Tough schedule could make — or break — Gophers’ season
By Andy Greder St. Paul Pioneer Press CHICAGO -- Gophers coach Jerry Kill joked Friday about his strategy against second-ranked Texas Christian to kick off the 2015 season Sept. 3 at TCF Bank Stadium. "We're going to bring in a little bit of snow...
By Andy Greder
St. Paul Pioneer Press
CHICAGO - Gophers coach Jerry Kill joked Friday about his strategy against second-ranked Texas Christian to kick off the 2015 season Sept. 3 at TCF Bank Stadium.
“We’re going to bring in a little bit of snow,” Kill said with a smile at Big Ten media days. “See how they can handle that snow there in September.”
Jokes aside, the Gophers’ schedule will be a serious test this season. After opening against the Horned Frogs and Heisman Trophy candidate Trevone Boykin, the Gophers will have two stringent crossover games against Big Ten East Division opponents.
The Gophers will play host to Michigan and first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, then travel to Columbus, Ohio, for a Nov. 7 date with defending national champion Ohio State, the top-ranked team in the preseason coaches poll.
“Last year we had one of the tougher schedules in the Big Ten and it made us a better football team,” Kill said. “And if you beat those people, it’s going to put you in a pretty good position. We’re stepping it up a notch.”
The Big Ten is stepping it up, too, with Friday’s announcement from commissioner Jim Delany that the league will essentially mandate tougher schedules. The agreement will increase conference games from eight to nine, include a non-conference game against a team in the FBS’ Power Five major conferences and no games against FCS, or formerly Division I-AA schools.
“All of our coaches and players and athletics directors are committed to this platform,” Delany said. “We think it’s what our fans want … and we think it’s what the College Football Playoff committee wants.”
Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez, who is a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee, said strength of schedules is one of the chief criterion to be selected in football’s final four teams.
“If you want to be a player, you probably should take a look at your non-conference (schedule),” Alvarez said.
Besides TCU-Minnesota, other big non-conference games for Big Ten programs include Michigan at Utah (Sept. 3); Wisconsin vs. Alabama at Arlington, Texas (Sept. 5); and Oregon at Michigan State (Sept. 12).
The Gophers will play Oregon State, a PAC-12 member of a FBS Power Five conference, at TCF Bank Stadium in 2016 and at Corvallis, Ore. in 2017. The Gophers play Fresno State, which is outside the Power Five, in 2018-19.
The TCU-Minnesota match-ups came to fruition when Gophers athletics director Norwood Teague got out of playing a series with North Carolina.
“You have to treat your schedule with a lot of thought,” Teague told the Pioneer Press. “Scheduling is never easy, but it’s certainly changing with the CFP.”
Coming off consecutive eight-win seasons, the Gophers also play Nebraska (Oct. 17) and No. 18 Wisconsin (Nov. 28). All five of those teams - TCU, Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin - were on the 2014 schedule; the Gophers went 2-3, with losses to the Horned Frogs, Buckeyes and Badgers.
“If we do well through that schedule (this year), then good things are going to happen, because I think people are going to go, ‘Hey, these guys play as tough a schedule as anybody,’ “ Kill said.
Fellow Big Ten West title competitors have somewhat lighter crossover schedules. Wisconsin will play Rutgers and Maryland; Nebraska gets Rutgers and resurgent Michigan State.
The FCS schools, which now supplement their budgets with high-paying games against FBS schools, now won’t have that revenue.
“That is going to put some real burden on schools of that size and how they are going to go forward with their football programs,” said Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association.
Against TCU, the Gophers will try to redeem themselves from a 30-7 blowout loss last season, which included five turnovers and a 24-0 halftime deficit. Knowing TCU is up first has helped the Gophers through the postseason.
“(It) really made our offseason more productive, more intensity because we’re starting off with a great football team,” Kill said. “But we look forward to the challenge.”