You ever have those dreams where you're trapped in a wooden box?
It's dark, but the sounds and bouncing around lead you to believe you're in the back of a truck or something. Eventually, the truck stops and you hear the door slide open. A couple of dudes hop in, lift up the box you're in throw it down on the ground, laugh, then get back in the truck and drive away. It's effing hot and you're sweating already. Recognizing there's no one around to hear you yelling, you start kicking at one of the sides to get out. After an hour or two, you finally break one of the boards and manage to extract yourself. Once your eyes adjust to the light, you see you're in an arid environment on the side of a dirt road. You stumble along the road for a few miles, you're disoriented, exhausted and dehydrated and finally come to a small village. There's an old car on the side of the road and...it has a Mexican license plate. You don't really remember how or why, but you've been kidnapped and sent to Mexico. Your life seems to have gone sideways.
Well, we Gopher fans have just kicked our way out of the box and find ourselves in a culture year, which is just like Mexico except without Tecate, delicious refried beans and likelihood of being beheaded in a war between drug cartels.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Fleck was our Pejus and we were primed to win the West this season. Now we're disoriented, exhausted and, given the mass quantities of the sauce we've consumed as a coping mechanism, thoroughly dehydrated.
As I'm sure there's a survival guide to being kidnapped and left in a box in Mexico, we at SGH feel like it's important to give you some tips on surviving this season. It won't be easy. There will almost certainly be some angry tears shed, particularly as the message boards devolve into some dystopian hellscape where the only satisfaction to be gained is by publicly castigating those with whom you disagree. Cannibalism didn't die with Idi Amin, friends.
At any rate, here are some things to consider as we navigate what will almost certainly be a mostly-agonizing remaining six games (I have yet to believe that Illinois is a team that exists in real life).
1. Understand what a culture year is: It doesn't mean we're purposely losing every game to teach lessons. To that point, I'd be surprised if we weren't continuing to play the players that give us the best chance to win WHO HAVEN'T ALSO done stupid shit to get themselves suspended. Culture is obviously very important to Fleck, but it's not so important that he is intentionally tanking the season to build it. Why have Devers, Duke and Croft been suspended? Your guess is as good as mine - meaning no one except them, the coaches and few insiders know for sure. Consequently, assuming it's to teach the rest of the team a lesson makes as much sense as me implying their suspensions are due to the worship of Satan. Let's be straight: the team had some discipline problems last year that, if we're ever going to be successful, need to be addressed sooner rather than later. Missing some of our better players is frustrating to me too; but assuming they're missing because Fleck is intentionally sabotaging this season to teach lessons requires a leap into the conspiratorial that can only be driven by an agenda beyond the success of the program.
2. It will get worse before it gets better: We just lost to Purdue. How is this possible? Oh, friends, you're so precious to me. Even if we had won the last two games, we might be totally effed for the remainder of the season given injury attrition at offensive line, defensive back and now wide receiver. Let's not forget we had four (4) (FOUR) healthy offensive linemen in spring camp. I'm no football expert, but I'm pretty sure that's not enough to field a team. We've had some injuries the last couple of games and it's possible we'll be starting a true freshman, Blaise of Steel Andries, against a formidable MSU defensive line. Sweet. TWANZO being out dramatically affects our dynamism on defense - TWAN is arguably our best defensive player and his versatility in manning pass coverage and run fits makes everyone on the field better - now Kiondre Thomas is likely out for a stretch and Jacob Huff got dinged as well. And we've basically got one B1G-caliber wide receiver at the moment in Tyler Johnson. Odds are good we are going to get absolutely effing worked against MSU, Michigan and Wisconsin with that situation. Invest in grain alcohol futures now.
3. Reset expectations immediately: See above. While popping a miracle run to a NYD bowl game is a possibility, it's much more likely we refer to 2017 as The Year Spent in the Brazen Bull. Moo. At this point, I'll be happy if we can sneak into a bowl game (even of the APR ilk - I ain't to proud to beg) to get some extra bowl practices and see improvement from our underclassmen throughout the season. I'd like to see Tanner Morgan get his redshirt pulled to at least see what we have - further, he may be the only QB on the roster after this season if Demry's suspension is of the death penalty variety. We lost to two teams we shouldn't have, so pulling off an upset win is certainly in the realm of possibility; but that and a Detroit bowl may be all we have to hope for. Enjoy player development and time spent with your friends over a few adult beverages.
4. This will pay off in 2018 and 2019: While it's brutal for us long-suffering fans and this year's senior players, culture years tend to pay dividends down the road. For one, it's pretty easy to figure out which players have bought in when you're losing every week. Thus, it should be pretty simple for Fleck to run some of the heretics off the team at the conclusion of the season. (Note: I hate this practice and only make light of it because of its absurdity; but every program does it and we're at a massive disadvantage if we don't.) Hey, we needed scholarships anyway. Further, recruiting high-quality guys is easier when the program has a Fukushima Daiichi sort of year as you can more or less promise a player they can come in and start right away. Fleck leveraged his first year at WMU - a 1-11 extinction-level event - to sell playing time and become the top recruiter in the MAC. He probably won't exactly replicate that path here, we ain't outrecruiting Ohio State, but I think it will help. Thus, going into 2018, we will have a team free of culture apostates with a higher-ranked recruiting class than we otherwise might have. And have you seen the 2019 schedule? #2019itty.
5. Try not to be angry all the time: Losing sucks. We've done it a lot over the years and, particularly coming off of a 9-win season, it's hard to tolerate. I was pretty angry that this had become our season during the weather delay this Saturday. I kind of let that go yesterday when I realized I spend all year looking forward to Gopher football and being angry/sad throughout most of the season really spoils the fun. Attending and watching games, spending time with friends, experiencing the highs and lows together are truly some of my favorite memories in life. It's okay to be frustrated, angry and despondent at times; but we that have stuck around through the years have a kinship most other fan bases don't. Arguing about the team is good, healthy and a valuable coping mechanism for asteroid impacts like the one we may be witnessing this season. But try not to be too angry all the time. It'll spoil what I think is probably your favorite time of year.