Column: Gophers could make it to championship game

by David Nelson

When ESPN commentator Ed Cunningham said the Gophers were the favorite out of the Big Ten West following Minnesota’s victory over Michigan, I smirked.

My initial thought was that Cunningham’s praise was simply an example of a well-known media pundit using superfluous language to make a victory seem bigger than it actually was.

But after the Gophers grinded out a victory against a gritty Northwestern opponent over the weekend, it seems as though Cunningham’s words might hold water after all.

Minnesota’s only loss of the season came at the hands of now-No. 12 TCU in Fort Worth, Texas — a sign that the Gophers might be the favorite out of the Big Ten West.

While they certainly struggled at times, the Gophers looked like a Big Ten championship contender Saturday afternoon when they defeated Northwestern 24-17.

Minnesota received production from every unit on the field.

With the Wildcats keying on Minnesota’s strong running game, the Gophers’ passing attack picked up the slack as Minnesota threw for 153 yards.

Despite giving up almost 400 yards of total offense to Northwestern, the Gophers’ defense stepped up when it needed to, especially late in the game.

And Minnesota’s special teams produced the game-winning touchdown: a 100-yard kick return by sophomore Jalen Myrick.

“[The game-winning touchdown] means we’re a complete team,” Myrick said. “We’re going to play all three phases: defense, offense and special teams.”

Northwestern, which was coming off a victory against Wisconsin, certainly didn’t make things easy for Minnesota.

The Wildcats held Minnesota scoreless in the third quarter and kept running back David Cobb bottled up, though he still rushed for 97 yards.

The Gophers’ offense kept putting together solid drives on the arm of their redshirt sophomore quarterback.

Mitch Leidner completed 10 of 15 passes for 153 yards to go along with his 31 yards on the ground.

For what appeared to be the first time all season, Minnesota’s offense ran through its quarterback rather than the ground game.

“Good teams find a way to win,” head coach Jerry Kill said. “And sometimes it’s not always perfect, but if you can find a way to win, that’s the only stat that matters at the end of the game.”

Though plenty of football remains to be played this season, Minnesota proved that the victory against Michigan was no fluke. And it’s time for the rest of the country to realize it.

After failing to post a winning Big Ten record in more than a decade, a trip to the conference title game might seem inconceivable for some people.

But with back-to-back conference wins against tough opponents and the current state of the Big Ten, Minnesota might punch its ticket to Indianapolis for the championship game at the end of this season.