Basic season expectations before the season began for Gopher football were to finish as a bowl eligible team. The win over Fresno State and subsequent 3-0 start certainly gave the Gophers a boost towards that magical 6-win season. Then the utter debacle at Maryland may have put a damper on some people’s expectations due to the nature of the defeat.
But can they still get to a bowl game? And what is the best-case scenario for this team? Let’s break down the remaining schedule.
Likely Wins (1)
Really just one game left on the schedule that this team really should win. Unfortunately it is an away game, but Illinois is truly terrible this year (again) and if the Gophers want to even be close to a bowl game, this is one they have to (and SHOULD) win.
Likely Losses (2)
Wisconsin and Ohio State are both going to be games that are very unlikely. Can it happen? Sure, this is college football and stranger things have happened. Hard to imagine that it is even possible after that Maryland game. And even so, we cannot consider these games as anything other than losses.
Somewhere In Between (5)
Then you get to the 5 critical games that will determine the success of the Gopher’s season. These 5 games are of varying degrees of winability for the Gophers. This is the point when Iowa fans scoff because this should be considered a likely Gopher loss, but I’ve never really listened to Iowa fans much anyway.
- Iowa - this is a home game for the Gophers and although Iowa nearly beat Wisconsin, they also nearly lost to Iowa State (acknowledging that “nearly” is a relative term). This is a team that the current Gopher defense matches up with better than a team like Maryland or Purdue.
- @Nebraska - I know it is crazy to say so, but this is almost a game one could put in the “likely wins” bucket. The Huskers have been really bad this year and let’s not forget that the Gophers put up over 50 points on them just a year ago. This being on the road makes it a little trickier.
- Indiana - home is good but the Hoosiers are sitting at 4-1...having beat no one of consequence. This one is really hard to judge and really may depend on the health/progression of the Gopher secondary. This one is key.
- Purdue - cornfield sandwich game for the Boilermakers here as they get Iowa the week before and Wisconsin the week after. Purdue was a trendy pick this year and they’ve really struggled. I don’t love the matchup with this offense for the Gophers.
- Northwestern - the Wilcats came into the season with high hopes too but other than a close loss to Michigan, they have yet to impress.
Best Case Scenario
Beating Illinois and then winning three or four of those toss-up games is the best case scenario for Minnesota. A 7-5 season is there for them if they put things together.
My gut tells me that they beat Illinois, Nebraska and Indiana to get to six wins. There’ll be a couple ugly games and a game that they are oh so close to winning, but 6 wins is their mark.
What Would Stop Them?
I don’t think it has nearly been stressed enough but this team has lost their two best players. Their best player on offense was Rodney Smith who basically played 2 games. Their best player on defense was Antoine Winfield Jr who is missing 2⁄3 of the season again.
When you take away your best player on each side of the ball from a team that is littered with true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup, that’s going to be difficult to overcome.
I’m still optimistic that this is a bowl caliber team. There are some issues to figure out while we let quite a few kids learn on the fly. But there’s some talent with this team to get three more wins. This season is another step as the program is built. Getting to a bowl would be a very nice accomplishment that is still very attainable.