This post is about looking ahead, as I think we've pretty much covered what happened the past three weeks. This will not be a discussion about whether Jerry Kill made the right decision to de-redshirt Philip Nelson, whether it should have happened in August or week 7, whether having to pay to cancel a home-and-home series with North Carolina was a good idea (I think we can all at least agree that was a bad idea- Sorry, we're looking ahead. Right), and how it's possible MarQueis Gray was healthy enough to play WR but not QB the past two weeks.
What we're doing is looking at the rest of the 2012 regular season, these last four games in November, and asking how many of those games do you see the Gophers winning? I'm not going to break down the remaining four opponents- Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska and Michigan State- in great detail here, this is more an exercise in how confident you are with the team going forward (if you're looking for more coverage of this week's game Maize N Brew just posted their game preview and, barring more death-flu related casualties, we should have ours up tomorrow). Philip Nelson is the QB, MarQueis Gray is a full-time wide receiver, the o-line continues to be banged up (no Ed Olson again this week) and so does the team's best WR (I'm feeling much more pessimistic about the chances Saturday with AJ Barker likely out). Defensively can a run defense that hasn't shown they can stop the run stop two good running teams (Michigan and Nebraska), one that could potentially give the Gophers issues (Michigan State's running game is last in the B1G but with a good tailback and big offensive line they remind me an awful lot of Iowa. Scary...), and...Illinois?
Mike Rallis could be out this week (is that a positive or negative? As Linda Richman once said "Discuss, discuss..."), but otherwise the defense and special teams looks pretty much the same. Oh wait, except for the one consistently non-gong show area of special teams (there was probably a better way to phrase that but you know what I mean) which has been Barker returning punts. With him likely out, the Gophers are not only without their top wide receiver, they also have a question mark returning punts, and with a very good Michigan defense coming to The Bank Saturday, field position will play a big role. My guess is Lamonte Edwards will handle punt return duties- JUST kidding. Just making sure you're paying attention- Marcus Jones or perhaps KJ Maye are your likely candidates to handle punt returns, but we'll see what happens. Either way, beating Michigan at home, even if Denard Robinson isn't 100%, will be very difficult.
Next week's game at Illinois is the closest thing the Gophers will get to a winnable game. I'm not for one second going to say the Gophers WILL go down to Champaign and beat what looks to be a terrible Illini squad, I'm just saying they should. Illinois is dead last in the Big Ten in scoring offense and defense and total offense, and have been the conference's worst team this season. The one caveat is that it's a road goad, and the Gophers are 0-fer (probably should have avoided that phrase but oh well) away from Dinkytown when more than half the stadium isn't filled with Gophers fans (their lone road victory coming in front of like 216 people in Vegas, 199 of which were Minnesota fans).
Two weeks from now at Nebraska is, at least for me, about as close to a zero chance of winning as we'll see this year. It's not just a road game in a hostile environment against a good team, it's that Nebraska just looks to be a bad matchup for the Gophers. The one thing the Huskers do well is run the football, and the one thing Minnesota has failed to do this year is stop a team who wants to run. I could see another one of those 300+ yard rushing performances from Nebraska in that one. Their defense isn't great this year, but I just hate Minnesota's chances in Lincoln this year.
Finally there's Michigan State at home. The Gophers have scored upset victories in home game season finale's each of the past two seasons, upsetting Iowa 27-24 in 2010 and a free-falling Illinois 27-7 last year. Could they make it three in a row against Michigan State this year? This isn't a great matchup for the Gophers either, as Michigan State has the fifth best defense in the entire country (not good for a young and banged-up offense) and while the running game is statistically the worst in the B1G, they still boast the conference's leading rusher in Le'Veon Bell (1061 yards and 8 TD's on 4.3 avg) and have the 3rd best pass offense in the league. Still, the Gophers seem to find that end-of-season magic, so if I had to rate them, this one's definitely the second most winnabla game remaining.
So how many more wins do the Gophers get in the regular season? None and they miss out on a bowl game for a third straight year? One more to get those 15 extra practices and a bowl game? Or do you love what Jerry Kill is selling and think there's two or more wins to be had? Let it out in the poll and the comments section. Go.