A good friend of mine is a Nebraska fan. Maybe that is more of a reflection on my own judgment in character, but that’s between my therapist and I, and not the subject for today’s Perspective. His comment to me at one point Saturday afternoon was that he was hoping his Huskers would have been more of a speedbump for Michigan.
They weren’t, it was more like Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Wolverines. And I don’t bring this up to pile on the miserable season Nebraska is having (or several seasons...Ok that was piling on). But of course, I knew that next week the Gophers get to potentially be that speedbump for Michigan.
Over the last several seasons, the Gophers have been able to avoid the juggernauts of the BIg Ten East. At least mostly. We last played Michigan in 2020. In PJ Fleck’s first 6 seasons at Minnesota he has played Michigan twice and Ohio State once. Now in his 7th, he gets them both, starting with Michigan on Saturday.
Matchups with the Buckeyes and Wolverines have traditionally been speedbump games for Minnesota. Have we occasionally come away with a win? Sure. We beat Michigan in 2014, before that it was 2005 and before that you only have to go back to 1986. Ohio State? Who can forget Joe Salem’s signature 1981 win that preceded the 2000 Glen Mason victory.
By my math we are 4-61 against these two programs since 1980, and I only stopped at 1980 because the numbers were getting too big for me to add anymore, not because things were better for the Gophers in the late 70s.
Frankly, this season is unlikely to be any different. Could Michigan roll into Huntington Bank Stadium on Saturday, looking past Minnesota (to their East divisional battle with Indiana the following week), coming out flat, while Minnesota puts it all together and pulls off the biggest upset we’ve seen since arguably Glen Mason’s win over #3 Penn State? Sure, it is possible.
The problem with this Gopher team isn’t exactly talent. It is currently inexperience and mistakes. The overall talent level isn’t the same as Michigan’s, but PJ Fleck has raised the floor of talent on this roster considerably.
The Monday Perspective is typically about managing expectations as a fan (which is very different than what the staff and players should be expecting). The current perspective is that this is a season about getting better. Each and every game, getting better. Michigan may win by a lot, but are they going to show some fight and some improvement? The same can be said for the mid-November game at Ohio State.
Both of these speed bump games are followed by what are really the two biggest games of the year. Following Michigan the Gophers get a bye and then a trip to Iowa City. Is this game going to be a learning experience followed by a week off to then be ready to finally beat Iowa? And the week after Ohio State we host Wisconsin for a chance to win 3 in a row over the Badgers.
This game week is a little anti-climactic. In a sport where there are such great inequalities between programs who are competing for the national championship and others who are supposedly competing at the same level, this is not a game to be excited about. Michigan is a legitimate national title-contending team, they are really good. Minnesota is not there, this is a game where we are realistically hoping for a moral victory of some sort (again...as fans, not the roster).
College football is amazing because crazy things happen. So while I may have dreams of Darius Taylor returning healthy and running all over his home state team, I’m not exactly exuding confidence. But this is where we get better, we get healthy and we beat Iowa in 2 weeks.