Heading into Saturday's game with the Fighting Illini, the Golden Gophers were sitting atop the Big Ten West standings and facing the consensus worst team in the Big Ten. A win was a foregone conclusion and the Gophers would be left with a perfectly timed bye week to prepare for Iowa and the final stretch of the Big Ten schedule. There was a real chance that this team could be playing the final week or two of the regular season with an opportunity to win the Big Ten West and book a trip to Indianapolis.
Then they had to actually play the game and stuff happened. The Gophers were beat by Illinois and the next step is of course the overreaction by the fan base to what was certainly a bad loss. But the season is far from over. One bad loss does not define a season nor is it the final verdict on just how good this team is or is not. Can I end the Monday Perspective right there? Sure but I'm not even to 200 words yet so I'll keep going.
You all may recall the 2013 season. The Gophers jumped out to a 4-0 start over a weak non-conference schedule. Up next was Iowa and Michigan; Iowa appear vulnerable and this was going to be the Gopher's breakout season. But Iowa pushed us around and the game was never really close. Then we head to Michigan, coach has his seizure issues and the Wolverines pants'd the Gophers on ABC.
Then angst was high, conclusions about the rest of the season were made and this was just another Gopher team that gets a couple cream-puff wins and flails in the Big Ten. But last year showed us that a Gopher team can actually improve throughout the season. It showed us that this team is capable of beating good teams and most importantly it showed us that the season is not defined by a bad loss or two.
Last week's game was arguably the first time since the #Year1 when the Gophers lost a game to a team that they really should have beat. There is no sugar coating this loss and that is not my intent. A game the should have won, but they didn't. But it is time to realize that Jerry Kill and no matter what he builds this program to be, is not immune to losing a game they shouldn't. It happens to every program. Illinois came out on Saturday and they were ready to play, they executed and they made the plays necessary to win. Minnesota is nowhere near good enough to win by showing up. We are not good enough to believe in the hype or believe we will win because the rankings and stats say so.
As a fan base we all look the schedule, identify the games that certain wins because we are the superior team (in our minds), then we find the games against "better" teams that we are going to steal. But we have to recognize that it is possible for teams (even good teams) to be beat by a team we were not expecting to beat us. It happens and the goal is to minimize this. So far in Kill's tenure the games won over "better" teams has been more frequent than dropping games to teams we feel we "should" beat.
But that is really not my point today. My point is that the season is far from over and losing to Illinois may not be the defining moment. This season can still be a successful one. A trip to Indianapolis is less likely than it was a week ago but it was unlikely anyway. Again, this season can still be successful and it starts with the Iowa game in two weeks.
Lets no longer worry about the big picture. Winning games will allow the big picture to work itself out. We start with beating Iowa and we go from there. There are a number of scenarios for the rest of the season. Maybe we go 4-0 and we can all laugh at that Illinois loss. Maybe we go 0-4 and those who are jumping off the bandwagon this week can tell the rest of us, "I told you so." Likely it will be somewhere in between but the fact is the season is not over and the rest of the season has not been defined. My hope is that this loss is a chance to get re-focused and hungry. Take out this loss on the Hawkeyes, and get Floyd back home.
The Illinois loss was one chapter, but the book on the 2014 season has not yet been written.