It's Northwestern week. The week where both fan bases look at the other and say "we should beat you. No really, we should." Any NU fan will tell you college football didn't really begin until 1995 (whereas some Gopher fans might say college football actually ceased to exist after 1967 but not to worry, Jerry Kill is trying to get the game going again), and yes they've had three
Rose Bowl trips Big Ten Championships since then, and a couple of other New Year's Day bowl trips sprinkled in too. Minnesota? Um...yeah not so much. The Wildcats have- in my humble opinion- the best coach in the Big Ten in Pat Fitzgerald, and have won three straight with wins over Indiana, Rice and...Nebraska? Wait wha? They beat the Huskers?!?!? The same team that beat Minnesota a thousand-million to nothing (or was that Michigan? Or Purdue? Or Wisconsin?)? Yep, they beat Nebraska- IN LINCOLN!!!
And yet, despite all of that, I still see them on the schedule and think "Oh it's just Northwestern. The Gophers should beat them." I don't know what it will take for me to change my mind. Perhaps this is how Iowa fans feel when Northwestern has flat dominated them the past seven or eight years yet they still call them "jNU" as in "just Northwestern." Whatever NU's record, whatever their team may have done, this Saturday, like every year we play them, I think Minnesota should beat them.
But don't worry. It doesn't mean we're becoming Iowa fans or anything, because every year the Gophers and Wildcats play, Northwestern fans think the same thing. From Lake the Posts post about the recent series between these two teams:
Minnesota is one of three or four teams (along with Indiana, Illinois and Purdue) in the Big Ten whose respective fanases chalk up as a win every single year. Minnesota fans look at the schedule and are programmed to think "w", Northwestern fans look at the November 19 home date and say "w".
So we have a mutual lack of respect for each other. It's why I'm glad we get to play them every year, because I think this SHOULD be a more important game- even a rivalry game- for both schools. We could even come up with a lack of respect trophy to play for. Or maybe a trophy of a half-empty stadium, or one where there's more visiting fans than home fans? Because we both have that in common too. Certainly we could come up with a better trophy than this. Forget Nebraska as a new "rival" or even considering Michigan as one because we play them for the Little Brown Jug (which we've won a grand total of three times since the 1960's. Some rivalry), it should be Northwestern because despite the Cats success since 1995 and Minnesota's lack of it, this series has been VERY competitive...
Again, from Lake the Posts:
As I mentioned last year the week we played them, most Wildcat fans would’ve failed the "since 1995″ test as we were just 6-5 against the Gophers heading in to last year’s game. You also didn’t see Northwestern fans enter the pile on Minnesota conversations during the Brewster era as we sweat out every single game with them.
So yeah, despite these programs going in opposite directions the past couple of decades, the Gophers are 5-7 against The Purple Smart Kids since 1995, and if you read the rest of the excellent series recap by Lake the Posts (and shame on you if you haven't) almost all of them have been exciting and close. And heartbreaking (I'm still not over the 2008 Adam Weber pick-six loss, but whatever). But it's been very competitive, and it's probably why I still think Minnesota should win every year. I mean my gawd, the team we had last year was AWFUL and I'm pretty sure I was rooting against the Gophers at that point to get Brewster fired, and Northwestern still only won 29-28.
And it's why this year won't be any different. Yep, they've won three straight and that includes beating Nebraska in Lincoln. Their offense? Damn good. Really good. Like second best in the conference good. No really, I'm not kidding, Northwestern has the second best offense in the B1G this season. Come on stop laughing, I'm going to say it one more time and I mean it...NORTHWESTERN HAS THE SECOND BEST OFFENSE IN THE WHOLE FREAKING BIG TEN!!!
I scoffed a little after seeing NU ONLY beat Rice 28-6 last week, but then I looked at the box score- egads, man! The Purple Smart Kids rolled up 533 yards of total offense, including 372 and 4 TD's from QB Dan Persa, and a seven catch, 208 yard, 2 score day from senior receiver Jeremy Ebert. Persa's achilles looks just fine thanks, and he looks to be back to last season's all-Big Ten form which means this offense can- and against the Gophers will- pile up the yards and some points.
So why do I have hope? How is this not going to be a blowout loss like last week to Wisconsin? Because Northwestern has to play defense. And they haven't been very good at that. The Cats total D and scoring D rank 10th in the B1G, just ahead of Minnesota's, and somehow their pass defense is even worse than ours. I know, I didn't think that was possible either.
I look at this game and I see what the Iowa game ended up being- Iowa's defense was bad and our offense found some life, and I think it happens again Saturday at Ryan field. Yes, last week's game was depressing and disheartening and generally sucked in every way shape and form, but don't let it blind you from the two weeks before that when Minnesota's offense played pretty well against Iowa and Michigan State's very good defense. Northwestern doesn't rush the passer well (they have just two more sacks than our pathetic 12), and while their offense converts 50% of their 3rd downs, their defense is dead last in getting off the field (again, somehow worse than ours) as they allow almost 50% 3rd down conversion rate to their opponents.
Q is going to have more time and space to operate, and if Da'Jon McKnight decides he wants to play, he could be in for a MSU-type of game. The offense is going to have an excellent opportunity to gain some confidence and pick up some yards and points. And that's exactly what Northwestern's offense is thinking about playing Minnesota's defense.
So the Wildcats come in with a better team and are favored by 16.5 points. On paper they're a better squad and should definitely be favored to win. They have the best coach in the conference, a high powered offense led by a great QB and perhaps the B1G's best receiver, and they have home field advantage. And yet I don't care. I don't just like Minnesota and the points, I like Minnesota to win outright- just like I do every year. It's Northwestern week- and I expect a Minnesota Gopher win.