The College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night. The Big Ten is well represented with six teams in the top 25, including the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers coming in at No. 17.
The Gophers are 8-0 on the season, so their ranking could be seen as a little disrespectful considering Baylor, which is also 8-0, is ranked No. 12. I think a lot comes down to the 15-25 combined record of the Big Ten teams that the Gophers have played. Yes, they have destroyed their opponents, outside of Purdue. In fact, outside of Clemson and Alabama, the Gophers have outscored their conference opponents by the most per game in the Power Five conferences.
During this last leg of their season, however, we’ll get to see what this team is truly made of. Three of their next four games are against ranked opponents, and the other game is at Northwestern, which is never an easy place to play.
The biggest test to show how far this team has progressed is this Saturday when the Gophers host the No. 4 Penn State Nittney Lions. A team that the CFP committee believed to be a superior team to the defending champions, the Clemson Tigers.
Penn State is a very talented team, with wins over Pitt, Iowa and Michigan. The Gophers have won 10 straight games, the biggest win of which was at Wisconsin, but they haven’t faced an opponent quite like Penn State. When they have played top-five teams in the past, they are usually outplayed from the start and the games are over before they begin. Typical Minnesota sports.
A lot of credit has to be given to head coach P.J. Fleck. Through recruiting and non-stop energy, he has put his first two seasons in the rearview mirror and led the team to it’s first 8-0 start since 1941. That has also earned him a massive seven-year extension. I think it’s way too early to be handing out long-term deals after three-quarters of one good season, but as I stated earlier, typical Minnesota sports to hand out unneccessary extensions after a small sample size of success.
Now that Fleck is set for the next seven years, it’s time to prove his worth this Saturday against Penn State. I’m hoping for at least a competitive game. I don’t expect us to beat a team that has championship aspirations. That’s not to say the Gophers don’t have championship aspirations themselves, but it’s more likely a Big Ten championship than a National Championship.
Penn State is a balanced offense, running more than it passes, but it isn’t afraid to sling the ball with sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford. He’s having a very good season, throwing for 20 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Both sides of the ball will be tested for the Gophers in their biggest game in at least a decade. It’s time to see if this team is what it says it is, or if it is just another broken promise.