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Gophers football’s loss to Bowling Green among the worst in program history

Minnesota’s unexpected 10-14 loss at the hands of Bowling Green has sparked conversation of where it ranks amongst the program’s worst.
Image by Ethan Fine
Eyes ahead, quarterback Tanner Morgan looks to pass the ball during the Gophers football game against Bowling Green at Huntington Bank Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 25. The Gophers fell to the Falcons, 14-10.

As a 30.5-point favorite against Bowling Green, Minnesota’s shocking 10-14 defeat was statistically the biggest upset in college football this season and the biggest in two seasons. The monumental upset has raised the question of where it ranks among the Gophers’ most surprising losses in their 139-year program history.

What makes a loss bad is obviously subjective, but there is no escaping a historic upset. There is ultimately a reason why you play the games, no matter what the talent difference is, either team always has a chance to leave with a victory.

“I don’t evaluate losses, losses are losses, losses are lost,” Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said after the game. “Bad losses, good losses I get all that. There are bad wins, good wins, it’s either a win or a loss and you get a chance to learn from all those.”

The Gophers have played nearly 1,300 games in their program’s history, losing 521 of them, but five losses in particular stick out over the rest.

Oct. 5, 1898: Minnesota: 0 Alumni: 5

A game that took place over 122 years ago obviously does not have the same box score or context as one would today. The Gophers played a team called Alumni three times in their history (1887, 1898 and 1899) with the only loss coming in 1898.

One could speculate that the team was made up of alumni of the University of Minnesota and its football team, but there is no telling how old the alumni were. In today’s context a loss to a team made of modern Gophers’ alumni would be much more than a surprising upset.

Sept. 27, 1986: Minnesota: 20 Pacific: 24

In a game played under a much more modern context of football, the Gophers suffered a surprising 20-24 loss to Pacific. The University of the Pacific located in Stockton, Calif., played the 1986 football season at the NCAA Division 1-A level (FCS).

Before they took on the Gophers, the Tigers’ last winning season came in 1977, and they had been far from the storied program like Minnesota.

In John Gutekunst’s first season as head coach, the Gophers lost a home game in September to Pacific, who would go on to finish 4-7 on the season and remove its football program less than 10 years later. The early loss was a less-than-ideal way for Gutekunst to begin his career with Minnesota.

Aug. 30, 1997: Minnesota: 3 Hawaii: 17

In another Minnesota head coach’s first season, Glen Mason’s Gophers team came up short against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. It’s a tough task for any first year head coach to win his first game, but a loss to a Hawaii team that was coming off a 2-10 season the previous year was still very disappointing.

The Rainbow Warriors would go on to finish 3-9 in the 1997 season. However, Mason did not let his early struggle define his Gophers’ coaching career, earning the fourth most career-wins in program history (64).

Sept. 11, 2010: Minnesota: 38 South Dakota: 41

After Mason’s replacement four years into his tenure as head coach, the Tim Brewster-led Gophers were knocked off at home by FCS foe South Dakota. Competing at a whole division lower than Minnesota, the Coyotes’ upset victory was the highlight of its season as they finished 4-7 in 2010.

The shocking defeat would be Minnesota’s second in program history against an FCS opponent, the first of which came against Pacific 24 years earlier. 2010 would be only the Coyotes’ third season at the Division 1-A level.

Sept. 10, 2011: Minnesota: 21 New Mexico State: 28

New Mexico State football has had two winning seasons since the turn of the millennium. The Gophers shocking loss in only Jerry Kill’s second game as head coach was to an Aggies team that would finish the season with a 4-9 record.

The on-field result was far from the only story, as Jerry Kill would be rushed to the hospital with only 20 seconds left in the game after suffering a seizure on the field. Given the circumstances, the result of the game was far less important, but nonetheless a game that the Minnesota football program would like to forget.

Just as Bowling Green shockingly took down the Gophers on Saturday, Minnesota will have every chance to take down every other opponent it faces this season. One loss has never written the story of a season, and this one will not be the first.

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