Can we just pause for a moment and appreciate the 2019 season for what it was? The regular season saw 10 wins, a huge victory over #4 Penn State, College Game Day coming to campus and multiple chances to win the Big Ten West before earning quality bowl game against an elite program.
And then your Golden Gophers went out and dominated Auburn in the Outback Bowl to get themselves to 11 wins, the most in our lifetimes.
That was a really fun season.
Maybe it is too soon to now wonder...what does it mean for next year? I’ll say that in one way, this season helps tremendously for the future of the program. But it may not mean much for 2020. But what does it mean? I will offer two prevailing thoughts.
First of all this season really should help with recruiting. As the Gophers were cruising to 9 wins to start the season and a 10th in the regular season, I know many of us were hoping it would translate into a couple of late recruiting coups.
This didn’t really materialize in a meaningful way. Yes, we flipped the kid who was previously committed to Boston College and the end who was going to Missouri. But it wasn’t the 4-star stud to lather up the fans.
But it has always been the case that recruiting has a 1-year lag. This 11-win season, which included wins over #4 Penn State and an SEC helmet school is one that can really pay dividends on the recruiting trail. This season doesn’t get you recruits. Nobody is committing because we beat Auburn. But those wins, this past season demonstrate that PJ Fleck is doing something right. It shows that there is valid reason to come to Minnesota where you might be a part of something special.
This past season gets you into conversations and living rooms of kids who previously may have not been impressed with Minnesota. Now they’ll be intrigued.
Again, the 2019 season isn’t what will get kids to sign with Minnesota. It gets you into those living rooms where the coaching staff will have to start beating out higher caliber programs. Can they do it? I suspect they will land a few pretty significant recruits in this cycle and move up the recruiting rankings. Temper your expectations that we will go from a recruiting class in the upper-30s to a top 10 class. But it will be better, especially if the 2020 season is one that shows similar success to 2019.
Which brings me to my second point.
Success is not always linear. Improvement may not always show up in more wins.
The 2019 season was fantastic, but it guarantees us absolutely nothing for 2020. Just off the top of my head I can point to a few teams coming off a great season, only to flounder the next.
- 2018 Northwestern won the Big Ten West handily. Their 2019 season was a disaster.
- 2018 Texas finished 9-4 and then went on to beat #5 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. This was an indication that the Longhorns were “back.” Instead they went 7-5 in the regular season and earned a trip to the Alamo Bowl.
- 2015 Iowa was 12-0 in the regular season, headed to Indianapolis with a chance to put themselves into the National Championship conversation. The following year they were 8-4 with a loss to North Dakota State.
Of course there are so many varying circumstances that lead to how a team performs the following season. But one elite season does not mean we have arrived. Nor does it guarantee anything for the following season, regardless of who is coming back.
2020 is going to be a very interesting year. This team will have a number of strengths and some pretty significant questions to answer. We will get to those as we have to wait several months for the Florida Atlantic game.
Lastly, I am very excited about where this program is and the direction it is headed. PJ Fleck has this program in a remarkable place in his third season. As long as he sticks around, I am confident that this is going to be a competitive team that is extremely fun to root for. Recruiting will continue to improve, even if they are small & incremental improvements. And while I’m not worried about the specific results of 2020, I firmly believe that there will be many successful seasons ahead of us.
Truly an elite 2019 season, that was so much fun.