MINNEAPOLIS — There were 54,147 people at TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday night, the most ever on hand for a Minnesota football game. The temperature at kickoff was 82 degrees, the third-hottest game-time reading in the building’s relatively short history. Students up and down University Ave. were engaging in the revelry students usually engage in a good four hours before the start of things down the street. A visit from No. 2 TCU was a big deal, and everything about the scene underscored it at every turn.
The night ended with a 23–17 victory for the Horned Frogs, one that was instructive about a national title hopeful in some ways and predictably inconclusive in others. This is, after all, Week 1.
Here are three quick thoughts on the Big Ten-Big 12 showdown in the land o’ lakes:
1. The TCU defense should be fine
Six starters departed from last year’s unit, but Gary Patterson apparently Gary Patterson’d that side of the ball again. The Gophers managed just 10 yards rushing in the first quarter and a pedestrian 341 total yards overall. A strip-sack by defensive end Terrell Lathan set up the first Horned Frogs touchdown, and the defense later forced another fumble with Minnesota driving inside the five-yard line, with the ball bouncing out of the end zone for a touchback.
Though the Gophers have some questions on offense and aren’t flush with speed, the performance was more than enough to feel optimistic about how far TCU’s defense can carry it. There’s a reason the program has the nation’s top run defense since 2000. Even though the names change, Patterson prepares replacements that perform.
2. Minnesota’s defense could be enough for a Big Ten West title run
TCU averaged 46.5 points per game in 2014. It dropped 30 on Minnesota during a non-conference meeting last fall in Fort Worth. No, the Gophers didn’t force that offense into a sputter. But they certainly contained Trevone Boykin and Co. enough, for long enough, to give themselves a chance. Minnesota forced two turnovers of its own and recorded six tackles for loss. It may need that defense, desperately, while it figures out some way to get consistent offense. But if it can limit TCU’s explosiveness like this, it can limit anyone in the Big Ten.
3. Let the playoff resume hand-wringing begin
We can safely say, after one game, that TCU may or may not make the college football playoff this year. We also can say that the Minnesota game will be a reference point if the Horned Frogs remain in the mix to the end; how it will be interpreted is much less clear and will be loads of fun to fret over until December.
Will it be considered a surefire plus, no matter the score, since it was a road win against a Power 5 conference team? Or will the lack of an eye-popping margin of victory undermine its value? Nothing that happened Thursday guarantees anything for TCU, but it won’t be a result that is forgotten, for better or for worse.