MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck apologized to the state of Minnesota and accepted 100 percent of the blame after the Gophers’ 38-17 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Amid rain, sleet and snow all day, more than 53,000 fans filled the stadium, most waving gold pom-poms. ESPN’s College GameDay crew spent the morning on Northrop Mall, and their three-hour show ended with a clean sweep, including former Gophers star Eric Decker, picking Minnesota to beat the Badgers.
A win would’ve meant facing Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game this Saturday in Indianapolis, and at worst, the first Rose Bowl trip since 1962. But Gophers fans have read this narrative before.
With the Big Ten West title on the line in the biggest game of the season, the Badgers dominated after the first series for each team. Gopher fans left the stadium disappointed and frustrated, likely having to wait at least one more year to make travel plans for Pasadena. Fleck ended his postgame news conference with a response to frustrated fans, and tossed in a “Frozen 2” reference.
“Let it go. Frozen 2 came out, I don’t know what the new words are, the new songs, but let it go has got to be in there somehow. Let it go, because we can,” Fleck said. “We didn’t tonight, but we can, and we showed the power of our state.”
Despite Saturday’s disappointment, it can’t be understated what the Gophers accomplished in the 2019 regular season. Minnesota won 10 regular season games for the first time in 115 years. They started 7-0 in the Big Ten for the first time ever.
They’ve most likely earned a Jan. 1 bowl game, the first since 2014, when Jerry Kill led the Gophers to the Citrus Bowl in Florida. That season ended with a loss at Wisconsin, with the Big Ten West on the line and a 17-3 lead in the second quarter.
Fleck came to Minnesota after leading Western Michigan to a 13-0 regular season in 2016, and a Cotton Bowl loss to, you guessed it… the Badgers. But Fleck has no interest in looking back, he has no other choice but to keep building to the future. Going 10-2 and having a chance to win the Big Ten West was a big step in that process.
“So we’ve had firsts, we’ve had nevers, we’ve restored people’s beliefs of what we can do, let’s not go back. Let’s not start thinking, ‘Well, that’s typical (Minnesota).’ That has to be out of our system,” Fleck said. “There’s going to be cynics, there’s going to be doubters, there’s going to be critics. But the true fans, what we want them to do is get that completely out of their minds because we are not going back to that.”
Saturday marked the final game for 13 Gophers’ seniors, including Winston DeLattiboudere, who forced a Jack Coan fumble early in the second quarter that fellow senior Carter Coughlin recovered. After the loss, DeLattiboudere was focused on what the senior class helped Minnesota accomplish this season.
Nine of their 12 games were on national television. They got College GameDay to come to Minneapolis. They got a rare home win over a top-5 team when they beat Penn State.
“I feel like from this year forward, everybody is going to know that Minnesota is a force to be reckoned with,” DeLattiboudere said.
The reality is the Gophers lost two of their last three games when they controlled their own destiny to win the Big Ten West. They finished 10-2, and are likely headed to Florida for a Jan. 1 bowl game. Here are the projections of where Minnesota could be headed:
ESPN – Outback Bowl vs. Tennessee
Watch Stadium (Brett McMurphy) – Outback Bowl vs. Tennessee
CBS Sports – Outback Bowl vs. Florida
Athlon Sports – Outback Bowl vs. Texas A&M
Sporting News – Outback Bowl vs. Auburn
College Football News – Citrus Bowl vs. Auburn
A Jan. 1 bowl game in Florida isn’t a bad consolation prize for a program predicted to win six or seven games, and finish near the bottom of the Big Ten West.
The Gophers were ranked as high as No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings, a place they’ve never seen before 2019. It was their best season since the 1960s, so will they play in Orlando or Tampa Bay? We won’t know until after the conference titles are decided this weekend. They’ll be focused on trying to finish 11-2, and building momentum for 2020.
Tanner Morgan channeled his inner Tim Tebow after Saturday's loss, saying he guaranteed the Gophers' will respond from their latest adversity. They'll get that chance when they find out what bowl game they're headed to.
“We’ve done a lot of amazing things so far this season and it’s not over yet. It’s going to be an amazing opportunity for us and we’re going to make the most of it, whatever opportunity that is,” Morgan said.