The Gophers made the largest jump into the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings in the history of the poll.
In this season’s first edition of the rankings last week, the Gophers came in at No. 17. But a victory against then-No. 4 Penn State on Saturday launched the 9-0 Gophers to No. 8. Penn State dropped to No. 9 after the 31-26 loss.
Rob Mullens, chair of the CFP selection committee, called the Gophers’ victory against Penn State “impressive,” listing Minnesota’s “powerful offense” plus its performance against a highly ranked team as reasons why they ascended.
There are still four one-loss teams ahead of the Gophers, including No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 Alabama, No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Utah. Baylor has the lowest ranking in the CFP era for any 9-0 team at No. 13.
Mullens said the strength of the Gophers’ schedule is still their biggest hindrance, particularly the nonconference slate with three close victories against non-Power Five teams plus the fact that through last week, the Gophers had played only one Big Ten Conference team with a winning record.
The same is true of Alabama, but Mullens couldn’t comment on any comparisons between the two teams as he has to recuse himself when Oregon is up for discussion because he is the school’s athletic director.
LSU took the top spot from Ohio State after beating previously No. 3 Alabama 46-41. Ohio State fell to No. 2 while Clemson climbed from No. 5 to No. 3. Saturday’s Gophers’ opponent Iowa is No. 20, while regular-season finale foe Wisconsin is No. 14.
Senior linebacker Thomas Barber made crucial plays during Penn State’s final drive to preserve the Gophers’ five-point victory. He nearly intercepted Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and then tackled Journey Brown just outside the end zone.
But that final low hit seemed to jam Barber headfirst into the turf, and he ended up leaving the game.
“It was a heck of a hit and kept him out of the end zone,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “… But [Barber is] fine. He practiced [Tuesday], which was really good. He got back on the field and did a really good job. So he’s ready to go.”
Senior linebacker Kamal Martin also should also return at Iowa after missing the past two games because of an apparent knee injury. Fleck said on his radio show Tuesday that Martin had practiced this week — basically for the first time since his injury — and looked good.