P.J. Fleck, Minnesota Golden Gophers Still Have Plenty to Play For

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Barring a tremendous upset in the Big Ten title game, should they qualify, P.J. Fleck and the #10 Minnesota Golden Gophers won’t be in the College Football Playoff. However, in this the program’s greatest season in several generations, there is a lot left to play for.

While today itself, a 38-22 win over hapless Northwestern, was not much to get excited about, there’s plenty of gold left for the Gophers to play for. Next week brings a chance to retain the Paul Bunyan axe, beat your bitterest of rivals for the second straight season (and first time in Minnesota since 2003) and win the Big Ten West/earn a berth in the Big Ten championship game. Then perhaps, the program’s first trip to Pasadena (1961 was the last Rose Bowl berth) in more than a half-century?

It’s all much more exciting than today’s blowout of winless in the league Northwestern.

The game was very sparsely attended (with half to a majority being Minnesota partisan), and if you sold your ticket, you didn’t have much reason for seller’s remorse. At one point, midway through the second quarter, Minnesota, who jumped out to a 21-0 lead and never looked back, were leading the yardage “battle” 189 to -3.

After three quarters, the Gophers were up 317-151 in this regard and 28-16 on the scoreboard. While Northwestern made it more competitive later, the rough start left the action on the field less than compelling for most of the day.

Thus, this kid, as bored as many in attendance at Ryan Field, became a viral sensation:

There was one major bright spot for Northwestern today though- the all-time sack record was broken by Joe Gaziano. When he sacked Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan to force a safety and register sack #28.5 for his career it opened the scoring for NU.

In the process, Gaziano broke Casey Dailey’s record, and that was pretty cool considering how he had a picture of Dailey as wallpaper on his phone for motivation. Overall though, Northwestern’s senior day belonged to the Gophers. The final score was more reflective of, call it what you will, “window dressing,” a “fake rally” or Minnesota “taking their foot off the gas pedal.”

“If you want to be a Big Ten West champ, you got to beat the Big Ten West champ,” said P.J. Fleck, who now even his career record against his mentor and friend Pat Fitzgerald at 2-2, after the game.

“So no matter what, it had to go through Northwestern and that’s how we treated it all week.”

“This is big boy football, you can’t be elite in one area and not elite in another area. It’s all inter-connected.”

This Minnesota’s 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 today’s win gives them 10 in a season for the first time since 1905.

“It’s quite an accomplishment when everyone picked you sixth,” said Fleck in postgame.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, 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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