We entered the season with a number of questions. Mostly around the defense but there were some question on offense as well.
Also coming into this season, I had very high expectations.
As we have progressed through the team’s 10 games we have pretty much answered all of the questions we had heading into the season. But in terms of what exactly do we have with this 2021 Gopher team, we really don’t know. Or maybe we do?
This team has looked very good at time, they have had an identity on offense that has been effective while the defense has been very solid. But other games they look lost on offense and struggled to beat teams deemed weaker. There has been an inconsistency and a number of missed opportunities throughout.
Which maybe means that we really do know what kind of a team we have this year. And that is a very mediocre one. One with enough talent to play well at times but also not exactly a “good” team that you can count on from week to week.
It is what it is.
Perhaps this is just a decent Gopher team. Capable on some Saturdays of beating good teams and equally capable of losing to weak teams. The Iowa game was probably the perfect single-game summation of our season. A few missed opportunities that made the difference between winning and losing. Morgan missing on a few key throws, the defense whiffing on a touchdown run that should have been a TFL, the OL missing a stunt that led to a critical sack, maybe a dropped pass or two...while also running the ball well, connecting deep to Chris Autman-Bell, Trickett making his FGs and a great 4th and 2 pass out of the Wildcat. Would the real Gopher team please stand up? Maybe they did.
This team is what it is.
What I’m not willing to do is take this game or this season and expand it as a referendum on the program. I understand the frustration, I had high expectations this year and I have no issues with the emotions.
For me it is just that it is never easy. Building a program takes time, a long time. But even that’s not why my angst is low.
More than that it is just a recognition that we really have a long way to go. The question is always why can’t we be like Wisconsin or Iowa? But guess what it took time for those programs too? Progress is not linear and patience was allowed.
Barry Alvarez was pretty mediocre for three seasons going 1-10, 5-6 and 5-6 in his first three seasons. Then he had a breakout year in year 4 going 10-1-1! That early progression should look relatively familiar if you’re comparing to the current Gopher program. That 1993 Rose Bowl winning season was followed up with 7-4-1 and then 4-5-2 in the following 2 seasons.
The Gophers experience one of the best years in decades in 2019. The following year was 3-4 (though...Covid year) and now they are on pace for most likely a 7-5 regular season. And the fan base is getting restless?
Hayden Fry, deep into his Iowa career, had three seasons of 5-7, 6-6 and 5-5-1. Kirk Ferentz, who had the benefit of taking over an established program from Fry, had 3 consecutive 10-win seasons (or more) followed by 7-5, 6-7, 6-6 seasons.
I can only imagine how the Gopher fanbase would react to such mediocrity.
One of my lingering fears is how will we react should we actually get a little better. What if we win the West 2 out of 3 seasons or even make one Rose Bowl? My fear is that then we become Nebraska where 8 or 9 win seasons isn’t good enough. That a level of entitlement sets in and sets in very quickly.
Now that’s a problem we will address when we get there. And I’ll be happy to be focusing a TMP on such a thing.
But here we are today, with a feeling that 2019 has become the baseline and anything less is settling for mediocrity.
I believe it is hard to win at this level and it is even harder to sustain it.
Was the Bowling Green game embarrassing? Yes it was and it is reasonable to expect we only see those once a decade or so. But sometimes shit happens, especially in college football. Should we have beat Illinois? Yes, we should have and if we played them again I suspect we’d win. But in no way have we arrived to the level where any Big Ten West game is a gimme.
There are things that need to be addressed. It is pretty apparent that there needs to be some changes on the offensive staff, especially at the top.
But if I’m looking at this program and comparing it to any other coach’s tenure in my lifetime, I’m pleased with the direction it is heading. It hasn’t been perfect but I have no such expectation. It is getting better and if we want to achieve a certain level of winning consistency, you have to accept that it may be a bumpy ride to get there.
There will be some challenges ahead with the roster and the schedule. And progress may not equate to building upon 10-win seasons. I appreciate the direction and am willing to give it time to get there.
Also, I really hate Iowa.