As the Gophers ran away on a 4-0 start, winning the Big Ten West seemed like a formality. Three straight losses to Purdue, Illinois and Penn State seemed to derail that path, but the Gophers still go into the final two weeks of the season with a chance of winning their Premier League title.
With Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Purdue all at 4-3, the Gophers are still in contention. This way they can secure a seat in the Big Ten Championship Game on December 3rd in Indianapolis.
Step 1: Beat Iowa
Seems easy right? The best way to break a four-way tie is to win your last two games and go 6-3.
It begins with Saturday’s (3 p.m. FOX) matchup with Iowa at Huntington Bank Stadium. PJ Fleck has gone 5-0 with the Hawkeyes during his career, and that includes last year’s 27-22 loss in Iowa City. Overall, the Hawkeyes have beaten Minnesota seven straight times and nine of the last ten.
Step 2: Beat Wisconsin
If the Gophers survive Iowa, they have to beat the Badgers next week. Wisconsin is having a bad year with a 3-4 record in the Big Ten, but the Gophers must defend Paul Bunyan’s ax in Madison, where they have only one win since 1994 (2018).
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If Minnesota can leave the next two weeks with both rivalry trophies, it will increase their chances of winning the division, but they will also need some help.
Step 3: Purdue and Illinois lose at least one game
What’s brutal about the Gophers’ three-game losing streak in October is that it came against two division opponents. With the Boilermakers and Fighting Illini owning a neck-and-neck win, Minnesota will be watching on the scoreboard to see if they can get past Iowa and Wisconsin.
For Saturday, that means Gophers fans will swallow their pride and cheer for No. 3 Michigan (11 a.m. ABC). If the Illini upset the Big House, they’ll have a division title shot against 1-6 Northwestern next week.
This step is much more difficult when it comes to Purdue. The Boilermakers own wins over Minnesota and Illinois this season, and if the Gophers lose to Iowa, they won’t have to worry that their 24-3 loss to the Hawkeyes on Nov. 5 will get in the way of a trip to Indianapolis.
Purdue also has the schedule in their favor as they will be hosting Northwestern on Saturday (11 a.m., FOX) and traveling to 1-6 Indiana next week.
Fleck admitted during his weekly press conference that the Gophers dug a pretty big hole in October, but they will have a chance to make things right again if everything goes in their favor over the next two weeks.