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After a dominant 34-7 win over the Michigan State Spartans this past weekend, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have found themselves ranked in the AP Poll for the first time this season. They found themselves ranked at the No. 21 spot following their 4-0 start to the season and are sandwiched between No. 20 Arkansas and No. 22 Wake Forest, each of whom sit at 3-1.
Minnesota has blown out each of their first four opponents by a combined score of 183-24. Keeping this dominance in mind, are the Gophers being fairly ranked four weeks into the season?
The Gophers Resume
As painful as it may be to hear, it’s always going to be harder for “up-and-coming” teams to break into the ranks, especially when they are not an SEC team like Kentucky. The Minnesota Gophers are coming off a season in which they lost to Bowling Green and Illinois; it’s going to take a little longer for them to earn respect with the voters.
As dominant as the Gophers have been, they have not seen a true test on their schedule yet. Michigan State was supposed to be that test after heading into Week 3 ranked No. 11, but they’ve gone off the rails after their blowout loss to the Washington Huskies. It’s possible that Michigan State bounces back later in the year, but it’s undeniable that so far, they’ve have not lived up to preseason hype.
Other than this first conference win, the Gophers have largely played one of the easiest schedules in the country. You can get away with that if you’re a former playoff team like Michigan, but the Gophers early resume of New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and Colorado is not turning any heads.
This Is a Talented Squad
Though the resume doesn’t speak volumes at this point, that doesn’t mean this Minnesota Gophers team isn’t extremely talented. Tanner Morgan looks like he has returned to 2019 form, and Mo Ibrahim has gotten off to a torrent start in 2022.
Additionally, the Gophers defense has been, at least statistically, the very best unit in the country. Minnesota has allowed the fewest total yards per game this season (187.8) and the second-fewest points per game (6.0), ranking only behind Iowa.
Their star talent on offense has put the Gophers inside the top-3 in both total yards per game (543) and rushing yards per game (294.5) as well. The 45.8 points per game that Minnesota has scored ranks just outside the top-10 at No. 11.
The Gophers rankings in these categories likely come back to earth as their schedule gets tougher, but it’s undeniable that this program has been dominant in all facets of the game early this season.
The Big Ten Tests Start Now
Michigan State may not have shown up to the Week 4 test, but the Gophers can’t bank on winning by default moving forward. Their real in-conference tests are coming soon. Here are the next four games on the Gophers schedule:
- 10/1 vs. Purdue
- 10/15 @ Illinois
- 10/22 @ (11) Penn State
- 10/29 vs. Rutgers
The bookends of the month of October should be victories if this Minnesota squad is legit, but the inner chapters will be very tough games.
The Gophers lost to Illinois at home last fall, 14-6. This Fighting Illini program has turned itself into a legitimate test over the past few years in the Big Ten, and their defense looks strong again in 2022, giving up six or fewer points in three of their first four games. Now, Minnesota has to go on the road to Memorial Stadium to try and capture a win.
A week after that, they have to go travel again to play the Penn State Nittany Lions. By the time that game rolls around, Penn State could be ranked inside the top 10 after a matchup with the Michigan Wolverines.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to argue that Minnesota has not played like one of the best teams in college football so far this season. That said, between a weaker schedule and their history over the past two seasons, it shouldn’t be all that surprising to see them slowly climb up the ranks.
If the Gophers continue to handle their business, though, especially in tough road games this month, a rapid ascent towards the top 10 may be in order by the time Halloween rolls around. At the very least, this Gophers team should be the favorites to come out of the Big Ten West division.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing as well as minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh can often be found training for a marathon, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his takes, NFL and otherwise, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken