Last 3 weeks of the regular season is gauntlet for Gophers

Published 9:56 am Thursday, October 9, 2014

Column: Notes from Nashville, by Andrew Dyrdal

When the Minnesota Gophers football team upset Michigan on Sept. 27 for just the second time in 25 years, a handful of reporters tweeted that Minnesota had a shot to represent the West Division in the Big Ten Championship Game.

While it was fun to see my favorite college football team get some love from the national media, I felt the Gophers still had a long way to go before being thrown into the championship game discussion.

For starters, one good offensive game against a bad defense wasn’t enough to assure me that their one-dimensional play calling would hold up against an entire Big Ten schedule, and secondly, the Gophers would still need to beat out Wisconsin and Nebraska for the division title, two top 25 teams with Heisman Trophy candidates in their backfields.

But while the Gophers were off this weekend with a chance to get their banged-up players back on their feet, both Wisconsin and Nebraska lost, leaving Minnesota in a good position to at least make a run at the conference title game in Indianapolis.

The Gophers have one of the most brutal stretches in the Big Ten this season when they host Ohio State before going on the road to Nebraska and Wisconsin to end the regular season. Minnesota will need to win at least one and perhaps two of those three games to win the division, but they should be in great position heading into that three-headed monster.

The Gophers play three of their next four games at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and face the four weakest teams in the West Division: Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois and Iowa. Minnesota should be favored in all four games, and if they’re able to take care of business could be 5-0 in the conference and 8-1 overall heading into their final three games. A 5-3 conference record won’t get them to Indianapolis but a 6-2 record might. Regardless, if the Gophers can rattle off four more wins before inviting the Buckeyes to the Bank on Nov. 15, it will make for one of the most exciting final stretches in my lifetime.

Though they each have one loss already, the Gophers’ main competition toward the top of the West is Wisconsin and Nebraska, and they both have much easier schedules to close the year. They play each other on Nov. 15 but don’t face any other elite Big Ten teams.

It’s up to Minnesota to string together four wins starting on Saturday against Northwestern in order to have a chance to make history.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears in the Tribune each Thursday.