Saturday was an ass-kicking at the hands of Purdue and the football season took a turn. And now TMP is sitting here wondering what’s left? What next?
The basketball team is playing much better to start the year. :)
Ok, ok, I’ll stay focused on football for a moment (cause the basketball team still has much to prove).
Now that the Big Ten West, regardless of how soft it is, is out of reach...what is there to play for? What does come next for the Gopher football program? I believe there is a short-term and a long-term answer to this.
First of all, there is still the Axe and a bowl game on the table. Will the bowl game be very early in the bowl schedule and potentially in Detroit? Yes. Does that still matter for the players, staff and development of the program? Also, yes. Would it be great to capture The Axe in 2 weeks? You betcha.
After beating Iowa, it became widely published that the last time the Gophers controlled both Floyd and The Axe was in 1993. This is true, those two trophies were in our possession for about a month that year. The Gophers beat Iowa in 1992, defeated Wisconsin in late October of 1993 and held both until they lost to Iowa in November of that same year. But the last time the Gophers beat both Iowa and Wisconsin in the same season? That was 1990.
That’s right, the last time both rivals were defeated in the same season, the Twins had only 1 World Series title. That was a LONG TIME AGO. And frankly beating Wisconsin this season to have both trophies in our state for the first time in 33 years would be an accomplishment.
Also, bowl games matter. Is the primary goal of the season to make sure you get to that magical 6th win? No, it’s not. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value, particularly for an inexperienced team.
In the next few weeks, both of these short-term goals are worth goals. But what about the long-term goals?
Does this team bring back memories of the 2018 team for anyone else? A team that was incredibly inconsistent. A team that gave up some massive points to teams that were not exactly powerhouses. And a team that was playing quite a few inexperienced players.
It was different, obviously, that 2018 team was young in different areas and there was more experience defensively. But Tanner Morgan, Mo Ibrahim, Sam Schleuter, Connor Olson were all sophomores. That team also relied heavily on Blaise Andries, Daniel Faalele, Jordan Howden and Rashod Bateman as freshmen. Then of course there were injuries. This isn’t exactly an exercise in comparing rosters position by position. But there were some incredibly frustrating games.
- Giving up 42 to Maryland who finished 5-7
- Giving up 48 to Iowa (are you serious?)
- Weirdly hung with Ohio State 14-30 (even led in the 2nd quarter)
- Giving up 53 to Nebraska who finished 4-8 (it just gets worse)
- Oh look...giving up 55 to Illinois who also finished 4-8
- Mixed in a win over Purdue by the score of 41-10
- Losing 14-24 to Northwestern at home
And then finishing the season by beating the Badgers in Madison and squeaking to a 6-6 record and ripping Georgia Tech in a bowl game.
It was a weird season that mostly consisted of some really ugly defensive performances while this team tried to figure things out. And then they did...in 2019.
Again, none of this is meant as a direct comparison. This year’s lumps do not mean they are guaranteed to turn into a 10-win regular season. This year is a cocoon. We will have to wait and see what it turns into next year.
But as I argued to start the season, the floor of this program has been raised. This is a catch-22 for the staff. Going 6-6 in 2018 with an inexperienced roster was a successful one. “Hopefully” going 6-6 in year 7 of the program is not sitting well with fans, even if we beat both of our rivals. But perhaps this is another season of growing and learning so that we turn into a beautiful butterfly in 2024.