I enjoy writing TMP. Sometimes following a game, the message is easy to come up with. Other times I really don’t have much to say or what to write about is more of a challenge. Partly it can be a challenge because sometimes I feel like I’ve written about certain subjects several times. But today is a day I will repeat, with more current examples and it is being written because it remains true. This has been ruminating in my head for a couple weeks, but here we go.
First and foremost, and this has been said many times over, this season is a mess. There are just so many variables and challenges and players opting out that it is so hard to judge this season. Even with some ugliness and poorly played games, I’m really just thankful we got to watch some Gopher football at all. And the results? They just don’t seem to move me much, one way or the other. Hard to have the same passion this year, as a fan (apologies to Nebraska fans, who clearly do just want it more than the rest of us).
But my first real thought is that this is still a process and don’t let the results dictate what you think. The Iowa game was rather ugly. The Purdue game was a win, but also, felt like we were just the least worst team of the day. The process was ugly, even if the result of that particular game was a win.
I know, I know...2019 was historic and incredible. But that was 2019. This is still a process. We have not nearly gotten to the point where what happened last year should be expected or any sort of a baseline. The process is ongoing and there will be peaks and valleys along the way. 2019 was a peak and if you objectively look at what was lost. Losing several defensive starters, an NFL receiver and your offensive coordinator are not minor things to overcome, particularly for a program that is not established and deep at all position groups.
Oft repeated point number two is that progress is not linear. Even for more established programs there are down years. LSU is a great example after having won the championship last season, they have fallen off a cliff this year. Remember when Northwestern won the Big Ten West in 2018 and then finish 1-8 in conference the following year? Only to return to the Big Ten Championship game in 2020.
For Minnesota, we are (perpetually) in a state of trying to establish consistency and a baseline for the program. It takes multiple years of the same system, multiple years of solid recruiting and a coaching staff that is there year after year. It takes all of those before you establish a program that is consistent year after year. We aren’t there yet.
But even then, it doesn’t always lead to success. Which leads me to my next point...it is not easy. Even with established systems, coaches and recruiting...it is hard to maintain a certain level of success. Programs like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, even Wisconsin make it look easy, but it is not. Northwestern and LSU, again, are great examples. The Wildcats have had the same staff/system in place for a very long time and sometimes there are down years.
So much has to come together for team success, there is never an easy answer. I’m a firm believer in patience. More and more fan bases lack the necessary patience to allow their team’s to grow. But it just isn’t easy.
Here at Minnesota we are ready to make a change at offensive coordinator, meanwhile Penn State is ready to run Kirk Ciarrocca out of town. So why was Ciarrocca a good OC in 2019, he’s terrible now and Gopher fans would welcome him back? Maybe it just requires a little patience for both programs. Was Joe Rossi a genius in the latter part of 2018 and now an utter failure in 2020? Or does losing several starters to the NFL make a significant difference and maybe we need to allow this unit time to develop?
It just isn’t easy. The consistency of a program like Wisconsin is really remarkable but it is also incredibly rare. Also, it is the goal. But we are not there yet.
Lastly, we have not “arrived.” It is really easy to have a fantastic year like 2019, look at all of the young talent coming up and get excited that 2019 was just the beginning. And maybe it was just the beginning, but we need to check our expectations just a little bit. Because we have not arrived. We have a long way to go to be consistently good.
But to be fair, despite earning a top 10 ranking, beating Auburn on a NYD Bowl, going 11-1...we haven’t been to Indianapolis yet. We technically tied for a Big Ten West title, but does anybody feel like we won that?
This was not the year, but 2020 is part of the process. 2019 was a race to maturity but that doesn’t put the program in a place to assume anything. We aren’t entitled to a baseline of success at this point. This year was frustrating and there are things have have to be fixed, but I still believe there is a process and it requires patience.