Following Coach Claeys sharing his thoughts about what Minnesota Football's record will be in 2016 one thing seems clear...Minnesota fans overwhelmingly think the Gophers will win at least 8 games this season.
31% of you think Coach Claeys needs to embrace a reserved style more representative of our Lake Wobegon values. 7% of you need to offer me a hit of whatever it is that has created your exuberant optimism. But 62% of you foresee a very nice year for Minnesota. Is this confidence justified?
Calculating Minnesota's "win window" in 2016
NOTE: All credit to Gophermike for the "win window" phrasing, which I like.
TO THE SCHEDULE! We need to break down Minnesota's opponents into a few groups to get to what I think is a reasonable range for wins in 2016. To help us understand how Minnesota might match up to each of it's foes this fall I've included whether the game is home or away and their Preseason S&P+ rank. This is the point where I note that preseason S&P+ has issues (like any preseason ranking system will). My inclusion of is not to suggest it's the immutable truth. Rather, I think it's an easy and fairly decent way to get a sense of each team's relative strength before the year begins. For reference, Minnesota is #42 in the preseason S&P+ list.
Let's get the obvious out of the way. Minnesota finally has a B1G schedule approaching recent Wisconsin level softness. The Gophers miss the top three B1G programs based on S&P+ rank: No. 6 Michigan, No. 14 Ohio State, and No. 22 Michigan State. You can't blame yourself for being optimistic when this is the most obvious thing about the schedule.
As for the teams actually on the schedule? If we go strictly off preseason S&P+ then Minnesota wins 7 games. That's too simplistic, so let's dig a little deeper. Please note that for the purpose of this exercise I'm putting my homer optimist self in check.
DEFINITION: I'm defining locks as any game I would be pissed if Minnesota lost. These are games I cannot see any reason for Minnesota to lose (barring unexpected factors like injury/illness of course).
Minnesota should be significantly better than all 5 of these opponents. Minnesota is playing all of them at home. None of them run a system that should exploit glaring weaknesses for the Gophers. Minnesota should go 5-0 in these games.
The "Winnable Away Games"
DEFINITION: These are games that I might classify as "Locks" if they were at home. Even though I expect Minnesota to be better than these teams in 2016, the difference shouldn't be as wide as it was with the five teams listed above. Add in some unknowns and Minnesota's uneven road performance in recent years and the chances of a loss grow.
The homer in me wants to predict Minnesota to go 2-0 in this stretch. I think Minnesota should win both of these games on paper. But the realist in me thinks Minnesota probably loses one of these, as the Gophers rarely win every "should win" game on their schedule.
The "Toss Ups"
DEFINITION: I think the Gophers will be moderate underdogs to even in each of these games. I also don't see Minnesota being significantly better than these teams. The key there is significantly. As a result, I could see all three going either way.
at Penn State
I think S&P+ is overrating Penn State (Bill C isn't alone in this). I also know that come October 1st there won't be enough 2016 data to override the preseason projection. The #MATHS will likely see Minnesota as a decent underdog in their first Big Ten game. Minnesota has a mixed history in Happy Valley but this game is certainly winnable in my opinion. The fact that's it's on the road is a big reason to temper expectations.
Iowa will be better than Minnesota again on paper. When the game is at home I don't see that being a huge problem, especially since I don't think they'll be a lot better.
Northwestern? I dunno. We got spanked last year but that really doesn't say much about this season. The games have been competitive overall of late and I'm betting this one is too.
Not really sure what to predict for wins here. Slightly negative me sees us losing to PSU, beating Iowa, and losing to Northwestern. I have no problems with anyone seeing two wins here though. A sweep is unlikely in my opinion.
The Potential "Same Old November" Games
DEFINITION: I can see Minnesota losing both of these and I think the likelihood of that happening is higher than many would like to admit.
Despite what I said above, Minnesota can win one of these. The problem is that it's hard to say that's likely. Night game in Lincoln in November? Minnesota can win it, but I'm guessing they don't.
The homer me will always predict a win over Wisconsin because fuck 'em. The realist in me can't predict a win in Camp Randall until it happens. It's been over 20 years after all.
What does our "win window" look like?
The Floor: Minnesota should win at least 6 games. I don't want to picture the Gopher interwebs if they don't.
The "Win Window": I agree with Coach Claeys. I think Minnesota can win at least 8 games. But sticking with my "non-homer" approach, I think the likely window for the Gophers is 7-9 wins with 8 wins being the most likely.
The Ceiling: Honestly? I'd agree with Claeys again and say 10 wins. I'm not saying Minnesota can't shock everyone and pulling a 2015 Iowa. The schedule is certainly soft enough to allow for this as a possibility. But I'm going to keep that as a happy daydream. It's only prudent and in keeping with our Lake Wobegon values after all.