Should Gopher football play USC next year?
The half-filled student section at TCF Bank Stadium seemed to mirror the host team's degree of concentrative powers. True, the Gophers' defeat of D-1AA South Dakota State Jackrabbits on Saturday gave "The Bank" a victory on Senior Day and also accrued a vital 6th "bowl eligible" win for the now 6-5 U of M. Moreover, it's well-worthy of mention that lessor-divisioned SDSU exhibited impressive pluck against a D-1 opponent on the road in their 16-13 loss while the Gopher's did in fact win their second in three games sans their best player, injured wideout Eric Decker.
Yet, sometimes a win isn't simply a win. And this one came with a breadth of baggage towing unfolded inquiries for a U bunch that ranks last in the conference in rushing and 10th in scoring offense. With a trip to #15 Iowa to close of the regular season on Saturday, the G-Men look to acquire a bowl bid with a 6-6 record, this coming off a 7-6 mark in 2008 and their infamous 1-11 record in coach Tim Brewster's incipient year at the helm.
But with Decker off to the NFL to be the next Wes Welker, an ensuing Adam Weber & MarQueis Gray quarterback debate, a long fall from the stud backfield days of Tapeh-Barber-Maroney-Russell, and nine starters graduating on the defensive side of the ball -- the Gopher's first solo Big Ten crown since 1960 (they tied in '67) doesn't appear especially hopeful for 2010. Even with what Rivals.com ranks as a top-30 recruiting class, the Gopher's schedule for next year suggests a max 8-win season.
Upon said schedule (which includes a wealth of juicy home games) is the Gophers' September 18th TCF game against national college powerhouse, Southern Cal. That home date is ensued with a trip west to play the Trojans in 2011. But given the U's ubiquitous mediocrity and their low-lighted win against SDSU, the question is begged: Should we even be playing USC?
The answer for Yours Truly is a definitive "Yes." Adopting, if nothing else, the well-played adage of "Being the best by beating the best," the ultimate goal of any coach, team, school or athlete should ultimately be to test oneself against the zenith level of competition. That's not to say that our kids won't enter that contest as 25-point underdogs or that they won't get whooped -- it's rather to commend the program for placing the team in that position in the first place, regardless of outcome.
USC's scheduling of the Gophers, in essence, extols the same charity that Minnesota offered SDSU. It's to say something akin to: "Yes, you will lose. But we present you the opportunity to get some stage, and fall at the hand of what you someday strive to become."
Of course, the Gophers offered SDSU a little more stage than most would have cared to see. But while USC's Pete Carroll may experience his first four-loss campaign in his storied nine-year with the Trojans this season -- to anticipate any philanthropy in next year's showdown would be overly sanguine. We'll be Jackrabbits at best.
But at least we'll be hopping on the same field.
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