Minnesota Golden Gophers
2008 record: 4-1
2008 Sagarin: 33 (IU is #97)
2007 record: 1-11 (0-8)
2007 Sagarin: 123
Series: Minnesota leads 36-26-3
Last IU win: 2007, 40-20 in Bloomington
Last Minnesota win: 2007, 63-26 in Minneapolis
Last IU win in Minneapolis: 10/2/1993 (23-19)
It's only October 1, but IU now is entering the must-win portion of its schedule. To get to seven wins, which probably will be necessary to secure a bowl bid, IU must win five of its final eight games. Here's how I would rank the remaining games in order of difficulty, from toughest to easiest:
1. @ Penn State
3. @ Illinois
4. @ Purdue
8. Central Michigan
Certainly, IU has a fairly easy schedule this year: a nonconference slate with no BCS conference teams, no Michigan or Ohio State. Still, what the schedule lacks at the top doesn't necessarily translate to the bottom. There isn't a gimme left on the schedule. CMU is a co-favorite in the MAC along with Ball State, Iowa is underachieving but certainly has some talent, Minnesota is on the road, IU simply can't seem to win a close game against Northwestern, and Purdue, while not very impressive so far, will be playing for the Bucket and in Joe Tiller's last home game. IU either needs to win all of the games ranked above ad #4-#8, or make up the difference by beating Penn State or Illinois on the road or Wisconsin at home. The Ball State loss really took away IU's flexibility. None of the five "easiest" games remaining on the schedule strike me as particularly easy, but IU really can't afford to lose any of them.
The Gophers are improved over last year, but they literally could not have been any worse. Minnesota's wins, against Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Montana State, and Florida Atlantic, aren't overwhelming, but last year Minnesota lost to BGSU and FAU, in addition to I-AA North Dakota State. Minnesota lost a deceptively close Big Ten opener in Columbus, 34-21. The score was 34-6 early in the fourth quarter, and OSU significantly outgained Minnesota overall and per play. Still, sophomore QB Adam Weber is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and has thrown 8 TDs to 2 interceptions. The Gopher offense has been pass-happy: no Minnesota running back averages more than 70 yards per game. WR Eric Decker already has 504 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The Gophers are middle of the pack statistically: they rank #58 in total offense and #75 in total defense. IU ranks #18 in total offense and #62 in total defense. Minnesota has played the #69 schedule and IU has played #132.
Finally, this is IU's last trip to the Metrodome, where the Gophers began playing in 1982. Minnesota opens its new on-campus open air stadium next season. IU's overall record is decent at the Dome: IU is 4-7 there all-time. Along with Northwestern (5-6), Purdue (5-8), and Wisconsin (4-7), the Dome has been among IU's friendliest road venues during its existence. Still, that friendliness was almost entirely in the first decade of the Dome's existence. IU last won there in 1993 (IU has won at every venue except Michigan, OSU, and Penn State since then), and the last three games (44-20 in 1993, 55-7 in 2003, 63-26 in 2006) have been particularly ugly. I don't have a very good read on either of these teams and have no idea what to expect on Saturday.