Minnesota football, as an overarching category, is frequently and sometimes unfairly equated with failure.
The Vikings lose big games. The Gophers don’t reach them.
While the endings to this season remain inscrutable, 2019 is promising to be different in an undeniable way. This could become the most successful football season in our state’s history.
When the Gophers were winning national championships, the Vikings did not exist. Once the Vikings started winning conference championships, the Gophers had lapsed into a torpor that would last, with few interruptions, for decades.
What we are seeing this autumn is a departure from norms for the Gophers, and another shot at a championship for the Vikings.
The 2019 Gophers are 10-1, reaching double-digit regular-season victories for the first time since 1905. Yes, modern teams play more games in this century, but let’s not get lost in the weeds, and let’s acknowledge that the Gophers could play three or even four more games, giving them a chance to reach new milestones.
The 2019 Vikings are 8-3, with what appears to be a relatively easy schedule down the stretch. They could reach 11 or 12 victories in the regular season and give themselves a chance to win games in the postseason.
These teams have already combined for 18 victories. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them finish their seasons (including postseasons) with a combined 23 or 24 victories.
How unusual is that? Never before have the Vikings and Gophers combined for more than 21 victories in a season, including postseasons. The teams reached 21 in 1998 and 1973, both times largely on the strength of Vikings powerhouses.
Saturday afternoon, after the Gophers reached 10 victories with a win at Northwestern, P.J. Fleck repeated, reiterated and rehashed his team’s accomplishments, turning “1905” into a mantra.
He’s right to do so. The Gophers have a chance to reach 11 regular-season victories on Saturday, when they play host to Wisconsin. Minnesota will host ESPN’s “College GameDay” for the first time, and I gather that this is some kind of a big deal for those who still watch cable TV.
With a victory, the Gophers will play in the Big Ten Championship Game for the first time and position themselves to play in the Rose Bowl or one of its venerable siblings or even the College Football Playoff.
This is stunning, historic stuff.
The Gophers have already had a successful season. Because of their history and the remainder of their schedule, the Vikings have much more to prove. The curse of the Vikings is that successful regular seasons merely create fan paranoia, but this team has created a chance to contend for a championship, however fraught such pursuits seem.
High-level football is, above all else, entertainment, and the Gophers and Vikings are providing high-value programming. A couple of weekends ago it was the Gophers upsetting fourth-ranked Penn State and the Vikings winning a prime-time matchup at Dallas.
This weekend, the Gophers will play their primary rival, Wisconsin, in a sold-out TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, and the Vikings will play at Seattle on “Monday Night Football.”
If the Gophers play three more games, they will be against Wisconsin and Ohio State and in a desirable bowl.
The Vikings’ remaining schedule includes prime-time road games at Seattle and Los Angeles and three home games against division rivals, including a night game on Dec. 23 at U.S. Bank Stadium against archrival Green Bay.
The College Football Playoff and Rose Bowl remain possibilities for the Gophers, the Super Bowl a possibility for the Vikings. That this will be the most successful joint football season in Minnesota history is now a probability, thanks largely to Fleck and a historic Gophers team.