The Gophers might have pondered Saturday after the Big Ten championship game “What could have been?”
Penn State rallied to upset Wisconsin and win the conference title and its ninth consecutive game. This winning streak began Oct. 1 against the Gophers in a game that was one minute away from becoming Penn State's third loss in five games.
Instead, the comeback victory jump started a run that would lead the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten championship and Penn State coach James Franklin reminded Gophers fans of that Saturday night.
"I would probably say Minnesota,” Franklin answered the Fox Sports crew’s question about a turning point in his team’s season. “They're good team and they were playing people tough all year long.”
Then there was the specific play that Franklin believes changed the course of his team’s season.
"We were struggling, we couldn't get anything going. We threw a seem to Irvin Charles and he broke a tackle and went for like 70 yards, and that kind of got us going and from that point we never looked back.”
The play was play was actually 80 yards and cut the Gophers’ early second-half lead to 13-10. Penn State scored 17 straight point to built a 20-13 lead, but the Gophers would rally to take a 23-20 lead with 54 second left in the fourth quarter.
The Gophers were in good position to improve to 4-0 with a signature win on the road at Penn State. Then came the drive/plays Gophers fans remember most. Quarterback Trace McSorely led the Nittany Lions on an eight-play, 53-yard drive that ended with a game-tying field goal with two seconds remaining.
A field goal briefly gave the Gophers an overtime lead, but Penn State won the game with a touchdown on the next possession, 29-26.
The next week the Gophers lost by a touchdown to Iowa and could never get the signature they need the rest of the season. They lost three of their four games by a touchdown or less and finished the season 8-4 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten.
Penn State finished 11-2 overall, 8-1 in conference. The Nittany Lions were left out of the four-team College Football Playoff ranked No. 5, but will play in the Rose Bowl against USC on New Year's Day. The Gophers will will play in the Holiday Bowl Dec. 27 against Washington State.
Maybe Franklin’s words Saturday will be the encouragement Gophers fans need to believe Tracy Claeys can be the guy to help the program stop wondering "what could have been" and start celebrating championships.
Relive the Oct. 1 thriller: