Andy Greder / St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS — By virtue of their 54-21 blowout win over Nebraska on Saturday, the Gophers improved to 5-5 and are firmly on the college football bowl bubble. Well, as firmly as a thin layer of soap holding air can be while traveling through the atmosphere. A week after a 33-10 shellacking by Michigan, and Gophers coach P.J. Fleck saying afterward his team was far from a worthy bowl team, Minnesota's beatdown of the Cornhuskers improves its stake. Some bowl projections now have them in; others are still keeping them out.
MINNEAPOLIS—When DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat” blasted on speakers throughout TCF Bank Stadium at the end of Saturday’s third quarter, Gophers fans danced freely. “Now, if y’all wanna party like we do …” Not since nonconference play in September had Minnesota opened up a big lead to allow fans to revel a bit.
MINNEAPOLIS — If the Gophers beat Nebraska on Saturday, Nov. 11, and lose as expected underdogs to Northwestern and Wisconsin in the final two games, Minnesota will finish 5-7 this season. The last time they finished a touch under .500 was 2015, when the NCAA didn't have enough eligible programs at six wins to fill its 40 bowls. So, the Gophers went to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit based on their strong Academic Progress Rate (APR). Will a similar scenario play out for the Gophers this season?
MINNEAPOLIS — One coach's message has stuck with P.J. Fleck since he played receiver at Northern Illinois: "My job is to out-recruit you." "You're a player at the time, you're catching passes, you think you're invincible," the Gophers head coach recalled Tuesday, Nov. 7. "... I said, 'What do you mean?' " "He said, 'Your job is to keep your job. Your job is to play so well I can't replace you. But my job is to always find somebody better than you.' "
MINNEAPOLIS — Blake Cashman is a 6-foot-2, 230-pound, speedy, sure-tackling member of the Gophers' kick and punt coverage units. On defense, the former walk-on is an athletic linebacker with a knack for blitzing, primarily on third downs. As the Eden Prairie, Minn., native continues to carve out a unique niche during his junior season, coach P.J. Fleck envisions future Minnesota teams brimming with Cashmans. "If we had 125 Blake Cashmans, that's the goal," Fleck said Tuesday, Nov. 7. "Now — different positions. (But) I'm saying the heart, the spirit, the fire."
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The likelihood of the Minnesota Gophers' subpar offense struggling against Michigan's top-tier defense was a safer prediction heading into their game Saturday night, Nov. 4, at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Minnesota's top 20-ranked defense being minced like an onion by the Wolverines' 38th-ranked running game was not such a ready-made prognostication, however.
MINNEAPOLIS—P.J. Fleck has a thing for a pair of former Chicago Bears quarterbacks named Jim. As a kid in Illinois in the 1980s, Fleck's routine Halloween costume was Jim McMahon, with his blue No. 9 jersey, white headband and assertive personality. McMahon, in his customary sunglasses, was a natural pick to be a front man in the 1985 "Super Bowl Shuffle" music video.
MINNEAPOLIS — While the end of Conor Rhoda's college football career is imminent and he hasn't played in weeks, the fifth-year senior from Eagan hasn't lamented or withdrawn himself after losing the Gophers' starting quarterback job. Once Demry Croft took over full time during the 24-17 victory over Illinois on Oct. 21, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck called Rhoda "a class act" for his response to the switch.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers had a rough first quarter against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 29. They trailed 7-0 and had two offensive drives stall in the red zone. That was briefly pushed to the side when they participated in the Hawkeyes' fans new tradition of waving to patients in the children's hospital across the street from the stadium. As Hawkeyes players and coaches prepared for the second quarter, the Gophers went out to the hash marks and joined in the heart-felt moment that has grown in popularity in its first season.
MINNEAPOLIS—First-year coach P.J. Fleck fends off any comparison to Minnesota Gopher football teams of yesteryear, but fans have endured similarly poor passing offenses year after year. With a quarterback combination of Demry Croft and Conor Rhoda, Minnesota's passing offense ranks 116th among 130 FBS programs this season. Croft completed 31 percent of his passes for 139 yards, no touchdown and a red-zone interception their 17-10 loss at Iowa Saturday, Oct. 28.