I'm in one of those bowl pools, the kind where you pick the winner of all 35 games and then rank them in order of your confidence in the pick. Of the 17 players who entered, 10 of them picked Texas Tech as their 35-point lock.
So yeah, MarQueis Gray was right when he said, "We're the Gophers. Anytime you're a Gopher, you're the underdog." But he and his now-former teammates, two-touchdown underdogs against the 7-5 Red Raiders, have nothing to be ashamed of after their last-minute 34-31 loss to Texas Tech.
Minnesota displayed an offense that's good enough to win plenty of games, mixing a hard-nosed running offense with some well-timed passes downfield. They still don't have a breakout star at a skill position, but the promise is there. Philip Nelson completed just seven of 18 passes, but he's only 19, and the Gophers will find a few more targets for him to throw to.
Derrick Engel is a pretty good one right now. The junior from Chaska caught four passes for 108 yards, though he's surely haunted by the one that got away -- the pass that bounced off his hands as he tried to make a difficult catch, and landed in the arms of safety D.J. Johnson instead. But Engel, who appeared to score a touchdown that was overturned by a replay that showed his elbow touching the ground as he crossed the goal line, is surely at the top of the depth chart for 2013.
The Gophers converted 9 of 16 third downs, by the way. Quite a performance by an offense that sometimes appeared hopelessly unable to score for much of November. Too bad the Gophers allowed a special teams touchdown, on Jakeem Grant's 99-yard kickoff return.
The squad that really deserved this victory, though, was the defense. Seth Doege completed 31 passes, more than any quarterback had against the Gophers all year. Yet the Red Raiders didn't score a point after halftime until the final 70 seconds, when a tired secondary couldn't stop all-Big 12 receiver Eric Ward, who scored a 35-yard touchdown that tied the score and set up the devastating finish.
The defense loses several of its most important players to graduation, of course, but there is reason to believe the Gophers are making genuine progress.