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Minnesota Football: Ranking the Nebraska Win

Time to pit the big win over the Cornhuskers against similar signature wins over the last few decades.

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Hannah Foslien

In case anyone is still wondering out loud whether yesterday's stunning win of #24 Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium can truly be considered a "signature win" that the coaching staff had discussed so frequently over the summer, considering these two thoughts.

1) Harken back to your SAT days [shudder] and pick out the item in the set that is not like the others from the list of Big Ten wins in the Kill era: Illinois (twice), Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern.... and Nebraska. One of those teams has five national titles and is in the top ten for all time wins.

2) When the national media emphatically coalesces around a consensus that your opponent was one of Saturday's biggest losers, stating a team like so-and-so should never lose to you (especially not in the way they did) and it's a foregone conclusion that the loss will precipitate the opposing head coach's dismissal, that's a signature win on your part.

Glad we've cleared that up. Now the debate begins: where does the win over Nebraska rank among similar program defining wins over the last several decades?

Each win is different and every game is its own animal, though for the sake of discussion, I'll compare and contrast the Gophers' performance yesterday against what I feel are the most important wins in recent program history.

11/6/1999 - Gophers 24, #2 Penn State 23

14 years later, the game that propelled Glen Mason's upswing and similarly sent Joe Paterno into a multiyear funk is still one of the biggest wins in program history -- arguably the most important in the modern era.

Dan Nystrom's game winning field goal after a miracle completion remains a lasting, iconic image of that season and game, a year where the Gophers would beat a top 5 opponent and earn a bowl bid for the first time in 13 seasons. From 1999 onward, the Gophers have been bowl eligible in 11 of 15 years, including the current season. The win over PSU began a streak where Mason would defeat Joe Paterno the next 3 tries and provided a huge shot in the arm to his early recruiting efforts.

The win over Nebraska isn't at that level of importance, though as it relates to team and fan psyche, the impact may be equivalent. The Huskers have consistently tormented the Gophers throughout the last 53 years, with many old time fans still seething over the 84-13 debacle back in 1983. Yesterday went a long way to exorcising that old haunt.

10/14/2000 - Gophers 29, #6 Ohio State 17

Mason's upset encore came the very next season, netting Minnesota's first victory at the Horseshoe in 50 years and an outcome that likely contributed to Ohio State firing John Cooper that winter. The amazing bit about this particular victory was that the Gophers actually controlled their own Big Ten destiny afterward, giving fans some hope that the momentum from beating the Buckeyes would carry over to a truly special season. Unfortunately, Mason would fall to Indiana the very next week (oddly foretelling) and lose a last second heartbreaker at home the following weekend to Northwestern.

Of all the signature victories Minnesota has notched over the last two decades, I see the most similarities between yesterday's game against Nebraska and the victory over Ohio State. That was a contest in which Minnesota simply outplayed the Buckeyes throughout, gaining 181 more yards than Ohio State and controlling the game throughout. Similarly, the Ohio State made it close with a late touchdown to bring it within one score, only for Minnesota to add a late touchdown to push the lead back to double digits.

11/8/2003 - Wisconsin 34, #24 Minnesota 37

The Gophers' last victory over the hated Badgers was arguably the biggest home victory in the Mason era and the last "signature" win to come at home. In fact, this games stands out specifically because it was a home game opposed to Mason's other big wins. Like the Penn State game in 1999, the lasting image of Rhys Lloyd kicking the game winning field goal and leaping over Wisconsin's bench to claim Paul Bunyan's Axe is a memory no Gopher fan can forget.

Wisconsin wasn't a great team that year and didn't enter the game ranked, though it doesn't change the magnitude of beating a most hated rival at home to punctuate Minnesota's best season in decades. If only they could have played mistake free football the following weekend in Iowa City...

10/8/2005 - Minnesota 23, #21 Michigan 20

After two years of leading the Wolverines deep into the 4th quarter only to have Michigan steal a win late, Mason finally got the best of Lloyd Carr in Ann Arbor. An important win not only to get the Michigan monkey off the Gophers' collective backs but also to keep Minnesota in Big Ten contention. Unfortunately, the signature win was followed by a terrible loss in the closing seconds to Wisconsin, killing any momentum the Gophers had to catapult themselves through a difficult stretch of conference play.

The win was Minnesota's first over Michigan since 1986 and snapped a 16 game losing streak to the Wolverines. Ironically, the victory yesterday over the Cornhuskers ended the 16 game skid in that series as well.


If I had to rank the recent signature wins, it'd go something like this:

  1. PSU '99
  2. Nebraska '13
  3. Ohio State '00
  4. Michigan '05
  5. Wisconsin '03

The Nebraska win, in my opinion, gets added weight since it happened at home, a rarity among big Gopher upsets. That pushes it ahead of the Ohio State win, since even though Ohio State was ranked higher than Nebraska at the time of victory, I believe Nebraska will end up in the 8-9 win range at the end of the year -- much like the 2000 Buckeyes. I also tend to think the first "big" victory of an era is owed special consideration; the Cornhuskers were the first ranked team Jerry Kill and his staff have defeated since taking over and could potentially be the first victory over a team with a winning conference record.

What say you, Gopher fans? Share your opinions and celebrations in the comments below.

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