The final quarter of the 2016 Big Ten season is clearly the most difficult for the Gophers. Minnesota will travel to Nebraska, host Northwestern, and then finish off the regular season with a battle against Wisconsin in Madison. If previous predictions are correct the Gophers will start the season 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big Ten. However, they won’t be receiving much love from pollsters and voters across the country due to the soft schedule.
While they will be poised for a major breakthrough season with the strong start, they will have a chance to earn major street cred throughout the nations with strong play in Quarter 4.
If the Gophers can figure out a way to go 3-0 they should be playing an additional game in Indianapolis. 2-1 or 1-2 will solidify their resume for a top tier Big Ten bowl game. 0-3 and the naysayers will be out to talk about how the strong start was just a product of the schedule and not an indicator that the program is on the way to prominence.
6-7 (3-5) in 2015
This could be an electric night in Lincoln as the Gophers and Huskers will kick off at 6:30 p.m. on BTN. The Huskers will be coming home after consecutive road games against Wisconsin and Ohio State and could be a little beat up physically and emotionally wounded.
When looking at predicting games late in the season I always like to factor in the motivation of each team and what they will be playing for. Nebraska has a tough schedule in their first nine games, highlighted by a home game with Oregon and then conference road games in Evanston, Madison and Columbus. Add in the road trip to Iowa City to finish the season and Nebraska could lay claim to the toughest conference road schedule.
I have Nebraska at 5-4 (3-3) entering the game and with a chance to run the table they should still be focus and ready to go. Playing under the lights should have the Huskers and their fans jacked up and it could prove to be an atmosphere too difficult for Minnesota to overcome.
Minnesota and Nebraska will exchange blows and big plays in the first half. The Gophers will take 13-10 lead into halftime, but the Huskers will use the electricity of the night to make a second half surge and control the game in the final 30 minutes. Minnesota falls in Lincoln 27-16 and drops to 8-2 (5-2) on the season.
10-3 (6-2) in 2015
TCF Bank Stadium
Last years Wildcats did exactly what the 2016 Golden Gophers hope to accomplish, that is have a major breakthrough season and show the rest of the Big Ten West they are legit and ready to take their program to another level. For Northwestern they will want to back up 2015 with another strong season in 2016 and prove what they did last year was no fluke.
The last time the Wildcats had “a breakthrough season” was 2012 when they also finished 10-3, but they weren’t able to back that up the following season. The Wildcats struggled the following two seasons finishing 5-7 each year.
The Cats have arguable the best head coach in the Big Ten (degree of difficulty factored in) and beat you with a strong defense and an offense that won’t beat itself and controls the clock. I look for Northwestern to use that formula to bring a 7-3 (4-3) record into TCF Bank Stadium.
If you can remove last year’s contest from your memory, the Gophers and Wildcats have played some very entertaining and competitive games lately, including a 24-17 Gopher victory the last time the Wildcats traveled to the U.
I expect more of the same in 2016. The Gophers will be trying to finish off their home schedule in style by earning a victory against a team with a winning record and show their doubter they can actually beat a solid team. They will get it done. I think Minnesota will be so amp’d for this game they will do whatever it takes to walk off the field with a victory. The Gophers will be in for a battle but they will prove they are capable to get the job done.
The Gophers will use a strong defensive performance and key chain moving runs by Mitch Leidner and Shannon Brooks to control the game in the fourth quarter. Gophers win 27-24 and now sit 9-2 (6-2) as they prepare for Bucky.
10-3 (6-2) in 2015
Camp Randall Stadium
If Minnesota needs any help in how to take a soft schedule and use it to your advantage they just need to ask arch rival Wisconsin how they pulled it off last year. The Badgers finished 2015 with a nine win regular season, but failed to beat any team with a winning record.
The soft schedule that was Badger football in 2015 caught up to them in 2016. The Badgers have arguable the toughest schedule and one has to wonder where they will stand when they host the Gophers. Will they be so beaten down physically and mentally that they won’t have anything left in their season finale? I find that hard to believe as they will still have pride and the motivation to beat Minnesota for the 13th straight time and in turn becoming bowl eligible.
That is right. According to my projections Wisconsin will be 5-6 (3-5) as they prepare for their season finale against Minnesota.
The Gophers will have something else on their mind. They will be looking to finish off a 10-win season. They will be looking to finish with seven Big Ten wins. They will be looking at a possible Big Ten West championship. But most importantly they will be looking to finally return from Madison with Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Minnesota will get the job done. It may not be pretty and it may not be easy, but the only thing that will matter to Minnesota and their fans is that when the clock reads 0:00 the players in Maroon and Gold will be holding the Axe. Minnesota wins 26-17 to finish the season 10-2 overall and 7-2 in the Big Ten. Will that be enough to get them to Indy?