In a normal year, tonight would be the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ football season opener against Florida Atlantic. But 2020 has been anything but normal, and I can honestly say I have no idea when we’ll see P.J. Fleck’s squad take the field at TCF Bank Stadium next.
So what now? I say we build our own season.
Over the next 13 weeks, you will have the opportunity to choose from three nominees for each week of the season dating back to 2000. With this being Week 1, I have selected the three “best” — and the specific criteria for “best” is going to vary from week to week, depending on what I have to work with — Week 1 games from the Gophers’ last 20 seasons. Next week, I’ll have three Week 2 games for you to choose from. By the end, we’ll have a full season of 13 Gopher wins.
Does that make sense? I hope so.
So without further ado, I present the nominees for Week 1.
Nominee #1: ‘08 vs Northern Illinois
The less said about the Tim Brewster era at Minnesota, the better. But I will admit that his teams delivered a good game every once in a while. The 2008 season opener against Northern Illinois — who were coached by Brewster’s future successor, Jerry Kill — was one such game.
Expectations were low for the Gophers coming off a miserable 1-11 season, and the Huskies were in their first season under Kill. It was a back-and-forth affair, with the score knotted at 10-10 at halftime. Minnesota managed to create some breathing room, 24-13, in the third quarter thanks to a 53-yard touchdown pass from Adam Weber to Jack Simmons and a 51-yard Duane Bennett touchdown run. But Northern Illinois mounted a fourth quarter comeback behind the arm of quarterback Chandler Harnish, capped by a 52-yard touchdown pass for the go-ahead score.
Fortunately, with the Huskies leading 27-24, the Gophers were able to put together a 10-play, 74-yard, game-winning drive that culminated in Bennett converting on 4th & 1 at the three-yard line before scoring on the next play with less than 30 seconds left in regulation.
Nominee #2: ‘09 vs Syracuse
I will always remember this as the Greg Paulus game. The former Duke men’s basketball star received an NCAA waiver to play football with his one remaining year of athletic eligibility and elected to compete for the starting quarterback spot at Syracuse.
Paulus was not much of a factor in the opener against Minnesota, as the Orange’s ground game helped them erase an early 14-3 Minnesota lead and head to the locker room at halftime with a 20-14 advantage. Then the Gopher defense shut them down completely in the second half, relying on two Eric Ellestad field goals to tie the game up and sent it into overtime.
Syracuse got the ball at the start of overtime and managed to drive to the Minnesota 5 before Paulus tried to force an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by linebacker Nate Triplett. Ellestad kicked a 35-yard field goal on the Gophers’ ensuing possession to seal the victory.
Nominee #3: ‘16 vs Oregon State
I was in the stands for this game and it was stressful. It was the Gophers’ first season opener under then head coach Tracy Claeys, with former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen standing on the opposite sideline in his second season with the Beavers.
Oregon State took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, and the Minnesota offense was struggling to move the ball until a Tai’yon Devers strip sack set up their first scoring drive of the game. Devers then struck again on the very next Beavers possession with another strip sack, and the Gophers were able to take a 14-7 lead on a Rodney Smith touchdown run. But this was also the game that saw Devers, Cody Poock, and Jonathan Celestin all ejected for targeting penalties.
Minnesota held a 17-14 halftime lead before a bad snap from center Tyler Moore led to a safety in the third quarter, followed by a muffed punt return courtesy of Drew Wolitarsky that set up the Beavers’ go-ahead touchdown. Trailing 23-17, the Gophers put together a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive to regain the lead, 24-23, on another Rodney Smith touchdown.
The Minnesota defense turned away the Oregon State offense on fourth down twice in their next two possessions, as the Gophers were able to hold them at bay and even add another touchdown to extend their lead for a final score of 30-23. Although Claeys did make the bizarre decision to call for a two-point attempt that failed on their last touchdown.
Those are your nominees, whether you like them or not. Make your pick below and we’ll declare a Week 1 winner next week when we announce the nominees for Week 2!
Which Week 1 game is your pick for the 2020 Perfect Season?
This poll is closed
‘08 vs Northern Illinois
‘09 vs Syracuse
‘16 vs Oregon State