise, if the Gophers do attend a bowl this year, even if it’s like the “Maury’s Mazda No-One-Cares-About-You” Bowl, a win would put a very positive spin on this season.
For next year’s team, I do have a few goals that will make that team more successful in the eyes of the fans than this season:
Beat UNLV and the other non-conference games. This may seem like a no-brainer, but another UNLV victory could reel in reluctant fans to purchase season tickets. Once the fan base is established in the first few games, the Gophers must enter conference play undefeated.
Another weak non-conference schedule will not push the team into the Top 25 rankings, but it will give the Gophers amble opportunity to solidify starters and playmakers.
Go .500 or better in the Big Ten. After going 2-6 this season in conference play, the Gophers need to show that they are contenders. Few fans are expecting—though many hoping for—a Big Ten Championship Game berth, so I will be realistic in my goal. But a 4-4 record in the Big Ten, assuming my first mentioned goal was met, will yield a strong 8-4 season record and a possible New Year’s Day bowl game.
Which teams they beat to get to 4-4 is up for debate. Without knowing recruiting situations for 2013, I would say wins against Indiana and Iowa are absolute wins. The Gophers will have to win on the road in conference play at least once next season if 4-4 is to be attained.
Must win against Wisconsin. My second goal for the team can be nullified if the Gophers beat Wisconsin at TCF Bank Stadium. Seriously, the Gophers season will be made, regardless of record or any other wins throughout the season, if they can pull out a win against the Badgers.
A victory against Wisconsin will be a major morale boost for the team and the fan base. (Additionally, it definitely couldn’t hurt recruiting for future seasons.) This, above all goals, is pinacle for the Gophers to call the 2013 season a success.