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Minnesota Football: The Monday Perspective on Gopher Scheduling and Getting Better

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There are a number of reactions one can take after the 23-7 whooping we took on Saturday and there are apparently even more overreactions that one can #take.  Iowa dominated the Gophers in nearly all phases but I do not think it is time to give up on the season completely, the Gophers do not need to switch to the MAC, it is not the time to assume the Kill era is a complete and utter failure, not the time to change allegiance to another program.

There are questions to be asked and this is a time to be frustrated.  Maybe I shouldn't be but I'm shocked at the massive overreactions I'm coming across around the Gopher interwebz.

  • Season ticket holders for over a decade who claim they are done wasting time and money on this program.
  • People suggesting we should leave the Big Ten.
  • "going backwards...again"
  • The Gophers will NEVER play in the Rose Bowl.

I was planning to post specific tweets and comments but it really isn't worth the time.

I get that people were/are frustrated by losing in the way we lost to a team we felt we had a shot at beating.  My guess is that if had been playing Michigan and lost 23-7, today might not be such a bad day.  But Iowa is obviously not Michigan and many believed we had a shot to win, instead we barely were able to compete.

But here is where I will point out that the season is not over.  One game of getting your ass kicked does not define the season.  At least 6 of the 7 remaining games appear to be unwinable but I'm not going to talk about which games we will win or not win this year.  I want to address two things.  I want to talk about "getting better," which is what 2013 is all about and I want to talk about non-conference scheduling.

2013 is all about getting better and taking baby steps as a program.  After the Iowa game, this is kind of a double-edged sword.  We all believe that this team is better than it was a year ago and it had a chance to prove it at home against a team that isn't going to be competing for a Big Ten title.  And we laid an egg, getting pushed around in the trenches and it appeared on Saturday as if this program was really regressing.  Here is where I urge you to let the season play out before we start making any grand statements on the state of the program.

This year really isn't about wins and losses.  This is about taking steps forward and even after getting beat by Iowa there are still plenty of opportunities for this.  There are still 7 games to get better, execute better and learn from mistakes.  I know that this really isn't what people want to hear or think about.  In Kill's third season we should be getting more than this.  And I will agree with that, but I also believe there is room for having bad games and getting beat soundly.  It really wasn't very long ago that this program lost to NDSU then saw three more losses to the tune of 58-0, 45-17 and 41-14!  Losing to Iowa 23-7 was disappointing but how they respond and how they learn from it are more important to me at this point than throwing an online tantrum.

This program is getting better but the more pertinent question has always been, better than who?  Taking baby steps is nice but they are still a long way from where they want to be.  Learn from the Iowa game, move on and don't let it happen again.

Teams can use their non-conference schedule for various purposes.  I believe that in 2013 the intent is not to prepare for the Big Ten by taking losses to other good teams, it is to get wins and gain confidence.

I'm also not on board with the faction of Gopher fans who will tell you that this program was SO bad that it will take 10 years to get it turned around.  Many other programs have turned around situations as bad or nearly as bad in less time.  More games like Saturday's this year and there is cause for real concern, but there is time in this season to prove that the program is heading in the right direction.  Just let the season play itself out.

Secondly, I want to address the non-conference scheduling.  This is the most popular #TAKE as to why the Gophers were beat in the trenches on Saturday.

Or this...

And I'm certain any radio personality you listen to today will be making similar statements.  First of all, the North Carolina thing is completely ridiculous and a red herring.  Secondly, Darren Wolson is clearly not making any commentary here.

Many are going to tell you that the Gophers were overrun by Iowa because they didn't play a non-conference schedule that prepared them for the Big Ten season.  I tend not to really agree with this but that is besides the point.  The point is that there are different things you can choose to do with your non-conference schedule.  Some programs need to schedule as many quality opponents as possible to gain some relevance (see Boise State).  Some programs need to schedule just tough enough to get a boost to their strength of schedule a little to help themselves with the computers.  Others face another BCS opponent or two to challenge their program prior to conference play (Northwestern).  And others just need wins.  Wins against weaker teams in glorified scrimmages to get better at executing.  Wins to gain confidence, which in the game of football can make a big difference.

Minnesota isn't in a position to worry about setting up a non-conference schedule to prepare them for the rigors of the Big Ten.  Minnesota isn't going to win the Big Ten in 2013.  Minnesota needs wins in the non-conference to minimize the amount of wins they need to get to a bowl.  This was the plan for 2013, this is why the North Carolina game was cancelled.

University of Cal-Berkeley decided to put together a challenging schedule. They put Northwestern and Ohio State on their schedule.  And guess what?  They got their asses kicked both times.  But surely that must have prepared them for the Pac-12 right?  Nope, they opened with Oregon and got their asses handed to them in that game too.

Glen Mason finally put a good team on the schedule in 2006 when the Gophers went out to Cal.  They lost, but surely it helped prepare them for the Big Ten season right?  Nope, they lost their first four Big Ten games.  Tim Brewster's best year was 2009 when he faced Syracuse, Air Force and Cal.  He still only went 3-5 in the Big Ten and included a 13-16 win (but near miss) over South Dakota State.

The point is that playing one decent team in the non-conference schedule isn't guaranteed to do anything for you in your first Big Ten game or the next seven for that matter.  This is a specious argument and as I've stated teams can use their non-conference schedule for various purposes.  I believe that in 2013 the intent is not to prepare for the Big Ten by taking losses to other good teams, it is to get wins and gain confidence.

As the program gets further into the Jerry Kill era and he believes his program will be in a place to be more competitive, the degree of difficulty in the schedule increases.  The next two years will see games with TCU, surely if we win a few more Big Ten games it will be because of that particular non-conference game, not because of just being a better football team.

The season is far from over.  Am I expecting a major turnaround and a 5-3 Big Ten record?  No, but I was never sure we'd get to or above .500 in conference anyway.  I  have always believed this team is good enough to put it together and pull off a big upset win somewhere along the way.  If we start to see more examples of sloppy play and getting pushed around like we did against Iowa, well then there will be cause for concern.  There were some troubling things we saw this past weekend and there are some questions to be answered.  But lets wait till we see more of the season and see if any questions get answered before we start pronouncing this season and this program dead.