Big Ten athletic directors made a pinky-swear agreement last year that their schools would not schedule football games against FCS opponents anymore.
Existing contracts would be honored, but moving forward, no more playing teams from a smaller weight class, formerly Division I-AA.
The Gophers cleared one of those games off their calendar Saturday by thrashing Indiana State 58-28 before lots of empty seats at TCF Bank Stadium.
An outdoor college football game on a gorgeous fall Saturday is never a bad way to spend an afternoon. In terms of competitiveness, this game had as much suspense as the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals.
Playing FCS opponents puts Power Five teams in a no-win situation. They basically get no credit if they win, and they get lambasted if they lose.
As the saying goes, it is what it is.
FCS teams receive lucrative financial guarantees to play those games, and the cherry on top comes if they win. Previous Gophers teams probably still have nightmares of North Dakota State stampeding them.
The Big Ten took measures to avoid that scenario.
The league moved to a nine-game conference schedule this season while also committing to playing one Power Five nonconference opponent and no FCS schools.
Tougher nonconference scheduling has become a priority among Power Five conferences with the advent of the College Football Playoff.
The committee that selects the four-team playoff field weighs strength of schedule in evaluating résumés, so conferences have placed greater emphasis on beefing up schedules.
Those upgrades produced the most attractive slate of opening-weekend games in history last week. Fans were the real winners. College football nailed it in terms of kicking off its season in style.
The only drama Saturday at TCF Bank didn’t become known until after the game. Apparently, Indiana State’s players taunted the Gophers during their pregame entrance to the stadium and then by dancing on the “M” at midfield in warmups.
The whole thing seemed kind of silly, football machismo at its finest, or worst, depending on one’s perspective.
Once the game started, not even Larry Bird could have helped his alma mater.
The discrepancy in talent was such that the Gophers offense had three false-start penalties and two dropped passes on the opening series … and still scored a touchdown.
Mitch Leidner converted third-down passes of 16, 11 and 15 yards before throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Drew Wolitarsky.
He made it look like a simple game of pitch and catch.
The Sycamores were a step or four behind in coverage, and Leidner picked them apart. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns. His stat line would’ve been even better if not for four bad drops by his receivers.
This was one of those feel-good games, an opportunity for players to build confidence and continuity in a relatively stress-free environment.
In soccer, they call it a friendly.
“We really wanted to come out there and show them what Big Ten football was all about,” Leidner said.
Conversely, Indiana State had three 18-yard punts (one nearly flew into the stands) and an onside kick that basically went sideways and traveled only 3 yards.
The Gophers defense became sloppy in the second half, perhaps predictably, which angered coach Tracy Claeys. The Sycamores scored 21 points in what was essentially garbage time.
Hey, at least no one got ejected this time.
Claeys sounded annoyed by the second-half defense in his postgame news conference.
“I just didn’t think we were playing with as much energy on defense as we needed to play with,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. It’s disrespectful to any player who’s played the game before to go out there and not play the hardest you can.”
The Gophers certainly played better than in their opener and dominated in a fashion we haven’t seen in some time. The level of competition gives pause, though.
They won by 30 against an overmatched FCS team. Sure beats the alternative but probably best not to get too carried away.