Since the hiring of Tim Brewster he has created Gopher Nation and taken them on a roller coaster ride of expectations. We all know he started his tenure putting the Rose Bowl as the goal. We got excited and there was much anticipation heading into the 2007 season. We also know how that turned out and expectations plummeted to "improvement" for the 2008 season.
Recruiting was good to us and the early 2008 schedule appeared kind, but expectations remained pretty flat. I think most of us would have said a six win season would be a success and demonstrate enough improvement that recruiting should be big again and there would be some real hope for 2009.
In a nutshell that takes from Brewster Day 1 till now. The 2008 Gophers, as you are aware, are 6-1 following an a road upset of Illinois and the expecations game has changed drastically. Remember that two months ago a six win season would have been a success. Where we sit today, a six win season would be a disaster and a tremendous disapointment. This brings me to the question I'm trying to answer.
What has to happen for the 2008 season to be classified a success?
I believe two things will define the 2008 season. Final record plays into it and how we finish the final five games are important but six months from now the two things we will remember this season for are rivalry games and our bowl destination.
** more after the break **
For the last month two of our trophy games appeared to be well within reach and the Badger game, in Madison, was assumed a bit out of reach this year. Well things are changing and you could make a compelling argument that Floyd of Rosedale, The Jug and Paul Bunyan's Axe will all need a special case in TCF Stadium.
Michigan is playing terrible, we get them at home, spread teams have been their kryptonite and they are verging on quit mode. If this game were this week, we would be favored.
A month ago the Iowa game looked like the most sure thing, but the Hawkeyes are improving and made a statement by beating Wisconsin this past weekend. They are finding themselves and I now feel fortunate this game is at home.
If there is a team that has completely given up on their season and appears to have quit it is the Badgers. This game will be in Madison, where we struggle, but it will be their last Big Ten game of the year and we could be playing for the second piece of the trifecta of trophies for the first time since 1967.
I think that winning just two of these would be outstanding and I would be happy to officially call this season a huge success. If we finish 2-3 winning the Jug and Floyd, that would be an eight win season with two trophies in our possession. When was the last time that happened?
As far as bowl games go? Here is what I see, in reverse order...
Motor City Bowl (Dec. 26) - B10 vs. MAC
This would be a disaster. If we go 0-5 to finish 6-6 I think we end up here (or at home). While a possibility this would be a disappointing finish to what has been an exciting season.
Insight Bowl (Dec. 31) - B10 #6 vs. B12 #6
Also would be a disappointment. Two more wins guarantees us avoiding sixth place and avoiding a trip to Tempe, AZ.
Champs Sports Bowl (Dec. 27) - B10#5 vs. ACC #4
This is on the low end of acceptable. We have to keep in mind that in June we all would be ecstatic if someone told us we'd finish fifth in conference and heading to Champs Sports Bowl to face a likely beatable ACC team (Wake, Virginia, Maryland?)
Alamo Bowl (Dec. 29) - B10 #4 vs. B12 #4
This is a great bowl on many levels. It isn't a Jan 1 bowl but by Big Ten standards it is the next best thing. And for those of you who haven't been to San Antonio it is a great destination and would be a lot of fun for Gopher fans. This is a very realistic destination for Minnesota this year.
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1) - B10 #3 vs. SEC
Many of the teams we'll be vying with for this Jan. 1 bowl game all look like they have a couple losses left on their schedule. Which means assuming we win the right games (Northwestern and Iowa in my estimation) we could even take a loss and end up in this Jan 1 bowl.
Capital One Bowl (Jan. 1) B10 #2 vs. SEC #2
This is unlikely but a possibility. If Minnesota wins out, finishes tied with Ohio State for second and Penn State is in the BCS title game then we would have to be the favorites for the Capital One Bowl. Plenty of "ifs" here but all of these scenarios will be heavy on the "ifs."
This is our semi-realistic best case scenario. I don't think anybody would be complaining to land in Orlando over New Years. The scary part would be taking on the SEC's second best. Minnesota vs. Alabama or Georgia or Florida isn't an ideal match up for us. On the bright side the Big Ten has a four game win streak in this series.
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1) Big 10 #1 vs. Pac 10 #1
I'm sorry to be Mr. Negativity here but there is almost no shot the Gophers play in the Rose Bowl this year. Even if you assume we win out and finish 11-1 there are too many scenarios against us. Assume Penn State wins out and earns a birth in the BCS title game. And then I think it is fair to assume Ohio State's only conference loss is to Penn St. Who will the Rose Bowl committee select Minnesota or Ohio State(who has the head to head advantage anyway)? That is obvious.
Now assume Ohio State slips up along the way and Minnesota finishes second all by themselves. While I know the Rose Bowl does their best to maintain the traditional B10/P10 match up, but I just can't see them sending the Gophers up against USC for what would certainly be perceived as another sacrificial lamb, like Illinois last year. We can hold out hope that tradition would outweigh a sexier match up and better ratings but it just isn't realistic. As an astute friend pointed out, the Big 12 runner-up (OK, Mizz or even Tex) vs. USC is a marquee match up and would nearly be as exciting as the BCS title game. Now, if the BCS title game is USC vs. Penn State then maybe we have a shot. Minnesota vs. Oregon or Cal or whoever finishes second in the Pac 10 is a friendlier match up. Not sexy for ratings but not a guaranteed blow out.
The good news is that we don't have to go to the Rose Bowl this year to be successful. We are in great shape to go to a very good bowl and put some hardware in our trophy case. Then or course the expectations get raised and we can play this game all over again.