Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Fleck, Year 3 Part 2: The (Post-Bowl) Situation



This is a post-bowl update to Part 1 in a series evaluating where Minnesota is at in Year 3 of the Fleck era. If you haven’t read that already, maybe go do it. Or don’t. I’m not your supervisor.

We took the Christmas decorations down at our house this past weekend, and I hate how bare and dark the house it looks now. It’s a feeling I’ve had since I was a kid; my family has always gone all-out with Christmas decorations, and I’ve always felt joy with their arrival and emptiness with their departure. The feeling is similar to the end of college football season. Anticipation, excitement, now the void.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Looks Like We Made It! A Team Blooms in Tampa



If Future Frothy approached you in his flying Delorean back in August and told you that on January 1st Minnesota would be 11-2 with two wins over Top 15 teams and a bowl win against #12 Auburn, what would you have thought? Let’s assume he also told you that Auburn’s three losses were all against Top 10 teams and three of their wins were against Top 20 teams including Alabama? I’m assuming once you cleaned up your pants from being approached by a time-traveling giant you might not have believed it.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Fleck Year 3, Part 1: Where It's At




Evaluating where Minnesota is at in Year 3 of the Fleck era. In future parts we'll look at where we could have gone, and where we are vs. vs. historical Minnesota coaches.

The conference season is over, signing day has come and gone, and Bowl Season has begun. While we wait for the Outback Bowl, I want to start taking stock of where Minnesota is in P.J. Fleck’s third year at the helm. Let’s look at the other programs that are also on their third year and see how we compare.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Game and Where We Go From Here



Let’s get the nasty part out of the way first. The two losses that marred an otherwise incredible season for Minnesota shared a handful of features in common. Minnesota was out-schemed by teams that comprehended the Gopher’s strengths and weaknesses and schemed to put points on the board quickly. Minnesota also called a conservative offensive game that got away from many of the facets that made its offense so successful earlier in the season, making uncharacteristic decisions (a 50-yard FG attempt against Iowa and a punt from the 35 yard line against Wisconsin, both early in the game). Offensive line injuries compounded the challenge of mounting a comeback and magnified the effect of other mystifying decisions such as multiple running calls against Wisconsin from 3rd and long. For whatever reason, whether the intimidation of the big stage, distraction of national media attention, or old-fashioned nerves, the Minnesota that owned most of the game against Penn State was mostly absent.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Tomorrow is for Everything. Or is it?


Yeah, so, tomorrow, huh? Pretty, pretty, pretty big day for our favorite team, the U, the State of Minnesota, the Arctic ice cap, and cosmic justice. I’m going to do my best to just take it all in; but getting started at 5.30, watching GameDay, wandering bars/tailgates, hitting GopherHour and then sitting down for 200+ minutes of ulcer-inducing drama where the payoff is everything we’ve ever wanted is going to be a lot for my monkey brain to manage.

“A LOT” is about the only way I can describe tomorrow. The B1GW, the Axe, a chance at the Rose Bowl, a chance to knock off Ohio State for a B1G championship and a shot at the College Football Playoff, another year of not having that rancid fan base constantly chirping. It sucks that most of that list is still in play if we execute in the red zone just a little bit better at Iowa. Then tomorrow is just about the Axe and a better shot at the Playoff. It sucks if we lose, because it always sucks to lose to Bucky. Beyond that though, we win the division and have bragging rights and everything else to play for. Alas.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

So You Want to Beat the Badgers


I made my decision to go to the University of Minnesota on Saturday, October 9th, 1999. I was on campus that day for a formal visit, the details of which escape me other than the fact that it was a beautiful early fall day, and the 4-0 Gophers were playing the 3-2 Badgers at the Metrodome. I was in a tour group of several dozen high school seniors, almost all in maroon and gold. In those days before smart phones we got our score updates from our tour guides at the quarter breaks.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

On Losing and Moving On


After the victory over Penn State we experienced a week unlike any I can remember as a Gopher fan. Unprecedented levels of local coverage and interest (at least, unprecedented positive coverage), significant national exposure, and 4 separate blog posts from 3 separate authors on Still Got Hope dot com. And yet, for many it didn’t take long for the fear of a major letdown against Iowa to take the foremost place in a lot of minds. It’s an understandable response given our past Gopher fan experiences. Moreover, the Gophers haven’t won at Kinnick Stadium since 1999 and its associated curse is well documented. I was not immune from these feelings, but my efforts to turn over a new leaf led me to focus on the concept that this year and program is different.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

