There are a number of ways to preview the upcoming season. There are a number of ways to set expectations for the season. And eventually there are a number of ways to evaluate the success/failures of a finished season.
For instance last year was a 3-win season. Never a good year when you lose three times as many games as you win and your coach gets fired mid-year. But some 3-win seasons are worse than others. Last year wasn't a total loss and even gives Gopher fans a tiny bit of optimism heading into 2011 because they won their final two games of the year and beat a rival. The win over Iowa changed my perspective on the 2010 season. At 1-9 it was quite possibly the worst season I've ever had to endure. But 3-9 with a couple Big Ten wins to end the year made it palatable, for a 3-win season. Moving on...
2011 is not shaping up to be a breakthrough year. This is the first year under Coach Kill and there is a lot of work to do. Some believe that a bowl game is a slight possibility but getting to that magic number of six wins appears to be a kind of tough. Not impossible but there will have to be a couple surprises out there. Others just want to see a more competitive product on the field. A team that doesn't beat itself and puts players in position to make plays would be a step in the right direction. Being competitive is the first step to then being a team capable of beating just about anybody.
Expectations are a fluid and subjective thing and I'm not about to dissect that topic today. But let us assume wins are going to be hard to come by in 2011. If you believe in Kill, you believe that more wins will eventually come but 2011 might be a bit soon to expect bowl games. Assuming wins will be hard to come by I want to list my most desirable wins for the season. The list is in inverse order. Basically if we are only going to have one win this year this is the order of teams whom I would most want to defeat.
12. Miami (Ohio) RedHawks - This may end up being the Gopher's signature win this year as MIami(Ohio) is a very good MAC team. But this game does not excite me and while I want a win, I won't get excited about a win over the Redhawks. At the end of the year this game will be barely memorable and if this is the only win of the year or even one of three non-conference wins, it will not be a good year in any measurable way.
11. Purdue Boilermakers - Nothing about beating the Boilermakers excites me other than notching a Big Ten road win is always a nice thing. This is a match-up of weak teams fighting to stay out of the cellar of their respective B1G divisions. A win would be great and it is possible, but I don't desire it as much as I desire wins over most of the other teams on the schedule. A loss here isn't terribly disappointing nor is it embarrassing. Regardless of the outcome this game will not be a blip on anyone's radar. It may go a long way towards getting bowl eligible but I'm keeping it at #11.
10. New Mexico St. Aggies - I really don't care about a win here because this should be the most likely win on the schedule, but they come ahead of Michigan State purely because it would be an embarrassing loss. And I'm tired of embarrassing losses.
9. North Dakota State Bison - Like New Mexico State, this would just be an embarrassing loss. And since we have already lost to NDSU and considering they are an FCS team I would be more embarrassed to lose this game. Which means I'd rather win this one (if I had to pick just one between the two of them).
8. Michigan St. Spartans - Maybe a bit surprising to put the Spartans so far down the list but I don't really care too much about this one. It is on the road and probably the away game where we will be the largest underdogs. A win here would be great, but I think if we pull this one off then proceed to lose all of the games below, then there will still be nothing to hang our hats on. MSU is a bowl team that has an outside shot at winning the
Leaders Legends division so this would obviously be a big win, just not big enough for me.
7. Northwestern Wildcats - Northwestern, on the road, ranks higher than Michigan State
because it is a divisional game because getting a couple wins within the division will only help towards not finishing 6th in the Legends. I'm not presuming that a win here would put Northwestern into 6th they could end up there if we don't. The Wildcats and us are quite often lower-tier teams that believe the other is a likely win on the schedule. And we often have competitive games that we tend to eventually give away in some fashion. Beating them would be nice.
6. Illinois Fighting Illini - Illinois is our most likely home win (in conference) and if we are going to make a bowl game this one will have to be a win. This list does not factor in getting to six wins, just how nice would it be to get this W. It is time we start establishing some sort of home field pride, I want this win at home more than I want the Big Ten road games listed behind it.
5. USC Trojans - I think there is a big gap between the Illinois game and the USC game. Every game from here on out would be a statement win. A win that we would look back on at the end of the season and say we have something to build upon for 2012. USC is a blue-chip program with blue-chip recruits and it would be very exciting to get this win in southern California.
4. Nebraska Cornhuskers - Nebraska is the marquee team on our schedule. They and Wisconsin are the two likely favorites in the conference and Nebraska has a shot at the BCS Title game (so does Wisconsin I guess). Were it not for trophies and rivalries this one would be higher. In a year when I felt like we were going to be even remotely in the mix for a shot at the conference title game, this one would rank higher. But Nebraska is in a different class than us right now. A win here might make a bigger statement than any other on the schedule, that much is true. But assuming we only get a few wins this year I'd still rather beat a few other teams.
3. Michigan Wolverines - Two teams who have struggled quite a bit over the last few years, both are implementing new coaching staffs. This makes for intriguing game on it's own merit. But add to it The Jug which hasn't been played for since 2008. I heart the jug as it is the absolute best trophy game trophy in all of college football. It was the first and it defines a rivalry trophy. If you want it back, you gotta win it. I want The Jug, but not quite as bad as I want the Axe or the pig (again).
2. Wisconsin Badgers - One could easily make the argument that Wisconsin should be #1 and I'm sure many of you will. But for me, this year, it comes in second. I love the Axe, I dislike Brett Bielema and I want to beat the Sconnies. A win over the Badgers to knock them out of any hope for a BCS game or maybe even knocking them out of the B1G Championship Game would be awesome and add plenty of fuel to this rivalry's fire. As I type this I am wondering why I don't have them 1st on the list. Think of this as 1b and it is my own issues that are preventing me from putting them #1. A win at home over Wisconsin, even if it were the only win of the season, would give us something to smile about in the offseason.
1. Iowa Hawkeyes - I want to win Floyd...again! All fans are good at making excuses for their team's losses and Iowa fans are no exception. We won Floyd back last year in a year when we had no reason to be playing for anything. Neither did Iowa and that is the reason we beat them, or so some of them would like us to believe. I want a winning streak, I want Floyd in our trophy case for 2 years (and more of course). I don't Iowa to win him back and tell us that 2010 was an exception. I want this win more than I want any other win on the schedule.
That is my list and I'm sticking to it. Give me your list, tell me why you'd rather beat Wisconsin, USC, Nebraska, Michigan, whoever.