Gophers’ fast start has fans thinking bowl game

This is the first time since 2008 the Gophers have started 4-0.

Fans celebrate Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium after the Gophers’ fourth-straight win. Minnesota’s 17-10 win over Syracuse moved the team to 4-0 for the first time since 2008.

Image by Anthony Kwan

Fans celebrate Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium after the Gophers’ fourth-straight win. Minnesota’s 17-10 win over Syracuse moved the team to 4-0 for the first time since 2008.

by Dane Mizutani

University of Minnesota student Richard Davis lives a few blocks from TCF Bank Stadium and had his windows shut Saturday night.

It didn’t matter — 50,805 fans made him feel like the game was in his living room.

“I usually can’t even hear road traffic from my house, and I could hear the crowd clearly,” said Davis, a chemical engineering junior. “That was definitely the loudest I’ve heard the stadium in a long time.”

It was deafening at the Bank on Saturday and for good reason — for the first time in several years, the Gophers football team was relevant.

Minnesota’s 17-10 win Saturday over Syracuse moved it to 4-0 for the first time since 2008.

Not even head coach Jerry Kill thought it would happen this fast, but he isn’t satisfied.

“We still have a lot to prove — we’ve only played four games,” he said Sunday morning.

While Kill may be focused on his team’s improvement, students are enjoying the excitement the 4-0 start has brought to campus.

The Gophers have already surpassed their three wins in each of the past two seasons and are just two wins away from qualifying for a bowl game.

“In the past, we haven’t been able to beat those teams we are supposed to beat, so … it is kind of a big deal that we are 4-0,” University alumnus and 22-year season-ticket holder Brian Bade said.

Still, the Gophers have been prone to disappoint their fans in the past, and sport management senior Kelly Miller is trying to temper her expectations.

“I’m skeptical, and I’m worried because it really hurts when you get your hopes so high,” she said. “But I think we can definitely go to a bowl game. … There’s no way we’re going to let this chance slip out from under us.”

Miller also plays trumpet in the marching band and said she noticed the student section has been packed in recent weeks.

That influx can be partly linked to the free tickets the University has given away before home games this season.

Kill has taken to walking around campus on Fridays and handing out tickets to students for the upcoming home game.

“Kill has really brought the team together … but above that he’s created relationships with the students on campus,” said Rachel McDermand, a speech-language-hearing sciences junior. “He’s the only face that I’ve been familiar with as far as coaching out of all the sports. I feel like I know coach Kill.”

She said this is the first year she hasn’t purchased season tickets, but now she’s regretting that decision.

Unlike McDermand, mass education and coaching junior Brandon Masloski has ordered season tickets every year of his college life.

He knows the games will get harder as the Gophers enter conference play next week, but he can’t help but feel a little excited.

“The Big Ten is obviously a lot different than playing Syracuse and some of those mid-major teams,” he said. “We’re looking pretty good, though.”

Masloski said he’s been especially impressed with how the secondary has performed this season.

Alumnus Bade agreed and said Minnesota’s defensive line is the best he’s seen in 22 years.

Kill credited his defense  Sunday and said, “They’re farther along than I thought they’d be.” He said the team has been playing with a heavy heart after the death of former teammate Gary Tinsley in April.

“There’s no question that a tragedy has taught the kids a lot and the coaches — all of us,” Kill said. “It certainly has an effect on what’s going on right now.”

Minnesota has eight games left on its schedule and has to win two of those to become bowl-eligible.

University student Slade Williams said the recent success of the Gophers has built fan support.

“Those kind of die-hard fans are always going to be there, but you’re starting to see those [casual] fans trickle in now,” he said.

Williams, a kinesiology junior, said a trip to a bowl game should be the goal, and he doesn’t think six wins is out of the question.

Davis, who has followed the team closely over the past seven years, is a little more confident.

“No one in the Big Ten has been overly impressive this year, so I’m positive,” Davis said. “I’m feeling Rose Bowl in my gut, not necessarily in my head.”

Masloski isn’t getting his hopes up for a trip to Pasadena, Calif., in January, but he said if the Gophers make it to any bowl game, he’ll be ready to travel.

“I already got the money lined up.”