3 Takeaways from Gophers Loss vs Badgers and Failure to Reach Bowl Eligibility

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Minnesota
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

The Minnesota Gophers had a chance to salvage a mostly disappointing season on Saturday by winning the longest rivalry game in college football vs the Wisconsin Badgers. A dub would have put the Gophers at six wins, the *minimum needed to become bowl eligible.

It also would have meant their third-straight win vs the Badgers, which would have been good for the best winning streak vs Wisconsin since the mid-80s. But most importantly, it would have meant Minnesota wins vs both Iowa and Wisconsin. Consolation prizes are disappointing but that would’ve been one hell of a moral victory.

Related: Wisconsin Canceled 1906 Football Rivalry with Minnesota, Not Roosevelt

Instead, after coming out of the gates hot, the Gophers crumbled under the 2nd-half spotlight in Dinkytown, failing to score a point in the final two quarters. The defense, even less impressive, allowing 28 points to one of the worst offensive teams in the country.

Here are 3 takeaways from the loss

I don’t want to beat a dead horse and I just wrote a feature about this earlier in the week, but it’s important enough to note, yet again. We have seen flashes of brilliance from Athan Kaliakmanis. He’s big, he can run and he is a great leader, not to mention tremendous human.

1. The Gophers need a better quarterback

But that’s not enough for a power-5 quarterback. Athan started pretty well on Saturday but then completely crumbled down the stretch. His final line, an underwhelming 16/28 for 167 yards, 1 INT and 1 TD. When Kaliakmanis threw his only touchdown of the game, he was 7/11 for 91 yards and a TD.

If PJ Fleck wants real improvement on offense next season, he must find a better quarterback in the transfer portal. I don’t care if he has to empty out the NIL bank account to get it done, but with divisions going away next season, it’ll be nearly impossible for the Gophers to keep up with the high powered Big Ten offenses they will now face more years than not, without a vastly improved passing game. To do that, they’ll need to vastly improve at QB.

2. Joe Rossi has a lot of work to do

Injuries have been a problem, especially for a defense that was already expected to be younger than in years past. But when you play as poorly on that side of the ball as the Minnesota Gophers did for much of the 2023 season, there are no excuses that make things right.

Related: Mark Coyle Leaves No Doubt: PJ Fleck is Not on Hot Seat

Joe Rossi is known as one of the best defensive coaches in the country and one of the many future head coaches on the Minnesota staff, but he has a lot of work to do this offseason if he wants those conversations to return to prevalence.

The Gophers defense gave up over 30 points 6 times this season, by far the most since Rossi took over as DC in 2018. Granted they did play better teams in 2023, than in years past, but high point totals weren’t limited just to the Ohio States and Michigans of the world.

Minnesota gave up 49 to Purdue, 37 to Northwestern, and 35 to the University of Louisiana Ragin Cajuns… Obviously, Rossi’s defenses have always ranked near the top of the Big Ten and in the top-25 nationally. So, he gets one bad season. But what happened in 2023 cannot happen again in 2024.

3. Gophers bowl status still up in the air

Technically, the Gophers still have a chance to make one of the bottom feeder bowls of the season. While you need six wins to guarantee a bowl game, only five wins doesn’t mean you are eliminated from postseason eligibility.

Minnesota can still go bowling if the rest of the college football season plays out in their favor. As of now, only 77 teams across the country are bowl eligible. If that number doesn’t reach 79 by the end of the season, the Gophers are the first 5-win team to get a bid.

But in all reality, a 5-7 bowl season is nothing to brag about. Bowl or no bowl, the 2023 Minnesota Gophers football season was a failure.