Will Gophers get past Badgers for a playoff shot?

John Gilbert

 

UMD's Anna Klein (19) circled into the quick-draw spotlight after scoring to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead in their 2-2 tie against No. 1 Minnesota. Photo credit: John Gilbert
UMD's Anna Klein (19) circled into the quick-draw spotlight after scoring to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead in their 2-2 tie against No. 1 Minnesota. Photo credit: John Gilbert
UMD's Ryleigh Houston and Anneke Linser stormed the net, but Gopher goalie Sydney Scobee held firm. Photo credit: John Gilbert
UMD's Ryleigh Houston and Anneke Linser stormed the net, but Gopher goalie Sydney Scobee held firm. Photo credit: John Gilbert

 

We could spend a couple hours rambling on about the great state of NFL football, where Thanksgiving dinner could be consumed with superlatives. We have the brilliant play of Russell Wilson at Seattle and Drew Brees at New Orleans. but they are suddenly being challenged by Lamar Jackson, who threw five touchdown passes Monday night to disassemble the Los Angeles Rams 45-6 in Los Angeles, and establish the Baltimore Ravens as the first legitimate threat to unseat the New England Patriots in the NFL East.

But we won’t — except to say that the bye week for the Vikings only means the pressure is on Kirk Cousins again this weekend, when  the Vikings play Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. No, it’s time to get back to college football, where we are fast approaching rival weekend, and it’s near time to determine conference champions, if not NCAA tournament selections.

We don’t like the arrangement right now, because it all seems predicated on who the voters select after being inundated with constant propaganda by ESPN about how great the Southeast Conference is. We have No, 1 Louisiana State, and they’re legit, and we have the Georgia Bulldogs, who will win the other SEC division and the two will meet for the SEC playoff championship. But there also sits Alabama, the team every voter seems determined to get into the top four.

The Crimson Tide is very good, but there are five major conferences in the country, and just because ESPN features the SEC every week doesn’t mean they deserve two teams among the final four. Some believe Ohio State is the best team in the country, although the Buckeyes have a huge rivalry-week showdown with arch-rival Michigan this week, to get into the Big Ten playoff final. Opposing them could well be Minnesota, as the upstart Gophers should just about have convinced all remaining skeptics. Of course it hurt that after a colossal victory over Penn State, the Gophers went to Iowa and lost, although that game showed more how capable the Hawkeyes are than any Gopher weaknesses.

Minnesota still leads the West half of the Big Ten, but they have a fairly large battle Saturday against arch-rival Wisconsin. The Badgers are not only formidable, they are favored by three points at Minneapolis. Great as Minnesota’s 8-0 start was, the Gophers were underdogs at Iowa, and they are underdog against the Badgers as well. This is big boy football. There will be now easy points out there Saturday.

Wisconsin has the defense, and the running attack, to beat anybody, and if they beat the Gophers they would end up tied for first place — and Wisconsin would go to the league playoff final simply by having beaten the Gophers face-to-face. Recall also that the Gophers went crazy celebrating the first time they had captured Paul Bunyan’s axe from Wisconsin last season, for the first time in anybody’s memory. So the Big Ten champ should get a shot at the national title, too, but only if Ohio State wins Saturday at Michigan, where 110,000 Wolverine fans will be backing their boys, and then beats Minnesota or Wisconsin in the playoff.

But if Minnesota wins today, and happens to knock offOhio State, the Gophers should get a look. Good luck. The Atlantic Coast Conference has Clemson, which is 11-0 and ranked No. 3 behind LSU and Ohio State. On Saturday, Alabama is at Auburn in what should be an SEC classic, but LSU and Georgia have both of them outranked at this point. But left out is the Big 12, where Oklahoma has a potent team but must avoid an upset at Oklahoma State Saturday. That leaves my favorite conference: the Pac-12. Nobody gets to go unbeaten in that league, and some of the most spectacular games occur after hours on the West Coast.

This weekend, rivalry games include: Washington State at Washington, Oregon State at Oregon, Arizona State at Arizona, California at UCLA, and Stanford engages Notre Dame in what has become an annual classic. We can’t be sure how this weekend’s games will come out, because there are so many huge rivalry games involved. But I remain suspicious of the whole process.

When LSU beat No. 1 Alabama, my prediction was that the voters would drop Alabama to No. 5, and even though LSU and Georgia are ranked ahead of the Tide, they are close enough so that all they need is for Ohio State, or Georgia, or Clemson to stumble, and quicker than you can pronounce the name of Alabama’s quarterback, the Crimson Tide will move up one notch — and be back among the top four and into the NCAA tournament. And by not playing in the SEC playoff final, ‘Bama won’t be risking a loss themselves, to secure their status.

On the local scene, the UMD volleyball team is off to the Division II regional, which is loaded with Northern Sun powers. The Bulldogs were up 2-1 against Concordia in the league semifinals, but lost Game 4, and then lost Game 5. Fortunately, ranked as high as the Bulldogs have been all season, they still get a regional slot. But there is no more room for any slip-ups. It’s now win or go home for a very good UMD team. The Bulldog volleyballers should take inspiration from the fantastic performance of the UMD women’s hockey team, which not only upset No. 1 Minnesota Friday, but gave the Gophers a scare Saturday.