Minnesota rowed the boat to a 9-0 record this past weekend with a big 31-26 win over then-No. 4 Penn State. The result was a leap all the way from No. 17 to No. 8 in the . But why wasn’t the leap higher? There are four teams with losses above the Golden Gophers that create a bit of a road block for coach P.J. Fleck’s squad.
What’s the reason? The schedule plays a big part of it.
“When you’re looking at Minnesota, their schedule was a concern — particularly the nonconference schedule,” said CFP Selection Committee chairman Rob Mullens. “As it laid out through Week 10, they’d only played one team in their league that has a winning record. The win against Penn State obviously impressed the committee.”
Strength of schedule rankings are subjective based on the formula used, but there’s no doubt that Minnesota’s schedule lacks strength compared to some of its top-10 counterparts. Sagarin has its schedule strength ranked at No. 70, worse than the one-loss teams above it: Georgia (52), Alabama (54), Oregon (30) and Utah (47).
How long will that last, though? Minnesota’s prowess reached a crescendo last week after several games of building itself into a Big Ten power. The Gophers won their four September games by an average of five points, but has beaten opponents by an average of 26.4 points in their last five games. That week-by-week improvement is something that the committee has noticed.
Is the disparity between Minnesota’s strength of schedule and the one-loss teams ahead of it enough to cancel out the disparity in the loss column? Apparently so, even if one of those teams has a comparable criticism. Alabama doesn’t have a top-25 win, lost its home matchup with a top-five team last weekend (LSU) and its best win is over a Texas A&M team that’s 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the SEC.
Mullens, who is also the athletic director at Oregon and must recuse himself whenever the Ducks are being discussed, said he was out of the room and didn’t know if members compared Alabama to Minnesota.
“When you see Alabama, obviously their only loss was to the team that’s now ranked No. 1 in the country, and prior to that they had been dominant against their schedule, and so we see a very, very good football team,” he said.
Will this matter in the end? Probably not. If Minnesota runs the table, it’ll have to beaten No. 20 Iowa, Northwestern, No. 14 Wisconsin and probably No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. If Fleck’s crew can row the boat through those choppy waters, but Gophers might even have a case for the No. 1 spot.