By Mike Gallagher
Success is measured by where expectations were set for a certain team or player for the period of time in question. Take, for instance, Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans. He had six 125 yard games in a row heading into the contest against the undefeated Colts last week. His 113 yards, while it was tied for second-best performance of the week, was considered an off-game.
Now take the Minnesota Gophers football team. While they made it to the Insight Bowl, facing Iowa State in Tempe, Arizona on December 31st, the expectation was for eight or nine wins this year to improve on the total of seven last year. This is also the third time in four years they have gone to the same bowl, a huge sign that there is little to no progression in the program. Not exactly sounding like a great deal of success?
Let’s next look at Iowa State. Back in the glory days of Sage Rosenfels, who led the Cyclones to their first bowl berth and subsequent victory in 2000, and Seneca Wallace, who led them to two more bowls after Rosenfels departure, wins were flowing and the times were good in Ames. But after two seasons under Gene Chizik netted only five wins before he flew the coupe for Auburn, Iowa State had to re-tool and go on a coaching search.
Enter Paul Rhoads. Coincidently, Rhoads was the Auburn defensive coordinator when Chizik was at Iowa State. The two flipped schools, with Chizik taking over at Auburn as the head coach when Tommy Tuberville retired. Rhoads was very emotional when he took the job in late 2008 with the Cyclones, as he had grown up right down the road from Ames in Nevada, Iowa.
Obviously, the Cyclones were hungry to make their new coach proud. Behind the legs of 1,000-yard back Alexander Robinson, who the Cyclones snatched out of the back pocket of the Gophers from De La Salle High School in Minneapolis, they did just that.
Iowa State went 6-6 with a big quality win on the road against Big 12 North champion Nebraska, and with a tough 41-36 loss against then ranked Kansas. They made their first bowl since 2005 and beat their win total from the last two years combined.
The way this year went for Iowa State sounds like one word. Success.
The Gophers went 6-6 this year, were 4-3 on the road, 2-3 at home, 3-5 in the conference, scored 21.6 ppg, gave up 24.6 ppg, have averaged 198 yards passing/gm, have a starting QB with a rating of 113, and finished 8th in the Big Ten.
The Cyclones went 6-6 this year, 4-3 on the road, 2-3 at home, 3-5 in the conference, scored 21.1 ppg, gave up 22.6 ppg, have averaged 182 yards passing/gm, have a starting QB with a rating of 119, and if you combine the Big 12 North and South, they would’ve finished tied for 8th in the conference.
With two teams so evenly matched, it’s hard to imagine momentum and confidence not playing a key role in this game.
The momentum will go to the team that has been, by our definition, successful. The team that has accomplished something this year, and the team that’s going forward.
Iowa State is a great story and should be praised for the way they’ve taken to Paul Rhoads philosophy and tactics right away. It can sometimes take a while for players to adjust and buy in, such as the team on the other sideline during the Insight Bowl, three years and still no sign of adjustments or success for the Gophers. Iowa State players believed and it’s paid off.
Belief and confidence will be the difference in this game, and believe Alex Robinson will have a little revenge on his mind to mix in with the other ingredients that could equal a win for the Cyclones.