I wanted to get some perspective from a couple of guys who follow the B1G Conference at large pretty closely on how the Gophers are perceived across the "Off Tackle Empire." Who better than two guys from a blog that actually is called that?
Ted Glover is kind of an ass. Ted grew up in Minnesota, went to Ohio State, and now lives in the St Louis area. He contributes to Off Tackle Empire, Land Grant Holy Land and The Daily Norseman. He has a soft spot for the Gophers in his heart and a bald spot forming on the back of his head.
Let's talk preseason expectations. The OTE Staff as a whole predicted the Gophers to go 5-7, winning just a single game in the conference. But the Gophers beat that prediction pretty handily going 8-4 (4-4). Do you believe the Gophers beating expectations is more a function of an improved Gopher team, or do you believe the conference is down?
Graham: It's a definite combination of the two. Minnesota channeled power running and a much stouter than expected defense to pick off numerous members of the B1G's squishy middle. Every year, one team emerges from the muddled morass of the B1G's middle ground. This year it was Minnesota.
Ted: I think the conference is down, but it hasn't dropped demonstrably since Jerry Kill's first season and this year, so that means that the Gophers are a lot better. The defense is a legitimately good, FBS unit, which is something that you couldn't really say in recent seasons prior to Jerry Kill arriving. They're also recruiting better, and that helps, too. I love the running game, but I think if the Gophers want to consider a run at a division title, they need to get more consistency out of the quarterback and wide receivers. They need some more speed on defense if they want to run with the Ohio State's, but I'd take this coaching staff over any other one in the conference save for the Darth Sith Lord in Columbus.
As a non-Minnesota fan, what is your perception of how this Gopher team was different from previous incarnations?
Graham: I loved the imaginative running game used effectively against Nebraska; that might have been my favorite performance from any squad during the 2013 B1G season. The Huskers didn't know where the ball was going.
Ted: Man, a guy moves out of Minnesota for over 30 years and he's considered a non-Minnesota fan...but I digress. [Editor's note: Ted, I like you. You are a good person. You are a Vikings fan, and a Gopher apologist. We love that about you. But you are no longer "one of us." Now, GET OFF MY LAWN!] It's one of the more fundamentally sound Gopher teams I can remember. I love the road grading offense, lead by the line. Very good at run and pass blocking, and the defense is one of the better tackling units in the conference. When you look at the recruiting classes, and compare them to Tim Brewster's, there's a lot less stars...but there's more refined talent, if that makes sense. That goes back to coaching, and this staff is doing a hell of a job in 'coaching 'em up'. Brewster was just a buffoon, running around with his phrases and bullshit. Kill, Tracy Claeys, and Matt Limegrover just roll up their sleeves and go to work, and they've transformed the Gophers into a good football team on the rise.
Does anyone outside of Minnesota feel like the Gophers got screwed, just a little bit, in getting the Texas Bowl?
Ted: In terms of getting a better opponent, yes. In terms of going to a Jan 1 bowl, no. And the Gopher fan base has no one to blame but themselves. When you look at the programs that got picked ahead of Minnesota (Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan) they have fan bases that travel well and fill stadiums, and that's more important for the dorks in the weird blazers than some ridiculous notion of 'fairness'. But in defense of the Gopher fan base, there hasn't been a lot to get excited about for most of my life, and I'm closer to 50 than I am 40. I think there's a lot more buzz in Minnesota over Gopher football now than there has been in my entire life, save for maybe the couple years that Lou Holtz was there, and I think the better bowls are coming. But right now, it's a circular argument--the better bowls won't pick Minnesota until the fans start travelling, but the fans won't start travelling until they get selected for a better bowl game.
As the B1G transitions into a 14-team conference, how do you think Minnesota stacks up against the rest of the B1G West division (Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Purdue)?
Graham: Ranking these programs going forward:
Ted: I think things are setting up well for the Gophers. They still aren't quite up to Wisconsin's level, but they're getting there. They're right even with Iowa, and they've beaten everyone else in the division (suck it Nebraska and Northwestern WOOOOO). As Kill gets ready to graduate his first class, I don't see anything that prevents Minnesota from going from spoiler to contender.
In your opinion, what would Minnesota need to do in order to make a run at a B1G Championship in the next 3 years?
Graham: Keep doing exactly what they are doing. The best B1G programs have an identity. This year felt monumental for the Gophers because they had an identity, one forged with interior toughness and offensive adaptability. Can they keep that going? Do the new recruits fit? Will the coaching staff stick together?
Ted: Keep improving the defense and find someone to replace Ra'Shede Hageman. The Gophers are still susceptible to offenses that are just athletically superior, and they need more phyical defensive backs. As the Spread and athletic quarterbacks continue to evolve, they'll need to find some 2 and 3 star Denicos Allen-type guys to play linebacker. On offense, the saying goes if you have two quarterbacks, you have none. As well as both Mitch Leidner and Philip Nelson played at times, they both also struggled mightily. They need consistency at quarterback, and a big time, go to receiver.
As a whole, do you feel the B1G Conference is on the rise, holding at mediocrity, or falling behind?
Graham: We're holding comfortably at mediocre. Little has changed, save my MSU's rise to stable power, something that Spartan fans have been waiting on for 30 years. OSU is nasty powerful. The PSU scandal really slowed down that program from advancing. Wisconsin is still scary each year with the power run game. So we're not moving anywhere, yet.
Ted: It's getting better, but OSU and MSU are just head and shoulders above everyone else right now. I'd put Wisconsin next, then Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan just below them, and then everyone else (PSU, Illinois, NW, Indiana, Purdue). For every team that seems to improve, like Minnesota and Iowa, one drops, like Northwestern and Purdue. Oh, Purdue. The coaching has gotten better, and coaching and recruiting is at the core of whether or not the conference is getting better. When I look at the bowl matchups for the conference, I can talk myself into 5-2...or 2-5. there's a ways to go, but we're getting there.
What say you, TDG Community? Do you have friends, family members, co-workers that are talking about the Gophers? What are they saying?
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