Column: Gophers must take advantage of weak Big Ten

David Nelson

After producing some of the NCAA’s most dominant football teams season after season, the Big Ten isn’t the intimidating power it once was.

Gophers fans witnessed this firsthand Saturday as they watched Minnesota manhandle a Michigan team that normally puts a wallop on the Gophers.

It’s difficult to determine whether the Gophers improved their play on Saturday or whether their point total was simply a reflection of just how decrepit the Wolverines are this season.

Michigan has defeated Minnesota by an average of 33 points in their last five contests.

The Gophers completely rewrote the script last weekend.

The Big Ten is different this year, and Minnesota needs to take advantage of that — just like the team did Saturday.

As it stands right now, seven Big Ten games remain on the Gophers’ regular-season schedule. Minnesota could go on to win at least its next four games.

The Gophers defeated Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois in their previous meetings. And as it stands, those teams all rank in the bottom half of almost every major statistical category in the Big Ten.

Despite losing their previous contest with Iowa last year, the Gophers will probably be facing a Hawkeyes quarterback making just the fifth start of his career.

Minnesota’s defense should be able to apply enough pressure to knock the young QB off his game and stymie a Hawkeyes offense that has the fifth-worst rushing attack in the conference.

Though the final three games of the season could turn a variety of ways, all three opponents can be exposed.

It starts with Ohio State.

Despite dropping 50 points or more in each of their last two games this season, the Buckeyes lost starting quarterback Braxton Miller to a season-ending shoulder injury.

Virginia Tech already proved the Buckeyes aren’t invincible by defeating Ohio State earlier this season, and the Gophers get the chance to do the same on their own turf.

Then there’s Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers rank as the best offense in the Big Ten and could prove to be too much for the Gophers’ defense.

However, many predicted a runaway victory for Nebraska last year, and Minnesota still found a way to topple the Cornhuskers.

Finally, there’s Wisconsin.

The Badgers’ only loss of the season came at the hands of LSU, and Wisconsin holds one of the best rushing offenses in the Big Ten.

The Badgers might be tough to overcome in Wisconsin, but if the Gophers have eight consecutive victories heading into Camp Randall, I don’t think many will bet against them.

An undefeated record in the Big Ten is something Minnesota hasn’t done in more than 70 years.

Though I doubt the Gophers will break that mark this season, based on what the Big Ten has shown already, I don’t think it’s crazy to predict the Gophers’ first winning conference record since Jerry Kill took over as head coach.