It is November 1st and the Minnesota Golden Gophers are 8-0 and in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten West, with at least a two-game lead over every other challenger in their division.
Those words have never been true until today, in part because the Big Ten has only been divided for about a decade now. But also because the Gophers haven’t been 8-0 since 1941. This team has cleared historic hurdles each and every week, and I never tire of reminding people that we are in the midst of a season that few of today’s fans have witnessed in their lifetime.
And as much fun as these last two months have been, it is difficult not to think about the opportunities that lie ahead of the Gophers in November.
Each of their next four opponents presents a unique challenge:
- Penn State: The Nittany Lions are 8-0 and ranked No. 5 in both polls. They are far and away the best team the Gophers will face during the regular season. Minnesota has not beaten a Top 10 opponent since defeating No. 6-ranked Ohio State in 2000.
- @ Iowa: The Gophers have lost four straight games to the Hawkeyes and have not won at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City since 2000.
- @ Northwestern: Evanston has not been kind to Minnesota in recent history. The Wildcats have outscored the Gophers 66-0 in their last two trips to Ryan Field.
- Wisconsin: Minnesota currently has possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but to retain it they’ll need to notch a second consecutive victory over the Badgers, which is something they have not done since 1993-94.
All four teams also bring to the table a Top 15 defense, according to S&P+: Wisconsin (3rd), Iowa (6th), Penn State (7th), and Northwestern (13th). These will be the best defenses the Gopher offense has faced all season — although, for what it’s worth, S&P+ has Minnesota’s offense ranked ninth in the country, suggesting they may be up to the task.
The odds of the Gophers surviving that November slate with their undefeated record intact are certainly not in their favor. 0-4 might in fact be more likely than 4-0 (although I would hope 1-3 is the floor, considering Northwestern is 1-6 and averaging 10.7 points per game on offense). But who knows what the future holds? I certainly don’t.
But for once, the Gophers control their own destiny. Win out and they’re a lock for the Big Ten Championship, presumably with a shot to take down Ohio State and leap into serious contention for the College Football Playoff. Lose to Penn State next week and they can still win the West with one loss. Even a two-loss division championship is a possibility for Minnesota. You could drive yourself crazy working through all the different scenarios.
So here is what I’m going to do: Take it one game at a time and appreciate that Minnesota is playing meaningful games in the month of November. I mean, what more can you ask for?