The end of Gopher football

I have gone a couple of weeks without mentioning much about the Minnesota Gophers. The football team managed to lose twice in that period, but it was the first of the two losses - a disastrous, blow-it-at-the-end loss to Illinois - that really was the one that did it.

That day was the end. By the time the Gophers had Illinois down to their backup quarterback, and fourth down, with the Illini’s backs entirely up against the wall, you could almost have argued that Minnesota was the favorite to win the Big Ten West. Every other West team (save Iowa) had lost that day, and the Gophers seemingly had things under control: finish off the Illini, beat a bad Purdue team the following week, and later beat Wisconsin, and - assuming the awful Hawkeyes lost once more - the Gophers were going to the Big Ten title game!

Where they’d get utterly stomped, where they’d be at the mercy of Michigan or Ohio State, but at least they’d be there. At least the Gophers might, finally, have an accomplishment, in the Big Ten.

I’ve waited my entire lifetime for the Gophers to get their name on any list of Big Ten football accomplishments. They haven’t won a conference title since 1967, haven’t played in the Rose Bowl since 1961, haven’t had any sort of national-title ambitions since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House.

Even after the conference split into two divisions, starting in 2011, the Gophers haven’t even been able to rise to the top of a much smaller heap; they’ve played 13 seasons in the Legends or West division, but have never managed to earn the consolation prize of a division title, and a considerable beating in the conference title game.

And when they blew that game against Illinois, in classic Minnesota Gophers fashion, it felt like the perfect way to sum up the end of an era.

For nearly 60 years, the Gophers haven’t won anything in the Big Ten Conference. Now they have no chance to ever do so again.

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Dallas 8, Wild 3: Bad, but long-term

I was at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night, to see the Wild play the Stars - and to see what turned out to be maybe the worst hockey game I’ve ever been to.

Minnesota lost to Dallas, 8-3. To lose to Dallas, ever, is galling enough - I’ll never forget, and it will always matter to me, and my fondest wish every season is that the usurpers go 0-82-0.

Watching Sunday’s game, though, was pretty much torture. The Wild took a dumb penalty 50 seconds into the game, it took the visitors seven seconds to score on the resulting power play, and the rout was on.

By the end, the Wild should have been offering refunds, to those of us who’d been unfortunate enough to pay our own money for tickets.

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Afraid of the big bad Wolves

I’m afraid to write this post about the Timberwolves.

Two Mondays ago, Minnesota busted out a pretty classic loss at Atlanta. The Wolves led by 19, then gave up a second-half run to the Hawks, including a 19-minute stretch in which they were somehow outscored 60-20, and ended up losing by 14. I was pretty down on the Wolves, and coach Chris Finch, after the game, and I was hardly the only one.

Since then, the Wolves have:

1) Destroyed Denver, at home, becoming the only team this season to beat the Nuggets, and doing it by 21; 2) Handling a terrible Utah team, winning by 28; 3) Beaten Boston, at home, in overtime, becoming the first team to beat the Celtics all year; 4) Run away from New Orleans, with the Pelicans missing half a basketball team due to injuries, with relative ease.

Not only is that four straight wins, it’s two each of two types of wins: both impressive wins over good teams, and reasonably routine wins against bad teams.

Last year’s Wolves couldn’t pull that off. Last year’s Wolves had a decent record against the league’s best - they went 14-13 against the other seven West playoff teams, and 8-8 against the top eight in the East - but were terrible against the league’s worst. Against the four teams in the league that lost 55 or more games, Minnesota managed to go just 5-7, including losing 2/2 against 17-65 Detroit and 2/2 to 27-55 Charlotte.

Even more impressive than the wins, too, is that the Wolves have an actual swagger about them - especially defensively, where they’re the number-one team in the NBA by a wide margin. Minnesota is giving up 100.1 points per 100 possessions; second-place New York is closer to 11th place than they are to Minnesota.

So far, the Wolves are actually defending the three-point line, and woe betide the opposing offense that attempts to get to the basket. They’re actually rebounding well (fourth in defensive rebound percentage) and no team is forcing opponents into a worse shooting percentage.

Not to mention, they’re putting on an offensive show, too.

Are you excited yet, Wolves fans? (shoots double thumbs up)

(Lowers voice to speak to people who’ve been Wolves fans for decades) Okay, everybody, are you panicking yet?

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Vikings 31, Falcons 28: Actually winning is easy

If there’s one thing that we learned from the Vikings’ 31-28 win over Atlanta on Sunday, it’s that winning - in the NFL - is actually very easy, and anyone can do it.

Consider that the Vikings started a rookie quarterback who was not expected to play a snap this year, on the road… and when he went down with a concussion, they were forced to play a quarterback that they’d traded virtually nothing for, a quarterback who’d been turfed out by a 1-7 team that is tanking, who hadn’t taken a single snap in practice yet and who admitted after the game that he didn’t know the full names of most of his receivers (though, given that he’s an engineer and given what I know of engineers, I’m not sure we should expect him to ever learn other people’s names).

Consider also that they started the game without their left tackle and All-Pro wide receiver, and during the game they lost their best running back and their third-best wide receiver and, for stretches, their starting tight end.

By the end of the night, all three quarterbacks that started the season on the roster were hurt, plus four other starters on the offense, and the team was staring down a four-point deficit with just two minutes to go, on the road, against a team that was leading its division. And their new quarterback, Josh Dobbs, had already taken a safety and lost two inexplicable fumbles, a real throwback to the Daunte Culpepper days.

Of course Dobbs drove them down the field in 90 seconds and threw the game-winning touchdown pass. Why wouldn’t he? Winning is easy!

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MNUFC Offseason: Contract status for the current roster

A picture of Allianz Field in 2022, St. Paul, Minnesota
Image credit: Daniel Mick

The Loons have until December 1st to decide which contract options they’ll pick up this year, which is the first step towards building next year’s roster. They also have three weeks from today to make “bona fide” offers to players who are out of contract, though that is obviously less pressing.

The issue, of course, is that they don’t currently have anyone in a top-level soccer role - no coach, no technical director, no GM, no nothing. So all speculation on the roster is a little difficult, given that they’ve turned the page on everyone who brought in the current group.

With this in mind, here’s my notes on which players have contracts, options, or nothing at all for next year - along with some guesses at who the club might keep.

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Losses, bad losses, and this

There are losses, and there are bad losses, and then somewhere down past there, you’ll find the Timberwolves’ 127-113 loss in Atlanta on Monday night.

The Wolves led 79-60 at half. They led 86-65 with nine minutes to go in the third quarter. But somehow, they turned that 21-point lead into a 14-point loss, one that involved a 60-20 run by the Hawks.

60 to 20! Over a period of 19 minutes, the Wolves GAVE UP SIXTY POINTS and at the same time ONLY SCORED 20 POINTS.

Either one of those stats would be utterly abhorrent, but put together, it has to be one of the worst 19-minute stretches in NBA history.

This seems to keep happening to the Timberwolves; no second-half lead is ever safe with them, and at some point, you have to think that they make changes. I don’t know what those changes are, but to me, this starts with head coach Chris Finch, who never seems to have a plan to stem the tide. Every time the camera cuts to him during one of these disasters, he looks like a man who forgot to tie up his boat, and is now watching it slowly drift out to sea.

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Gophers Update: Real bad weekend

It is exceedingly rare, I would say, that the Gophers - taken as a whole - have an awful weekend, and the football team is not a part of it.

The football Gophers beat up on a bad Michigan State squad on Saturday, winning 27-12 by handing the ball to sophomore Jordan Nubin 40 times, thus increasing his season total of carries to 46.

Nubin, the younger brother of all-conference safety Tyler Nubin, rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns, and the rest of the Gophers did just enough to not lose. Minnesota’s defense gave up a touchdown to MSU, something that not every other team can say, but even though Minnesota repeatedly stumbled - turning the ball over three times, and trailing for most of the first half - in the end, they came out with the win.

It was the first in a three-game stretch of games against awful teams, for Minnesota; they now get Illinois at home, and Purdue on the road, and losing to either would be like blowing a three-touchdown lead to Northwestern. (thousand-yard stare)

And that was the good team!

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Not like this

No matter how much you wanted Kirk Cousins out of Minnesota, removed from the helm of the Minnesota Vikings… No matter whether you wanted the Vikings to see where the 2023 season goes, or to burn it all down and aim for draft day… No matter how oddly high of an opinion you might have of backup quarterback Jaren Hall

There’s one thing I think we can all agree on, regarding what is likely the end of the Cousins Era in Minnesota, after the quarterback tore his Achilles on Sunday in Green Bay:

Not like this.

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Kirk Cousins is a Rorschach inkblot

The Vikings beat the 49ers on Monday night, 22-17, in one of those games that is extremely stressful but - if your favored team wins - also extremely fun. Minnesota should have put away the favored 49ers about six different times, but managed to kick poorly and throw passes in the red zone poorly, all of which contributed to the game being way closer than it should have been.

From texting with friends, it seems like two things were true last night, although I seemed to be the one who believed the second one more strongly than anyone:

  1. Kirk Cousins was really good last night.
  2. Cousins nearly ended up killing his team last night.

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Here are your 2023 MLS conference-only standings

MLS gets more unbalanced every season. This year, teams played just six games against the opposite conference (seven, in the case of a few Western Conference teams), and 28 against their own conference (again, some Western Conference teams played 27, which is why the standings are sorted by PPG).

We did this last year before the playoffs, and so I figured it was time to do this year’s version, too.

WESTERN

Rk Team Conf Pts PPG W-L-T GF-GA GD OVERALL Record GF-GA GD
1 Seattle 47 1.68 13-7-8 37-26 11 53 14-9-11 41-32 9
2 Los Angeles FC 46 1.64 13-8-7 47-33 14 52 14-10-10 54-39 15
3 St. Louis 44 1.63 13-9-5 48-37 11 56 17-12-5 62-45 17
4 Kansas City 43 1.54 12-9-7 45-40 5 44 12-14-8 48-51 -3
5 Houston 40 1.48 11-9-7 44-31 13 51 14-11-9 51-38 13
6 Dallas 40 1.48 10-7-10 34-27 7 46 11-10-13 41-37 4
7 Portland 39 1.39 10-9-9 38-42 -4 43 11-13-10 46-58 -12
8 San Jose 37 1.32 9-9-10 34-38 -4 44 10-10-14 39-43 -4
9 Minnesota 35 1.30 9-10-8 39-40 -1 41 10-13-11 46-51 -5
10 Vancouver 36 1.29 9-10-9 43-43 0 48 12-10-12 55-48 7
11 Salt Lake 34 1.26 9-11-7 35-43 -8 50 14-12-8 48-50 -2
12 LA Galaxy 30 1.07 6-10-12 45-58 -13 36 8-14-12 51-67 -16
13 Austin 27 0.96 7-15-6 40-51 -11 39 10-15-9 49-55 -6
14 Colorado 23 0.85 4-12-11 19-39 -20 27 5-17-12 26-54 -28
  • The surprise here is Sporting KC, which was one of the best teams in the West in conference games, just four points behind Seattle. SKC snuck into the playoffs on the final day, but between this and their recent form, they’re a dark-horse pick in the West.
  • Vancouver and Real Salt Lake made the playoffs comfortably, thanks to their results against the East. Against the West only, both would have been out of the playoffs.
  • St. Louis City also dropped a bit, given that they earned 12 points against the East, as did Vancouver - and Austin, which was undefeated against the East.
  • Stop me if you’ve heard this about the West, but there’s no real separation here.

EASTERN

Rk Team Conf Pts PPG W-L-T GF-GA GD OVERALL Record GF-GA GD
1 Cincinnati 56 2.00 16-4-8 49-31 18 69 20-5-9 57-39 18
2 Orlando City 50 1.79 14-6-8 47-33 14 63 18-7-9 55-39 16
3 Philadelphia 49 1.75 14-7-7 52-34 18 55 15-9-10 57-41 16
4 Columbus 47 1.68 13-7-8 55-38 17 57 16-9-9 67-46 21
5 New England 47 1.68 13-7-8 49-36 13 55 15-9-10 58-46 12
6 New York 39 1.39 11-11-6 31-31 0 43 11-13-10 36-39 -3
7 Nashville 37 1.32 10-11-7 29-28 1 49 13-11-10 39-32 7
8 Atlanta 37 1.32 9-9-10 51-49 2 51 13-9-12 66-53 13
9 New York City 35 1.25 8-9-11 30-33 -3 41 9-11-14 35-39 -4
10 Charlotte 35 1.25 8-9-11 35-40 -5 43 10-11-13 45-52 -7
11 D.C. United 32 1.14 8-12-8 38-42 -4 40 10-14-10 45-49 -4
12 Montréal 31 1.11 9-15-4 25-44 -19 41 12-17-5 36-52 -16
13 Chicago 28 1.00 6-12-10 33-45 -12 40 10-14-10 39-51 -12
14 Miami 27 0.96 7-15-6 34-45 -11 34 9-18-7 41-54 -13
15 Toronto 20 0.71 4-16-8 24-53 -29 22 4-20-10 26-59 -33
  • Atlanta led MLS with 14 points against the opposite conference; Cincinnati and Orlando City were just behind, with 13.
  • Toronto earned just two points against the West, but that wasn’t exactly out of line with the rest of their year.
  • Cincinnati is still head-and-shoulders ahead of the pack in the East; there’s another real drop-off between New England and the rest.

Congratulations, of course, to your conference Supporters’ Shield winners: Cincinnati and Seattle! I assume Cincy is going to head back to the airport for another celebration.

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