Well I am really quite pleased that things like life and work got in the way of the Monday Perspective on Monday. Because it has really been an enlightening week of learning about the usage of stats and how/when to ignore certain stats to prove your narrative. But I'm not going to go down that rabbit hole other than to say that it has been an enjoyable conversation this week.
This week is shaping up to be the Rodney Dangerfield Bowl of No Respect. Both Minnesota and Northwestern have been playing better as of late and are trying to earn some respect as teams who just may actually have a shot at winning the Big Ten West. Both are teams traditionally mediocre, both have fan bases pointing at the other to state out how "they" are traditionally mediocre and "we" are on the rise.
Well, this is a huge week for both teams because the winner really is in position to make noise and be a part of the conversation for Big Ten West champ.
The Wildcat's schedule is the inverse of Minnesota's in that all of their challenging games are front-loaded. @ Penn State, Wisconsin, @ Minnesota, Nebraska and the @ Iowa before finishing their Big Ten schedule with Michigan, Purdue and Illinois (locations may be irrelevant). They passed their first two tests by shocking most of us with a win at Penn State and then even more shocking they beat Wisconsin at home home. If they can win this road game over the Gophers, they are in awfully good position to finish 6-2 or better in conference.
Minnesota is in the portion of their schedule where they need to make hay and gain tons of confidence before they finish the season with Iowa, Ohio State, @ Nebraska and @ Wisconsin. Getting Northwestern at home is a game they need to win if they want to be taken seriously as a B1G West contender.
The question many may be asking, particularly anyone not a part of these fan bases, is do these teams even belong in the conversation? The correct answer is, I don't care. Only a couple weeks into the conference season and it is WAY too early to tell if either Northwestern or Minnesota can play at a high level, with consistency for the remainder of the schedule and come away with a trip to Indianapolis. And that isn't that point. The point is that the winner of this game remains in the conversation. The loser...gets to hear a lot about how this was a reality check.
Of course Iowa and Wisconsin and Nebraska all will have something to say about how this all shakes out as well, it is not as if this game is between front-runners.
How do I feel about this game? Thanks for asking. You may have noticed that I was hoping for a Wisconsin win over the Cats so that they would not be coming into TCF Bank Stadium with any confidence. Maybe I was wrong, maybe the win over Wisconsin will actually put the Cats into a state of overconfidence. Certainly if InsideNU is any indication of how the team is feeling mentally, this is the case (editorial side: I do not think that just because a blog is overconfident that a team is actually feeling this way as well. I do however believe that a team can be overconfident). The logic is this. Wisconsin was considered the best team in the B1G West and Northwestern beat them. Since the consensus is that Wisconsin > Minnesota and we now know that Northwestern > Wisconsin...well the only logical conclusion is that Northwestern > Minnesota.
On our end? I was feeling nervous about overconfidence on our part as well. We handled Michigan and brought home the jug with several weeks in front of us with games we feel we should win. Lets start looking ahead to Iowa because we are clearly good enough to beat Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois. I think that Northwestern beating Wisconsin may have been the best thing for the Gophers during a bye week.
I appreciate that the Gophers are at home and have had an extra week to prepare and to heal. These are important factors on top of noting that our "awful" offense is statistically better than Northwestern's as is our "not as good as you'd think" defense.
A week ago, this game did not grab me as one I was overly excited to watch any more than any other Gopher football game. Now, this game has me greatly intrigued and I maybe have never wanted to see the Gophers beat Northwestern more than this week. The game should have some relatively significant bearing on the rest of the season for both teams and there has been a little side drama to add to the intrigue.
All of a sudden I am loving Strong Dislike Week and cannot wait for Saturday.