How the Gophers football team can still win the Big Ten West

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			How the Gophers football team can still win the Big Ten West
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When the Gophers football team was down and seemingly out in late October, it came up with a self-centered knockoff.

Working off the idea of the College Football Playoff, Minnesota devised the Gopher Football Playoff. It was a chance to flip the script from the team’s three-game losing streak, which had knocked the Gophers off their primary postseason goal: winning the Big Ten West Division.

After falling to Purdue, Illinois and Penn State last month, Minnesota had five games remaining and was looking for a way to wipe the slate clean.

With that conjured-up idea of a restart, the Gophers have won their first three games — Rutgers, Nebraska and Northwestern — by a combined score of 82-16.

Similar to the upcoming FIFA World Cup, those games really resembled a group-stage format, given how all three opponents have struggled this season and are combined 8-22. Minnesota really should advance through that part of the “GFP.”

But now, if you will keep playing along, Minnesota has reached the semifinal stage: the Battle for Floyd of Rosedale against rival Iowa at 3 p.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium.

The Gophers and Hawkeyes — along with Purdue and Illinois — are all tied atop the Big Ten West with 4-3 conference records.

If the Gophers beat the Hawkeyes for the first time in coach P.J. Fleck’s tenure, Minnesota will move on to a championship game of sorts at Wisconsin on Nov. 26. Paul Bunyan’s Axe will be on the line, too.

If Minnesota wins the next two games, and Illinois and Purdue both lose one more game in the final two weeks of the regular season, the Gophers’ actual postseason goal will again become reality and they will head to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis on Dec. 3.

The Gophers have a lot to play for in the final two games of the actual regular season because they didn’t let it unravel after falling to 1-3 in Big Ten play in late October.

“We dug ourselves a pretty big hole,” Fleck said. “… We have lost control of that, so we got to regain the control by taking care of the controllable (things). I think our team has done that.”

To get back in the mix, the Gophers have continued to rely on a run-heavy approach with record-setting tailback Mo Ibrahim and a routinely stout defense. But the Hawkeyes have their own impressive defense and will look to neutralize Ibrahim and force Minnesota to pass, something the U has struggled to do all season.

Then there’s the glaring fact that Fleck is 0-5 against the Hawkeyes since 2017. It a record that hangs over the players, too.

“Obviously, we know that. But every year is a different year,” senior safety Tyler Nubin said. “We are just going to go 1-0 in the Iowa season. It doesn’t matter what we did four years ago, five years ago, last year. We got to go 1-0 this year, and that’s what we are going to do.”

Win with help

How the Gophers can still win Big Ten West:

1. Minnesota (4-3) must beat Iowa (4-3) at home on Saturday.
2. The U must beat Wisconsin (3-4) in Madison on Nov. 26.
3. Purdue (4-3) needs to lose at home to either Northwestern (1-6) on Saturday or at Indiana (1-6) on Nov. 26.
4. Illinois (4-3) needs to lose on the road to either No. 3 Michigan (7-0) on Saturday or at Northwestern on Nov. 26.

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