Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck remarked this week how he would rather be cleaning up imperfections at 2-0 than trying to fix mistakes at 0-2.
His team isn’t the only one that has shown flaws so far in the nonconference slate, but his at least has the luxury of a still-unmarred record, somehow. Michigan is another after its 24-21 double-overtime escape against Army in Week 2.
While the Gophers, who beat Fresno State 38-35 in double overtime on Saturday, had some pundits calling them a sleeper pick for Big Ten West champions, others put them closer to the bottom of the standings. Record-wise, they are still in it for the top spot. Performance-wise, they have looked more middling.
Michigan, however, was a near-unanimous pick to be the Big Ten East winner, with Ohio State under new coaching. Both teams are still 2-0, but Ohio State has looked more dominant, beating its first two opponents 87-21.
The West Division had much more uncertainty, but Nebraska was a popular pick to win it. The Cornhuskers are currently 1-1, having lost 34-31 in overtime to Colorado after leading 17-0 at halftime.
Nebraska coach Scott Frost told reporters the coaches and players were “heartbroken and disappointed.”
“We had played close to three quarters of as good of football as I’ve had a defense play. And then it fell apart,” Frost said. “I think we did get a little tired. … But that’s on us as an offense as well for leaving them out on the field as long as we did in the third quarter.”
In that third quarter, Nebraska failed to score any points. The Gophers know something about that, having had opponents outscore them 25-7 in that period the past two games combined.
“We’re going to be in a lot of close games all year somehow, some way. We always are. And you’ve got to be that team that can find a way to win close games,” Fleck said. “We’ve been educated in two weeks of how to do that. We’re going to be tested as the year goes on. … But you see the mental fortitude, you see the courage, you see the character of your team when games don’t go exactly to plan or when you get challenged.”
Tennessee will hope these first two weeks of the season have built character for its players. The Volunteers started 2019 optimistic but are 0-2 after a 38-30 loss to lowly Georgia State and a 29-26 double-overtime loss to Brigham Young. Against the Cougars, Tennessee gave up a 64-yard pass to set up the tying field goal in the final minute of regulation.
On the opposite end of that spectrum: Maryland. With first-year coach Mike Locksley inheriting a history of mediocrity, expectations were pretty low for the foreseeable future. But the Terrapins have allowed just 20 points in their first two games, while scoring 142. They beat No. 21 Syracuse this past Saturday and now sport that ranking. They have the second-most rushing yards in the nation at 671.
“We’re happy where we’re at,” Locksley told reporters this week. “But we also understand that there’s so much more to the journey.”