P.J. Fleck, #8 Gophers Underdogs in Biggest Game in Modern School History


“When there’s nothing else to believe in, believe in hope,” Homer J. Simpson once said, trying to emulate a stereotypical movie tagline.

Last weekend, the #8 Minnesota Golden Gophers won their 7th win in Big Ten play, the first time that’s happened in school history. They’re now 14-3 in their last 17, and the blowout win at Northwestern gave them 10 in a season for the first time since 1905.

“It’s quite an accomplishment when everyone picked you sixth,” said Minnesota Coach P.J. Fleck in Evanston after the game.

Yep, the Gophers have defied the odds all season long. Actually, it goes all the way back to last season, and it’s something to think about if you’re participating in the Pickswise Pick 8 this Thanksgiving week and weekend. Minnesota have been fantastic as underdog lately, and one can say that their magical 2019 season began with a huge upset win back on Nov. 24, 2018. That’s the day the Golden Gophers went into Madison and destroyed their arch-rival, the Wisconsin Badgers 37-15. .

“This is why you coach,” said Fleck that day. His team was 11.5 point underdogs that day, and they’ll be 2.5 point dogs this Saturday, when they have #12 Wisconsin again, this time in Minnesota. The Badgers are favored at a money line of -142 with the over/under set at 46.

This despite the fact that Minnesota is ranked higher, at home and sporting a better record than the Badgers. ESPN’s “College GameDay” will be there for what is a de facto Big Ten West title game.

The winner goes to the Big Ten title game, and the winner of that goes to the final four that is the College Football Playoff.

In other words, the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis next week is a de facto Elite 8 game, making Saturday in Minneapolis pragmatically a Sweet Sixteen affair.

It is a trophy game too as the two sides will battle for the massive Paul Bunyan Axe. It’s also the most-played rivalry in Football Bowl Subdivision history, 128 games in total, going all the way back to 1890. Yes, 1890, and the series record is actually knotted up at 60-60-8.

And by the way, there is one guy who strongly believed in the Gophers in the preseason. I know somebody who didn’t think they’d finish sixth. See the video and tweet above, and also below:

Yesterday, P.J. Fleck acknowledged the turning point that was last year’s regular season ending rivalry game.

“I think there’s always turning points in head coach’s tenure or the staff, the players, for the program,” said Fleck.

“You either get to the turning moment or you probably end up being non-rented any more, meaning fired. You have to get to that moment somehow, some way in the first few years or you’re probably not going to last.”

“I think the Wisconsin game for us last year, with all due respect to them, that’s how big of a win it was when you beat a team like that, you haven’t beaten them for 15 years, close to 30 years at Camp Randall. It was a huge win for us.”

P.J. Fleck continued to articulate the meaning of the rivalry:

“Again, that’s a huge compliment to the University of Wisconsin, for what they’ve been able to accomplish and sustain over a long period of time. Paul Chryst has continued to do that. His teams are very tough, very talented.”

“For our team to be able to see they can do something when we haven’t done it for so long, people say we won’t do it, seeing lots of people fail at it, I think that was a huge point to say we can.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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