Golden: Surprising Gophers (9-0!) Shock Penn State. And College Football World.

Herb Gould

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you watched Minnesota shred Penn State. Maybe you read a ton of quotes and analysis of how the Gophers did this.

And maybe you are still trying to understand how the Gophers could look so good against a team that had seemed to be within one epic Ohio State showdown of being in the College Football playoff.

How does a team that barely beat South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern—a team whose best win before Saturday now looks like Illinois?—dismantle a Penn State team that was sitting at No. 4 in the CFP rankings?

And don’t give me any of this ``Row the Boat’’ stuff. Coaches have preached inspirational mantras forever—from Rockne’s ``Win one of the Gipper’' to Greg Schiano’s ``Keep chopping’’ wood at Rutgers.

Yeah, that’s important.

But it works a lot better when you have good players playing well—and playing together.

Here’s all you need to say about Tanner Morgan: 18 of 20 for 339 yards and three TDs, with no interceptions. That’s pretty amazing against a talented Penn State defense in a game for a quarterback who was trying to take his team to a 9-0 start for the first time since 1904.

That’s four years before the Model T debuted, if you’re keeping score at home.

And here’s what my friend David Jones said: ``The Gophers’ wideouts are the best in the Big Ten and as good a single receiver unit as any in college football.’’

If that’s true, that’s quite a statement. Because Ohio State and Wisconsin have really good receivers. So do any number of high-flying teams across America. And if Dave thinks Minnesota’s pass catchers are on a par with Alabama’s—whoa, Nellie.

The Gophers also have a bulldozer of a backup QB, 6-4, 240-pound junior Seth Green, who moves a lot of dirt in goal-line situations.

Let’s give all the credit and respect due to P.J. Fleck and his staff and players for their magical 9-0 start.

What a great story.

Yes, I have been among the skeptics when it came to the rise of the Gophers.

It’s not an emotional thing. And it has nothing to do with disrespect.

As someone who writes about sports, I take an analytical approach.

Minnesota, which has been middling when it hasn’t outright struggled for a long, long time, should have lesser talent than the Penn States and other traditional powers of the college football word.

I wonder if a tough stretch—Penn State played at Iowa, against Michigan and at Michigan State—took a toll on the Nittany Lions. I also wonder if they, like me and many other so-called experts, under-estimated the Gophers.

Doesn’t matter now. As one of my Penn State friends noted, when you Mickey-Mouse-around in Minneapolis, you’re tracking for a bowl game in the shadow of Disney World, and not the College Football Playoff.

And while Fleck is an immensely clever young coach, the top guys on the opposite side of the field—guys like James Franklin—are pretty good at what they do, too.

Again, all credit to P.J. and his Gophers.

No question, Minnesota has an exceptional emotional-togetherness thing going on at the moment. And its talent is meshing incredibly well under the direction of some very astute deployment by their coaches.

But now, the secret’s out.

When Minnesota travels to Iowa City this week, it isn’t going to sneak up on anybody. The Hawkeyes, of course, have not shown enough offense to indicate exactly how they’re going to deal with the Gophers—unless they pull off one of their numbing 9-7 victories.

Given that Iowa is a three-point favorite, Minnesota continues to be viewed with skepticism. The Hawkeyes apparently will need to make it 12-7 if they’re going to cover as well as win.

The way the Gophers’ offense and defense are cranking, good luck with that, Ferentz & Son.

Minnesota’s Nov. 23 opponent, Northwestern, also figures to be over-matched. This is not a good year in Evanston.

But they are road games. And while a 9-0 record is a fabulous mark of excellence, it can become burdensome.

And if the Gophers get to 11-0, they’ll face an interesting home date against Wisconsin. Minnesota already will have clinched the Big Ten West. It will need to remain perfect, though, heading into a likely showdown with Ohio State to keep making its own case for the College Football Playoff.

Minnesota and College Football Playoff are two phrases that have never been linked—until now.

I won’t go deeply into that possibility at this point. Let's just say, ``A 13-0 Big Ten champion who has beaten Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa will have a pretty darned good case for the Final Four.’’

One down, three to go.

But here's the deal. Minnesota in the Rose Bowl for the first time since it went to Pasadena in 1960 and '61—its only Rose Bowls—would be an epic thing. Think Northwestern '95—except that it's colder in the Twin Cities and Minnesota has more alumni who'll want to escape the arctic weather.

That would be the best advertising around for the importance of bowl games.

As a hard-boiled skeptic, I will merely say this: Row on, P.J. and your gang.

I want to see how this unfolds. This is great stuff. This is why college football rocks. And rules.


Herb Gould