Bandwagon Gopher Fans are Paying Attention vs Michigan State

Photo: Matt Krohn - USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 Minnesota Gophers are 3-0, but they’re yet to play against any legitimate competition. That’s why much of the college football world will be quick to dismiss PJ Fleck & Co. The doubters include media and fans, alike, both nationally and at the local level.

Let’s be honest, there is a large contingent of Gopher football fans out there who have been burned by high early-season hopes too many times before. These fans won’t be fooled by easy non-conference schedules any longer. We all know fans like this. Hell, maybe you are one. The, ‘yeah, but who have they beaten?’ crowd.

These fans have spent the last couple Saturdays fall cleaning, maybe warm-weather bow hunting, or a family afternoon at the apple orchard. They might check box scores later on. Maybe, they have push notifications sent to their phones. Meanwhile, the Gophers ran up scores vs New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado.

Bandwagon Gopher Fans Are Paying Attention This Week

Call them what you want: “Bandwagon“, “Fairweather” or “Smart“. There’s nothing wrong with this type of fandom, a group that makes up about half of every fanbase (completely unscientific estimate). And on Saturday (2:30 PM), when the Minnesota Gophers kickoff as (-3) favorites in East Lansing vs the Michigan State Spartans, many of these “prove it to me” fans will sit down and flip their maroon and gold on for the first time this season.

Others are even more stubborn and need to see a victory over the Spartans this weekend, before devoting a rare fall afternoon to their favorite college football team. Either way, their attention is on the line Saturday. The Gophers need to beat the Spartans or these fans will be out of the boat until convinced to come back.

For those of us who continue to watch weekend in and weekend out, Saturday afternoon is a barometer check and a game that we know would vault Minnesota into the AP Top-25 poll. But win or lose, we’ll be watching again next week vs Purdue. And we’ll continue to cling to hopes of a Big Ten West title, too. Because we love the punishment.

But if PJ Fleck and Co. want to fill Huntington Bank Stadium at home next weekend vs the Boilermakers, and get the entire fanbase excited about what 2022 might hold, winning vs Michigan State is a necessity. So, here’s what it will take:

Three Keys:

Tanner Morgan Gut Check — So far this season, Tanner Morgan has looked much more like his 2019 self, than he has either of the last two years. We think that is the Kirk Ciarrocca effect. That might be true, but looking competent vs New Mexico State, Western Illinois and a bad Colorado team, doesn’t tell us for sure. Michigan State is a big step up, but they still rank near the bottom of power five football in passing defense.

The Wright Time? — With Chris Autman-Bell out for the season, somebody needs to step up and prove themselves as a reliant option in the pass game for Tanner Morgan. Dylan Wright, a former 5-star college recruit who began his career at Texas A&M, is BY FAR the most talented of the bunch. Now, in his second season with the Gophers, this feels like the perfect time for Wright to come out of his shell.

Test Time for Defense — The Minnesota Gophers defense was a top-20 unit last season, according to Football Outsiders, and they could be even better this season. Against the sub-par competition they’ve seen so far, Joe Rossi’s unit has been dominant, allowing just 17 total points and 511 total yards of offense, through three games. The Spartans have one of the best passing offenses in the Big Ten and could give the Gophers secondary their biggest test of the entire regular season.

Prediction

Of course, I’m picking the Minnesota Gophers to beat the Michigan State Spartans. Why? Because I believe in Tanner Morgan, with Kirk Ciarrocca beside him, and I trust that this Gophers defense will be just as legitimate as next season. That means, the Minnesota defense finds a way to keep a high-powered Michigan State offense off the scoreboard more often than the Sparty defense can do to the Gopher offense.

Minnesota wins: 27-20

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan