So it’s Thursday evening as I write this, and I just can’t shake the feeling that something is not right in the state of Minnesota this week. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is malaise that is as palpable as it is confusing. The lack of enthusiasm stands in sharp contrast to the following truth: the Minnesota Golden Gophers are two winnable games away from a Big Ten West Division Championship.
Is there a chance the Gophers will lose one, or both, of the games in the next two weeks. Sure is. Does it matter? Nope. Is it probable they lose both games? I guess so. Does that matter? Nope. Could they lose by double-digit margins both games? Sure could. Does that matter? Nope.
Let’s take stock of where we are. The team sits at seven wins on the season with Nebraska and Wisconsin left on the schedule, right where reasonable people expected them to be, and in the middle of the toughest stretch of conference play any team in the Big Ten will play this season. This is a stretch of three straight games against top-25 teams.
There can be no disappointment in Gophers’ record this year, no matter the outcome of the final two games. We should consider seven wins the achievement of this season’s main objective.
What’s better than the record is that the trophy case is full to bursting, and the Pig and Jug games were the most satisfying victories in the last fifteen years. The Gophers are playing so well against rivals this year that it’s almost scary. I picked this team to win seven regular season games this year, but I didn’t think there was any way we would be sitting with both Pig and Jug serving as arm rests on Jerry Kill’s throne. We should consider two trophies the achievement of the stretch goal and another stretch goal.
If the Gophers have a big axe with them on the bus ride back from Madison in eight days, it’s a third stretch goal achieved.
The rest of the year is gravy on the potatoes.
Consider this: Nebraska fans are terrified that Minnesota could walk into their stadium and leave their beloved football program a burning crater in the middle of a corn field as the third, maybe fourth, best team in the Big Ten West, and possibly a bottom-half team in the conference as a whole. Even the Husker fans most sure of a Nebby victory on Saturday are afraid of the terrible repercussions that could result from a Gopher victory (i.e. having to battle with Michigan and Florida for a head coach, possibly). We can be the straw that breaks this program's back. Look how far we've come!
If the Huskers win, no big deal, Nebraska should win football games. If they lose, it’s further proof that their program has stagnated and is falling behind the likes of Minnesota and Iowa, let alone the Wisconsin team that absolutely loves Nebraska week. The Gophers have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Nebraska has everything to lose based on their own long-held (dare I say passé) high expectations for their program.
With the Big Ten officially turned on its ear and the gophers in the hunt for the division championship, it’s time to adjust our attitudes.
This is fun. It’s not just kind of fun; it’s a LOT of fun. I am pumped for the game on Saturday. Here's a shot of my football schedule at work.
It’s time to start acting like a fan base with belief. I know that’s not the Minnesota way, we don’t like ruffling our neighbor’s feathers. Hell, a person could smash my cart out of their way to cut in the line at Cub Foods and I probably wouldn’t say anything (and just stare at them in angry disbelief). I know we’ve been conditioned by beat-down after beat-down to expect losing in spectacular fashion. I’m not saying we should be making crazy predictions of certain victory and trolling in the comments at Corn Nation and Bucky’s 5th Q. I’m saying we need to act like we know it’s possible that we can win.
Don’t pay any attention to Bill C’s predictions at Football Study Hall or other statistics pieces for the next two weeks (I wait like Pavlov’s dog for his Big Ten predictions each week right along with Matt’s [also, please continue to faithfully read Models & Bottles]). EDIT: Models and Bottles gives the Gophers a 46.1% chance of winning this game (higher than I expected), so you're allowed to pay attention to that. Not bad odds on the road! Don’t listen to people who say that the talent gap between the Gophers and Huskers or between the Gophers and Badgers puts Minnesota at a disadvantage. I believe that we can win.
In the words of Han Solo, never tell me the odds.
And if we don’t win this week, who cares? We’ve still got a shot at the axe in eight days, and our trophy case may runneth over. Then, if they try to ram a Nebby rivalry trophy down our throats we can just say "no thanks, all out of space in the case."
So whether you’re going to Lincoln or watching at home, be loud, be raucous, and have fun with the final two weeks. Enjoy the pumping adrenaline. Enjoy the hoarseness in your throat. Enjoy doing the Gopher in public. Don’t worry what people think of you.
Screw ‘em. This is our time.