California game could change a few minds

by C.J. Spang

I gotta be honest, I don’t know what to make of Minnesota’s football team after its 44-0 shellacking of Kent State.

Quite frankly – thank you, Stephen A. Smith, for completely ruining that phrase for everyone – before the season began, I thought this team would win four games; at Kent State, versus Temple, versus North Dakota State and versus Indiana.

With 43.8 percent of the total offense gone because of Laurence Maroney going pro and Gary Russell not going to class, I couldn’t rationalize a whole lot of offensive success for the Gophers.

I didn’t think Minnesota could rely on its defense either, a defense that was 90th in the nation with 412.67 yards allowed per game. A defense that is sixth in the Big Ten and forced just 15 turnovers all of last season; ninth worst in the Big Ten.

Now before someone counters with the fact that Ohio State forced just 12 turnovers last year, I’m going to point out that the Buckeyes didn’t have to force turnovers because no one was moving the ball down the field on them anyway. Ohio State had the fifth best defense in the country, allowing 281.33 yards per game.

So with all that in mind, I really didn’t expect the Gophers to impress anyone at Kent State.

Then they went out and destroyed the Flashes, and I thought, “HmmÖthis team might not be terrible.”

Sure, Kent State is considered one of the 10 worst teams in college football by ESPN. Sure, the Flashes went 1-10 a year ago. And sure, they should have had three points but their kicker missed a field goal from 20 yards out.

But the fact remains, Minnesota didn’t give up a point (thanks in part to that phenomenal play by linebacker Mario Reese, who chased down the receiver to force a fumble at the goal line), and the defense forced six turnovers.

Then there’s the 44 points – thanks in large part to a guy who played linebacker last season, sophomore Alex Daniels. That’s pretty impressive for a team that lost 52.8 percent of its scoring from a year ago.

However, all that was not enough to change my opinion completely, not that it really matters what I think.

The Gophers do have a chance to do that on Saturday at California. The Bears were a team that I, like many, felt was overrated entering the season, and Tennessee had no problem proving us right.

But 23rd-ranked California is still an above-average team that will have a ravenous crowd on their side, which should be great preparation for Big Ten road games at Purdue, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State.

Plus, they have Heisman-hopeful Marshawn Lynch, who had the NCAA’s seventh-best rushing yards per game average at 124.6. The junior running back is also the second-leading returning rusher in the NCAA this season.

Then there are the scenario factors. Cal is coming off a 35-18 loss to Tennessee last Saturday, which could be really good for Minnesota or really bad.

Either the Bears will come out super-psyched for their home opener, with added vengeance because of their season-opening loss, or they could mimic what the Gophers did in 2003 after their fourth-quarter collapse against Michigan and come out in shambles their next game and watch all their season hype get flushed down the toilet.

No matter which Cal team shows up, it’s on Minnesota to set the tone for their season and maybe change a few people’s opinions in the process.

– C.J. Spang welcomes comments at [email protected].