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Why Not Not Minnesota? A Response to Off Tackle Empire

Confused yet? Well let me try and explain. If you're not reading Off Tackle Empire, you should be. It's an excellent Big Ten blog (even if it's run by a bunch of lawyers) that does a great job of covering the whole conference (they even have some dude named JDMill who seems to know quite a bit about Gopher football). You should be reading their stuff daily, but I point you in the direction of OTE today for a post by a Nebraska fan named Albino Tornado titled Why Not Minnesota? It's about why Minnesota will never compete at the top of the Big Ten with Iowa and Wisconsin.

Before you go any further, head over there and read it. Please. I'll wait here...waiting...waiting...watching the Twins celebrate winning the division...hoping the Twins realize they're just a game back of the Yankees for best record in the American League and that home field would be a REALLY good thing for them to have...seeing Jewel Hampton is out for the year....Iowa is now auditioning fans, students, faculty or really anyone they can find to be a backup tailback to Adam Robinson...are you back yet? Ok good.

First things first: no Gopher fan in their right mind believes Minnesota should be competing on a level with Ohio State year in and year out. Or Michigan, Penn State, and when they join next year, Nebraska. Those four schools are in a tier unto themselves, and at their peak, those four can achieve sustained dominance that few programs in the country can. Certainly not Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, or any of the other Big Ten schools.

What Iowa and Wisconsin do (at least in the last 15 seasons) is average about 8-9 wins a season and contend for a New Year's Day bowl. In a great season they could win the Rose Bowl. In a down year, they play in the Music City or Insight Bowl, or as Gopher fans like to call them "the only bowls we ever play in." That is the apex of what Gopher football could be, and I remain steadfast in my belief that Minnesota is capable of achieving the same level of success that Iowa and Wisconsin have showed in the last decade or so.

I mean really: we're all somewhat rural states with smaller populations who don't produce a ton of quality D1 high school players. Somehow that means Minnesota will never win but it doesn't preclude Sconnie or Iowa from doing so. What the Badgers and Hawks have done to overcome that is get coaches who know how to recruit their kind of players for their systems- and then coach the hell out of them. Those two schools are consistently in the top 25 end of season rankings, but are rarely in the top 25 recruiting rankings. They are proof that with the right coach who knows not only how to recruit but how to recruit HIS type of players, you can be successful in the Big Ten. And again, by "successful" I don't mean winning six straight conference titles like Ohio State or being one of the all-time winningest programs like Michigan or the 4th all-time winningest program like Nebraska. What I mean by success is that they're much better than we are now, and are the type of success we can attain if everything goes well.

I'm not saying it's a poorly written post or he doesn't have some good points: he does. But all of those are simply reasons why we haven't won, not reasons why we cannot win in the future. Besides the shallow recruiting pool and coaching, I also don't see why a lack of fan support means we can't be successful. Have you heard of Northwestern? Are you aware they've won the Big Ten three times since 1995, more than Iowa or Wisconsin in that same span? I have no idea how they've done it, either. Gary Barnett, then Randy Walker (RIP), and now Pat Fitzgerald have worked some sort of purple voodoo magic in Evanston that I can't really explain. They never seem to recruit well and I'm never, ever afraid of playing them, and yet they whoop our ass and Iowa's and keep finding ways to win football games. And win three conference titles since 1995. The only thing that could possibly be more amazing would be actually getting people to show up at Ryan Field to watch the Wildcats! Yep, believe it or not, the Wildcats have actually been quite successful despite an almost total lack of fan support.

So why does it matter that the Gophers are well down the pecking order in Minnesota sports? Why does this have ANYTHING to do with future success? The Gophers haven't won since the 1960's, and play in a major metropolitan area. Not sure if you've ever been to Minnesota in the fall, but there's a LOT going on here. All three professional sports teams (four if you count the T-Wolves, which I don't) are in action during the college football season, as is the Gopher hockey team. Fall is also perhaps the best time to be outdoors in Minnesota, as the locals flock to the lakes and the Northwoods for hunting, fishing, camping and just enjoying the great outdoors. So to get them to stick around and watch a subpar football program year in and year out with all of THAT going on doesn't make a lot of sense to me. This isn't Lincoln or Iowa City where you guys have nothing else to do. We get it- you're great fans who support your team through thick and thin. It's also the only teams you have. Similar to us, there were plenty of good seats available at Camp Randall in Madison until about 1994, when Barry Alvarez took the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. Since then, it's been one of the toughest tickets to get in the state, and has become one of the best gameday experiences in all of college football. But it didn't happen when they were losing.

Look, call me cynical or perhaps just a a realist, but the vast majority of Minnesota sports fans will jump on the bandwagon when the Gophers give them a reason to, and not until then. As a die-hard Gopher football fan, I don't blame them, because there's just too much else going on.

And the stadium? You're going to tell me that leaving the gawd-awful Metrodome was a mistake because it was such a competitive advantage? Really? Last I checked we lost there plenty too. It was a hell hole. The players, the coaches, the fans, everybody hated that place. Fine for pro football, but awful for the college game. Only someone who has grown up with outdoor football and a real college gameday experience in Nebraska could possibly say with a straight face leaving the Metrodome for the beautiful new TCF Bank Stadium was a mistake. You sit in that place 7 times a year watching terrible-to mediocre football since 1982 as many did, or since 2000 like I did, and tell me we shouldn't have left that place behind.

Anyway, bottom line is that Albino Tornado's post was mostly correct about why Gopher football hasn't won, but they don't have to be the same reasons why we can't win. The one thing it hinges on, and it's the one thing that has me very worried as a Gopher fan right now, is that we have to find the right coach. And the same man, AD Joel Maturi, who somehow hired Tim Brewster from a pool of much more qualified candidates (Lane Kiffin and Charlie Strong to name two) is going to be doing the hiring again. Firing Mason was the right decision, but clearly choosing a career position coach with zero head coaching experience was a bad idea. Most of us could have told you that before even hiring Brewster, but we're into year four of Brewster's "Gopher Nation" before it looks like Maturi is starting to believe maybe this wasn't the wisest choice.

So can Maturi make amends? Can he find the right coach to start building something here, to start recruiting his kind of kids and coaching them up to be successful on Saturdays? As a Gopher fan I can only do what I've come to do on gamedays all too often of late: hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.