PJ Fleck has Already Won

PJ has been working to the point of exhaustion capitalizing on the opportunity of the unexpected and remarkable 9-0 start to the season. Watching him appear on ESPN’s College Football Playoff rankings show this past Tuesday, he looked as if he hadn’t slept in days as the media roadshow to promote the hell out of the program reached a fever pitch. It shouldn’t be surprising that he’d be pressing, considering what he told Adam Rittenberg in the wake of beating #4 Penn State:

"It's been so long, but that's what's so fun about hope*,” Fleck said in his stadium office about two hours after Saturday's game. "I'm a Chicago Cubs fan. Everybody always said, 'The lovable losers,' and then all of a sudden, they did it. They got the right people, they got the right GM, they got the right manager, and then they found a way to put the right team together to do it.
"It's going to happen here, and we just want to do everything we can to get our shot at it. What you saw today is the hope for the future, to say it's not just what used to be, it's what's going to be."

Thing is, if you’re measuring a program by interest, fan or general, PJ has already succeeded at changing the narrative. The 9-0 start has catapulted the Gophers into such rarified air that, short of a narrowing list of postseason accomplishments, what else does PJ need to prove to people who matter?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The TCF Bank Stadium Slip

It's the 4th quarter. Two minutes and three seconds on the clock. Fourth-ranked Penn State has the ball on their own 40, down 31 to 26 to the 17th ranked Minnesota Gophers. The Gophers have been in control for most of the day, but Penn State is making a run to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and leave Gophers fans wanting in their bid for a Rose Bowl.

On first down, quarterback Sean Clifford drops back and finds Jahan Dotson wide open at the Gophers' 45. The defensive back guarding him, Benjamin St. Juste, loses his footing and falls over. A collective moan emanates from TCF Bank Stadium.

Smokey and the Frost-bit


There is a Big Ten football program that was once a national power. It was built on the backs of strong, corn-fed Midwestern farm boys wearing iconic uniforms that practically became their own mascot. When football changed they changed with it, finding speedy athletes in other parts of the country to bring into the fold, adopting new styles, and embracing innovation. Over thirty years they won over two-thirds of their games, boatloads of conference championships, nearly half a dozen National Championships, some of the biggest bowls in the game, and never finished lower than 5th in their conference.

After years of success, their long-tenured coach departed, taking an assistant role in the athletic department. Most assumed the successor would pick up where he left off. The decline started almost imperceptibly and took nearly a decade to pick up steam. Frustration from administration and alumni, tough questions from what used to be an obedient local media, increasing surliness by coaches, and suddenly what used to be considered “fluke” performances became something closer to the norm. After a decade or so, the fans looked around, realized that it was more trend than phase and started to wonder aloud what the hell happened.

If you think that sounds a lot like Minnesota football from the 30s to the 80s, well, you’re close but not quite.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

St. George and the Dragon



Have you ever found yourself burdened by the weight of past events and your mistakes? Not consequences necessarily, but the feelings associated with the memory weighing on your mind. Perpetually feeling the pressure to avoid the pitfalls of the past and judging yourself by a self-imposed standard that may not reflect reality, the caveman parts of your limbic system constantly engaged in a fight-or-flight tug of war that eventually leads to more mistakes, more failures, more regrets. Or maybe it’s just me; an anxiety disorder, predisposition to rumination, and an interest in history that goes beyond mere hobby will tend to do that. If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, congratulations! That’s awesome, I invite you to still play along.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Changing the Narrative


This is kind of weird, right? Second week of November, undefeated, playing the 4th-best team in the country in a nationally televised game. Win, and we’re in the top 10 with a very, very credible track to the Rose Bowl. Lose and we’re still the prohibitive favorite to win the West. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to use halcyon days in the present tense – today is halcyon! – but, regardless of what happens the rest of the season and in the years to come, right now feels pretty effing terrific.