Sorry for the “Perspective” hiatus, but the first three quarters of the season are over and it is absolutely time for a check in on the team.
The short version of the story is that basically we are exactly where thought we’d be (or really close). And that this final stretch of three games is what we have been building towards. The Gophers dropped two games that were entirely winable, but lost in overtime at Penn State (hardly a bad loss) and played their worst game of the year and lost to Iowa at home.
The book on this season is far from written, even if many among us think they know the ending. It all depends on your perspective.
Glass Half Full
The team sits at 7-2 with three games remaining and they are in position to win the Big Ten West. The 2016 Gophers have been winning games, beating the teams they should have beat and playing in November with a chance to make a trip to Indianapolis.
The good news is that the Gophers did exactly what they were supposed to do over the last 4 weeks. Maybe we have gotten to the point that we take beating the bottom quarter of the Big Ten for granted, but they did what they needed to do. Rutgers got dicey but I chalk that one up to getting complacent after the 21-3 start and struggling to get that “edge” back.
Point is that 7-2 is 7-2 and we control our own destiny against the other top teams in the West.
Glass Half Empty
This Gopher team really should be 9-0 and then we’d all be on board with thinking that this team is legit. Getting to 7-2 is really not terribly impressive considering the schedule that they have played. This is all true.
The Penn State game was one they had in hand before a bad Leidner interception and the defense giving up way too many big plays allowed the Nittany Lions to come back. We had three possessions in the 4th quarter of the Iowa game, with the lead and failed to get a first down and milk the clock.
And those losses aren’t as bad as a game and a half we played against Rutgers and Penn State. Rutgers is one of the worst Big Ten football teams in memory, have been thoroughly dominated by everyone and it took a last second FG to beat them. Purdue is barely better and led at half time before the Gopher D finally took over to stop them.
It is really hard to imagine this team going to Lincoln or Madison and coming away with a win. The offense is one-dimensional, the pass defense gives up far too many big plays and we have yet to see a game where all three phases are played well. Seven or eight wins is nice but losing every meaningful game is frustrating.
Warning...the following words are really more of my ramblings, but bear with me.
This team isn’t a top 20 team and they have their flaws. But there have been countless Gopher teams in the past that didn’t “take care of business” and beat the teams they were supposed to beat, like this team has done.
I believe that we have finally worked our way back to being entrenched as a mediocre Big Ten team. I, like all of you, want to see this program take another step forward. But in my opinion that step is even harder than going from a basement team to one that is playing in Indianapolis. And what always amazes me is how quickly this fan base turns to this being unacceptable.
“Why can’t we be just as good as Wisconsin or Iowa?”
“Should we really accept mediocrity?”
These are common mantras of the casual fan who wants us to immediately get to “the next level.” Nobody wants to be happy with mediocrity but there has to be some level of reasonable expectations. We’ve had this conversation on this blog many times for both football and basketball. But what we fail to learn is that when you continue to change coaches, particularly when our complaint is that 8 wins isn’t enough...we are going to remain in a self-inflicted cycle where 7 or 8 wins is the maximum we can achieve.
Of course, nobody is calling for a coaching change at this point (or at least very few). And the final three games are going to be very telling. If this team goes 0-3, then there are going to be some very interesting conversations going on around here, particularly if they are not competitive.
To me this is still a brick by brick situation. The bricks were layed to give us a foundation and get this program from being tremendously horrible. We are solidly in the middle and the next step is even more challenging, and you get there brick by brick. An 8 win season is a good season and it helps you continue to build.
My question really is, would we feel any differently about this team if the defense had made just one stop at Penn State? Change just one play and this team is 8-1...now are we excited about this season and feeling any differently about our chances at Nebraska or Wisconsin? This team has the same issues and really has the same chances heading into these final three games but perception would be completely different.
This is a good team in my opinion. They are far from perfect, they are not a great team but they are a good team. If they play well in all three phases (play well, not some unexpected out of their mind’s kind of game), I believe that they’ll be competitive with an opportunity to win any of their three remaining games.
A Big Ten West title seems unlikely as the Gophers would essentially have to run the table. But falling short of Indianapolis does not make for a disappointing season. This is a good team and the last few years this program has played it’s best football in November. I’m willing to give the season a chance to play out.