Gophers coach P.J. Fleck termed Saturday’s game between the Gophers and Penn State as “one of the biggest games in Minnesota history.”
The two 8-0 teams — Penn State remained No. 5 in the Associated Press Top 25 released Sunday, and the Gophers remained No. 13 — will face off at 11 a.m. Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in front of a potentially sold-out crowd, clad in maroon and waving gold rally towels.
On WCCO radio Sunday morning, Fleck said he is trying not to overhype the game to his players, knowing they’ll play best if they don’t overthink the importance. But a win would allow the Gophers to retain a two-game lead in the Big Ten West and start strongly a November filled with three ranked opponents.
“This is what it’s all about. Gophers are in the hunt for the Big Ten West title race. This is what we said could happen at this point. And here we are,” Fleck said. “… It’s fun to be a part of, and I want everybody to be a part of that, experience that and really help us.”
Bye week break
Both the Gophers and Penn State didn’t play last week, and Fleck said the Gophers turned it into a head start on preparing for the big game. The team practiced three days last week, not including a short Friday morning session, then Fleck gave the players some time off before they reported back Sunday afternoon and started a regular week.
Many coaches traveled for recruiting over weekend. But social media indicated the players did everything from attending Gophers hockey games to watching college football on Saturday to dressing up for Halloween. Tight end Jake Paulson and receiver Demetrius Douglas, for example, went as rappers Post Malone and Swae Lee, respectively.
ESPN’s “College GameDay” chose to head to No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama for Saturday’s show instead of visiting the Gophers for the first time. Both matchups feature 8-0 teams, which is a first, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Fleck made a strong pitch for the Saturday morning show to feature his team, but he said Sunday he wasn’t too disappointed.
“We did everything we could, but I think everybody knew in the back of their mind, it’s hard to turn down a game of the century, one-two in Tuscaloosa,” Fleck said. “… That’s a really, really special game that it’s really hard to be able to turn down. So completely understand it 100 percent, and we’re going to have to find a way to have our TV crews ... have our own type of ‘Gameday’ here.”