MINNEAPOLIS -- The Gophers’ season took on a “is this real life?” dimension with a 31-26 upset of fourth-ranked Penn State on Saturday, and it’s only going to get more dream-like this week.
Some of college football’s Holy Grails can now be seen on the horizon for Minnesota, including a clearer path to the Big Ten Championship Game and being in the mix for a College Football Playoff spot.
A bizarro world, right?
If the Gophers fall a bit short, they might have to settle for the Rose Bowl. Imagine that, an appearance in the “Granddaddy of Them All” for a Gophers program, which went went 7-6 last season and hasn’t played in Pasadena, Calif., since Jan. 1, 1962 — the longest current drought in the Big Ten.
For these heights to come closer to reality, Minnesota must overcome a harsh truth: Iowa has their number.
Heading into next Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes have four straight wins over Minnesota since 2014, meaning no one with the Gophers has lifted the massive Floyd of Rosedale Trophy.
“It’s a big game for this program,” Gophers receiver Rashod Bateman said Saturday. “It’s a big game for this state, and I just know we have a chance to go get it this year, so that is what we need to focus on now.”
Gophers senior defensive end Carter Coughlin was “ecstatic” in reveling in the first field storming from fans at TCF Bank Stadium since beating Iowa in 2014. “But the second (Sunday) hits, that is over with,” he declared. “We are going to be 100 percent focused on our next game.”
Minnesota hasn’t won at Kinnick Stadium since 1999 and are 4-14 in the rivalry since 2001.
“There have been a lot of things we haven’t done in a while, so we are going to keep that same mentality,” Coughlin said. “Trust me when I tell you we are going to practice this week harder than we’ve ever practiced because we’ve got our eyes fixed on the goal, which is going 1-0 in the Iowa season, and we are going to take care of business.”
Another element of this pinch-me-type season is the rise of Tanner Morgan and whether he now deserves to he in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy.
The odd-on favorite has become Louisiana State quarterback Joe Burrow, who might not yet have a “Heisman moment” but had a Heisman-worthy game in the 46-41 win over Alabama on Saturday.
Burrow completed 31 of 39 passes for 393 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against Nick Saban’s defense. A week before that performance, Burrow received an endorsement from last year’s winner, former Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray.
The Heisman race has a lot of other QB candidates from Tua Tagovialoa, but he wasn’t himself in returning from an ankle injury vs. LSU and no player has missed a game and won the Heisman since Florida State’s Charlie Ward in 1993.
Ohio State defensive end Chase Young climbed into the Heisman conversation over the last couple of weeks, but that candidacy to be the first defender to win the award since Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson in 1997 took a big blow with him facing the potential of a few-game suspension for a loan he says he repaid to a family friend.
This award has become quarterback-centric and Morgan’s numbers are in the ballpark of the best at the position. First and foremost, he’s 9-0 and this award often goes to the best players on one of the best teams.
His QB rating is 191.04, which is a few ticks below Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Tagovailoa, Burrow, but above other contenders in Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
Morgan’s passing yards (2,100) and touchdowns (21) are the lowest of any in that group, but is within a few hundred yards or a couple of scores from the bunch.
Morgan was near perfect against the Nittany Lions on Saturday. He competed 90 percent of his passes with nearly 19 yards per completion.
His two incompletions were a back-shoulder throw to Chris Autman-Bell, which could have been caught, and a slight overthrow of Tyler Johnson in the corner of the end zone.
Morgan stepped up after Gophers running back Shannon Brooks fumbled and a Penn Sate touchdown cut Minnesota’s lead to 24-19 in the third quarter. He completed five of five passes for 82 yards, including one to Chris Autman-Bell when he was hit in the pocket and another when he looked off coverage and found Bateman for a 36-yard completion. Wildcat quarterback Seth Green then capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run and the margin Minnesota would need to win.
Now, Morgan will get his first taste of the rivalry with Iowa.
“I’m from Kentucky, and I’m very proud to be from Kentucky, but I love the state of Minnesota,” he said Saturday. “I love it to death. I’m very happy to be in the state of Minnesota.”
If he and the Gophers come back to Minneapolis with the nearly 100-pound bronze pig, their dream — and the spoils that come with it — will come closer to reality.