Tom Powers: Gophers knocking on door of college football’s top level
By Tom Powers St. Paul Pioneer Press It was like carrying around a lottery ticket all summer, thinking about all the "what-ifs" and "just imagines" of hitting the jackpot. Yet in the end, when the winning numbers were announced, well, the odds ne...
By Tom Powers
St. Paul Pioneer Press
It was like carrying around a lottery ticket all summer, thinking about all the “what-ifs” and “just imagines” of hitting the jackpot. Yet in the end, when the winning numbers were announced, well, the odds never were really very good.
That’s pretty much how it went with the Gophers in their opener against Texas Christian on Thursday night. Yes, there was a chance for greatness by upsetting the No. 2-ranked team in the country. There were a lot of “what-ifs” and “just imagines” going around. When you get down to it, though, the second-ranked team is pretty darn hard to beat.
The Gophers lost 23-17, but the landscape continues to shift. In 2012, the Golden Gophers paid North Carolina and its mediocre football team $800,000 to stay away. It was, in essence, an aboveboard bribe to get them off the Gophers’ schedule in 2013 and 2014. Jerry Kill wanted no part of the so-so Tar Heels.
In a sign of changing times, however, Minnesota allowed the Texas Christian Horned Frogs to saunter into TCF Stadium on Thursday night without even making them an offer.
Maybe it was financially impossible. The Gophers already appear to be upside-down on their proposed Athletes Village, which is beginning to look like a failed, upscale condo project. If North Carolina was worthy of an $800,000 roadblock, what would it have taken to get TCU to go away?
Yet things are different now. The Gopher athletic administration, what’s left of it anyway, can use its funds for more important things, such as keeping the Title IX people at bay.
Or commissioning law firms to defend and protect against the latest scandals.
And that’s because Kill has made steady, calculated progress with the football program. The Gophers were so close to national prominence last season they could almost touch it. They hung with Wisconsin at Camp Randall for three quarters with the Big Ten West title on the line. And they were neck-and-neck with Missouri for three quarters at the Citrus Bowl, their first New Year’s Day bowl game since 1962.
Thursday’s opener likely was envisioned internally as the last official obstacle - that last corner for the Gophers to turn. They had gone from lousy to not so lousy to mediocre to good during Kill’s first four years. This was the game in which they could have moved up to the next level. This was a chance for the jackpot.
Pay off TCU? Heck, the Gophers were lying in wait for TCU. Kill, his staff and players had all summer to think about it. To plan for it. And Kill was in rare form leading up to the game, too, dodging and feinting and lobbing misinformation. “No-huddle offense? Shoot, that ain’t us.”
Sure enough, first series against TCU and the Gophers skedaddle into the no-huddle offense. Liar, liar, pants on fire - not a good example for the student-athletes. But I guess there’s really nothing wrong with a bit of gamesmanship. All the top-notch programs indulge in a bit of subterfuge. The Gophers certainly aspire to be top-notch.
The problem was TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, who could win the Heisman. He was head and shoulders above everyone else on the field. Not that the Gophers didn’t give him problems. He’s just a real game-changer.
There’s a big difference between knocking on the door and settling into the penthouse. The Gophers are getting closer and are not easily discouraged. They have enough confidence to take on all comers. So in essence they’ve come a long way in a fairly short time.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad night for the locals. No athletic department personnel were suspended for inappropriate behavior, and that’s always a plus. Actually, there may have been a Norwood Teague sighting before the game. I thought for sure that I heard several women say, “That’s him, officer.”
It also should be noted that no players were flagged 15 yards for “Teaguing.” That penalty previously was known as “illegal contact.”
Best of all, as they usually do, the Gophers stayed in there long enough to create doubt, this time against the No. 2 team in the nation. The games won’t get much more challenging than that one. That jackpot, the pot of gold, is almost within legitimate reach.