P.J. Fleck's rah-rah campaign at Minnesota yielded very little during his first two seasons as the Gophers stumbled to 5-7 and 7-6 records. The man who captured lightning in a bottle at Western Michigan and rode to a New Year's Day bowl has sparked all sorts of measured optimism this fall as Minnesota sits at 5-0 with an extremely favorable schedule on tap.
The non-conference slate was a study in pulling out one-score victories. Through two games of the Big Ten, Minnesota has found a way to beat Purdue and Illinois. Not the most inspiring stuff but then again the West offers very little in the form of resistance outside of Wisconsin.
It is entirely possible, if not probable that the Gophers take care of Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers to enter the Penn State game at 8-0. They'll have homefield advantage over the Nittany Lions who will be fresh of playing the two physical Michigan teams. Pull that upset and things start to get very weird.
A trip to Kinnick presents a serious challenge as does one to Evanston, though Northwestern has been a mess. Let's just imagine, somehow, that the Gophers pull a rabbit out of the hat and win both. That presents a home game against Wisconsin in which the division will be on the line.
Or, and this is wild, it will already belong to the trophy case in Minneapolis. For all Wisconsin's talent, it has to play both Michigan State and Ohio State, plus travel to Iowa. Two losses is within reason.
Can you imagine of it was Minnesota lining up against Ohio State in Indianapolis? Try setting a line there. Since this is all make-believe, would running the table be enough for the committee to grit their teeth and include Fleck's team in the playoff. And what would their presence in the Big Ten title game mean to a one-loss Ohio State or Penn State desperate for one big resume-building win.
Look, Minnesota's record is more than likely fool's gold. They'll probably be exposed soon. But there is talent. Quarterback Tanner Morgan is completing 70 percent of his passes and is blessed with two fine receivers -- Rashod Bateman who is averaging 23.3 yards/reception and Tyler Johnson who has a future on Sundays. The rushing attack is putting up 250 yards/game as well, providing balance.
The Gophers rowing toward real contention is likely a pipe dream. But definitely worth monitoring.