The Golden Gophers are 4-1 overall on the season so far with a few wins away from going to another bowl game. With a tough schedule still ahead, this upcoming three game stretch of Northwestern, Purdue, and at Illinois is very crucial for how the rest of the season plays out. Not only are these division games that mean a lot, but winnable ones on paper as well.
The Northwestern Wildcats could be called the Jekyll and Hyde of the Big Ten, who started off very slow with losses to California and Northern Illinois at home, but the past two weeks beat Penn State on the road and a ranked Wisconsin foe at home. The Gophers will get the Wildcats at home and while it looks to be a lot harder opponent on paper now, I still feel very confident Minnesota can walk away with a win.
The next opponent in this stretch is the lowly Purdue Boilermakers. They are 3-3 on the season with their wins coming from Western Michigan, Southern Illinois and Illinois last week. Minnesota loves to run the ball and have one of the top backs in the nation to do so with in senior tailback David Cobb. That physical style of football of running the ball down the opponent’s throat and Central Michigan did that with their bowling ball back in Thomas Rawls. Definitely a winnable game and one the Gophers should be able to handle.
Lastly, the Gophers will travel to Campaign, Illinois to square off against the Fighting Illini. Anytime you go on the road, there is always concern, but at least it is coming against not a superb team. Illinois will be without their quarterback in Wes Lunt, who will miss four to six weeks after suffering a broken leg in their loss this Saturday against Purdue. Lunt leads the Big Ten with 313.8 passing yards per game and probably will make their offense considerably less effective. The other two candidates to take his place during his absence in senior Riley O’Toole and backup Aaron Bailey, who they looked to redshirt this season, but might have to throw him into action.
Overall, these three games look to be very favorably for Minnesota, but they aren’t no guarantees or gimmies for sure. Coming off this bye week, the Gophers should be healthier and well rested for this pivotal stretch of games. If Minnesota can take of business, they will be sitting pretty 7-1 overall and gleaming confidence from head to toes. It will be a very telling time for this team and we will see if they will stumble or rise to the challenge.