Mitch’s Thoughts November 10th
Now or never time is upon us for the Gophers season as it pertains to bowl game aspirations. A record of 5-7 may not cut it this year as it did a couple seasons ago and PJ Fleck’s squad currently sits at 4-5, meaning they will have to win two of three down the stretch to finish 6-6. The “easiest” game left is this Saturday at home against Nebraska. After that, Minnesota is on the road against Northwestern then back at home against Wisconsin (two top 25 teams). I’ve been trying to put my finger on it all week, but for whatever reason the loss to Michigan this past Saturday to me was the most deflating loss this year for Minnesota. Yes they lost to Maryland at home and Purdue on the road and Michigan is far superior to both, but how that game unfolded in Ann Arbor and the Gophers showing little signs of life throughout had me more irritated than what I saw in the games against Maryland and Purdue. I thought there were positives to draw away from the contests against the Terps and the Boilermakers; you’d be hard pressed to find any from last Saturday. However, there’s no time to sulk now and if the Gophers want to become bowl eligible they need to win against Tanner Lee and the Cornhuskers. Nebraska has ridden the roller coaster all year long and currently sit at 4-5 coming off a 31-24 loss at home to Northwestern. Tanner Lee has been turnover prone and the secondary has given up some big chunk plays causing the subpar mark for Nebraska so far. The Gophers are favored by 2.5 points and while it gives me no joy in saying this, I think Nebraska covers and wins the game outright. I have Nebraska winning this one, 24-20.
The Wolves will look to bounce back after being blown out in the second half by Golden State on Thursday night. That game didn’t tell me much about Minnesota and I mean that in a positive way. Instead, it illuminated more about the Warriors. That was a one-point ballgame at halftime. The Wolves are coasting along, exchanging punch for punch with the heavyweight champions and all of a sudden Golden State erupts for a 44 point 3rd quarter. I continue to marvel and be amazed by this Warriors team. They did that the other night without Kevin Durant. And if you think it’s an outlier it’s far from it; they have won 14 straight games that Durant hasn’t played in (missed significant time last year after getting injured in Washington). So no, I’m not down in the dumps about Minnesota because they lost to the best team in the association. They have a chance Saturday night to scoop up a road win against a Phoenix Suns team that started the year 0-3 and currently sits at 4-8 and losers of four in a row. They traded away Eric Bledsoe earlier in the week but didn’t get any pieces back that can help now (assuming they buy out or trade Greg Monroe). The Suns have been awful defensively giving up a league high 115.8 points per game. Ironically enough, the Wolves have yielded the third most at 111.2 points per game to the opposition. Points could come in bunches on Saturday night and I’m fascinated to see what the over/ under is set at. Either way, Minnesota will be fine moving forward as they continue to develop the cohesion amongst one another on the floor.
The purple and gold have to be feeling good coming off a bye at the halfway point sitting at 6-2. Now, things get dicey in more ways than one. First off, while the division lead is in their grasps now, let’s not overlook Detroit and the remaining schedule they have. It features: Chicago (twice), Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Green Bay. Now if Detroit is the Detroit they’ve always been, they will get hopes up only to falter and finish 9-7. The schedule in front of them is lenient. For the Vikings, the first half was a chance to stack up wins and they did just that. They start the second half with Washington, LA (Rams), Detroit, Carolina and Atlanta in that order with only the Rams game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Brutal. Secondly, the Vikings now have Teddy Bridgewater back in the fold. There are such things as good problems to have and this can be classified as one. Case Keenum will be starting Sunday in Washington but where this gets tricky is looking ahead. I’ve said it on my show dozens of times, give me the guy who gives you the best chance to win and to me it’s Teddy Bridgewater. If he’s anything close to his former self before the injury he’s superior to Keenum. By a lot? Perhaps not. But with Case Keenum you know what you have. With Teddy there is still untapped potential, there’s a higher ceiling and a possibility of having a franchise quarterback. Where this gets murky is Teddy’s contract situation. He’s now on the active roster and set to be a free agent at years end. The Vikings on one end don’t want to mess with what they have going thus starting Case on Sunday. On the flip side, they need to find out what they have with Teddy and need to sooner rather than later. The last thing you want to do is fork over an extension to something that is so unknown at this point but you also don’t want to let him walk and risk getting burned in case he turns into that franchise quarterback. For this weekend, I don’t mind the Vikings rolling with Keenum and Washington can’t be overlooked.