The Gophers football team has a bye this weekend, giving us time to reflect on an interesting — to say the least — 3-0 start. Victories have been harder than they should be, but maybe the competition was better than we realize.
With that in mind, today’s question: Are the Gophers underrated or overrated heading into Big Ten play?
First take: Michael Rand
I’m tempted to say they’re overrated because their undefeated nonconference record has required three late comebacks — the last two fueled by critical fourth-down conversions — against schools outside the Power Five. It’s just as troubling that the Gophers are averaging just 2.6 yards per rushing attempt, ranking No. 121 out of 130 FBS schools.
But look: South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern were not standard cupcake fare. The Gophers should have won more convincingly, sure, but those were reasonable tests.
It’s quite possible that within the perception that the Gophers are overrated or undeserving of their 3-0 record they are actually undervalued as a threat in the Big Ten. They will have to play better to win conference games, but I think they can.
Chip Scoggins: I wouldn’t label them either underrated or overrated because nothing has changed in terms of my preseason forecast.
I predicted them to go 3-0 in nonconference, win a minimum of eight games and be in position to contend in November.
That said, their path to 3-0 isn’t what I expected, mainly with the offensive line. For whatever reason(s), that position group has been underwhelming so far. I don’t know why. I don’t think it’s a talent issue. They just haven’t dominated in the manner that many people, myself included, predicted. I think that has been the foundation for inconsistency by the offense.
The close scores have largely been self-inflicted: turnovers, careless penalties, sloppy play.
As I wrote after the Georgia Southern win, they should be happy to be 3-0 but concerned with how they arrived there. But I wouldn’t classify that as being overrated.
Rand: Indeed, their good news and bad news seem intertwined. They haven’t played a clean game … but they’re 3-0.
In the best-case scenario, the Gophers will get overlooked by opponents who think their talent doesn’t match their record and they can ride that while playing better and racking up even more victories during the favorable early part of their schedule (starting next Saturday at Purdue).
At a certain point, you are what your record is. And get this: FiveThirtyEight.com gives the Gophers a 2% chance of reaching the College Football Playoff. That isn’t happening if they’re not undefeated.
Scoggins: Playoffs? Playoffs?! You kidding me. Playoffs? [Jim Mora voice].
Yeah, the start of Big Ten play is a reset. I’m curious to see how the Gophers look coming out of the bye. I get the sense that offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca is still trying to figure out the identity of the offense and how to best utilize his different skill players. This much is certain: Their wide receiver corps has been better than advertised. They are terrific.
Rand: Run and shoot all the way to a championship?
Scoggins: I’m old-school, Michael. Balance is beautiful. But throwing a lot of passes to Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman is a smart plan.