Over the many years of writing The Monday Perspective, there are often many recurring themes from season to season. Common themes like...
- Enjoy the season, it is going to be OK, it was just one loss
- Calm down, we still have not yet arrived and we still have to earn things
- What exactly were your expectations? Cause maybe they were set a little unrealistic
- And all of our season goals are still there for the taking
I’m starting to think that all of these apply to us this week. I’m going to follow up Blake’s elite piece on program expectations, and get us back to season expectations.
Last week was the week when people finally started to notice the Gophers. They finally were ranked after starting the season 4-0 and not having a game that was even remotely competitive. People started admitting that the Gophers were not a dark horse to win the West but they were clearly now the favorites. They even began getting headlines like “Can Minnesota crash the CFP picture?”
Expectations, especially for those who weren’t really paying attention to the program until last week, started to get a little unrealistic. Had they looked more impressive than most of the West? Yes, but clear-cut favorites, they should not be. The College Football Playoff? Really, calm down with that one.
Are they a good team? Yes, they are. Have they been doing exactly what they needed to do through 4 weeks and were in a position to accomplish some pretty great things? Yes, they were. Then they lost to Purdue.
And they STILL are in a position to accomplish some pretty great things this season.
Some things we should have learned by now.
First of all, PJ Fleck teams always get noticeably better throughout the season.
- In 2018 this team was throttled by weak Nebraska and Illinois teams before finishing 3-1 with the program’s first win at Wisconsin in many years and a 34-10 whooping of Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl.
- You may recall the 2019 season where they played like crap against Fresno State, South Dakota State and Georgia Southern. The mood around here was not pretty. But they managed to figure things out and had an elite season for the ages.
- 2020 wasn’t a great season, but they gave up 96 points in the first two games of the season before settling down and finishing 3-2 in the rest of the Covid season.
- And who can forget the loss to Bowling Green in 2021? The season wasn’t a special one, but from there they did go 7-2 and would have gone to the Big Ten Title game with a win at Iowa (we will speak to Iowa in a minute).
Point is that they get better throughout the season. Losing to Purdue at home in a game you were favored by 10 points is not ideal. But it is just one game and there is plenty of time to still accomplish all of the goals set forth before the season. Also, remember that Purdue is not a bad team.
Secondly, one game does not define a season. I’ve typed this many times before and it holds true today. I get it, sometimes a loss can expose your weaknesses and it is easy to look ahead and make assumptions about the rest of the schedule.
If our offensive line is going to be that exposed at home against Purdue, just imagine what Illinois and Penn State and Wisconsin are going to do to us. Right?
OK, maybe you’ll be right. But the point is, we don’t know that yet. Let’s not make broad assumptions about the remaining 8 games of the regular season.
Now, it is up to the coaching staff and the players to get some things fixed. And injuries are no excuse, but having Mohamed Ibrahim back will also make a big difference. But all of the reasonable expectations are still out there for this team. And it isn’t unreasonable to think that they’ll still be in a position to accomplish them.
Winning the Big Ten West is still there, within their reach. The next two road games are not going to be easy. In fact, they may be our toughest remaining games on the schedule. But winning enough games to win the West and get to Indianapolis is still very realistic.
Secondly, beating Iowa is also still very much attainable. There has still been nothing shown by Iowa this season to indicate that this is not a winnable rivalry game for the Gophers. Does meandering to around a .500 record and beating Iowa equate to a successful season? No. But we can all agree that this is certainly something we wanted this year.
And lastly, the Rose Bowl. Is this still a possibility? It is, though the Purdue loss really makes your slim margin for error much much slimmer. No need to discuss scenarios for another month or more, but it is still possible. But I have much less enthusiasm for this one at the moment.
Which leads me to two final points.
College football, ESPECIALLY for a development program like Minnesota, is not an all-or-nothing league. If the Rose Bowl, at a minimum, or the College Football Playoff, as the ceiling, are your only measuring sticks for a successful season? You should find a new team to support. One can deem this a successful season without the Rose Bowl. And one can look at the trajectory of this program and be pleased, even without progressing toward consistent championships.
And lastly, can we stop with the, “Oh here we go again. Same old Gophers.” because they lost to Purdue? If by “same old Gophers” you mean a team that is consistently in the picture for winning the West and just barely falling short, then sure. But for my entire lifetime, this team has been an afterthought in the Big Ten, rarely competitive or even close to winning a conference or division title.
This program is a development program, it is not going to be one that should take any Big Ten game for granted and they are all losable (most of them). This Purdue loss is not embarrassing. I do think Minnesota is better, but they weren’t on Saturday. And in college football, sometimes that happens.
But this program is very good, this team is very good. Let the season play out and do your best to keep the season expectations at the forefront of our minds.