And to think there were folks in the Cornhusker State who questioned Minnesota’s desire to play football this season.

At the time, it was easy for an outsider to hear Minnesota president Joan Gabel and athletic director Mark Coyle voice their seemingly unequivocal support for postponing Big Ten football till the spring, add in where college football ranks in the Twin Cities market pecking order, and draw negative conclusions. Even coach P.J. Fleck, whose press conferences often turn into filibusters, was understanding. So were his players.

It stood in stark contrast to the team the Golden Gophers outmuscled and outperformed Saturday. But more on that in a moment.

When the B1G reversed course, there were plenty of media types and fans — including in Nebraska, where the entire state university leadership pressed the conference on its choice — wondering just how badly Minnesota wanted to play.

That seems absurd in the wake of the Gophers’ 24-17 win Saturday in Lincoln.

When they stream the big docuseries on sports during the pandemic, they would be wise to show clips of a completely undermanned Minnesota team pushing around a traditional college football blueblood in the cold.

“It was the next right step for our program because it showed our toughness,” quarterback Tanner Morgan said. “Just play for each other, win with each other.”

They should show clips of Mohamed Ibrahim, for our money one of the top two running backs in FBS, taking direct snaps and pounding his way behind a makeshift offensive line.

They should show embattled middle linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin, whose come under lots of criticism for being out of position this year, for doing everything from rushing the passer to covering Nebraska’s top receiver, Wan’Dale Robinson.

They should show highlights from the FOX Sports 1 broadcast of a game in which Minnesota was missing an astounding 33 varsity football players.

Thanks in large part to a COVID-19 outbreak that caused the Gophers to cancel its previous two contests, they were without two starting offensive linemen (three if count the absence of Daniel Faalele, who hasn’t played all season). They dressed just four defensive linemen. Two tight ends. Their best player, wideout Rashod Bateman, opted out to prepare for his NFL career.

Fleck said his team was one offensive lineman away from “being in a really difficult position to get the game in. … We were that close.”

And yet it was the Gophers (3-3) who came out punching and never let up in just their second win at Nebraska since 1960. Minnesota is now 9-2 in its past 11 road games despite battling attrition, COVID-related and otherwise, and having the B1G’s worst defense statistically in 2020.

“What they’ve been through is unbelievable,” Fleck said. “I know we see it from the outside, but internally, nobody knows how hard it is for these student-athletes.

“To say this is challenging is an understatement. It’s the hardest season I’ve ever had as a coach.”

You can’t really overstate the stones it takes to play major college football down so many men. It had been more than three weeks since the Gophers played a game, complicating preparations that are already precarious due to strict COVID testing and protocols.

Fleck said they didn’t even have enough bodies to field a scout team this week. One player had to head straight home after the game to deal with a family situation.

No pregame meal at the team hotel. No in-person team meeting Friday night.

“College football is supposed to bring people together,” Fleck said. “[The coronavirus] is splitting us apart.”

Minnesota could’ve waited it out another weekend. And it would’ve been justified in doing so.

It had upwards of 40 guys out at one point earlier this season. It probably didn’t even have much business being in its last outing, a close and controversial win against Purdue.

But the Gophers bowed up in the past week and gave the Huskers one of the games they so desperately craved this season. Then it took it to them for four quarters.

“It was hard; call a spade a spade,” said defensive end Boye Mafe, who’d missed Minnesota’s Nov. 20 win against Purdue due to COVID. “Sitting at home and waiting to play was hard. When we got the opportunity to go back, we talked and said ‘nothing’s going to stop us.’ We’d been sitting at home so long, and it was just time to go and play.”

Now, the B1G had better find a way to make up the sport’s most-played rivalry next week. It might be a much different result than Saturday, but Minnesota deserves a chance to play Wisconsin.

In a game where neither offense found a whole lot of rhythm, it was Mafe’s strip sack of Adrian Martinez that set up Minnesota’s decisive scoring drive. The Gophers held Nebraska to just 4.7 yards per play and forced two giant turnovers, including a first-quarter interception by Tyler Nubin.

It was by far the gutsiest performance from a defense that ranks dead last in the B1G and 99th nationally in scoring defense.

Playing behind a line that started true freshman Aireontae Ersery at right tackle, Ibrahim gutted out every single one of his 109 yards on 20 carries (two touchdowns). The country’s No. 4 rusher in terms of yards per game worked through nagging injuries and multiple issues with his shoulder pads that kept him on the sideline from time to time.

He sure looked 100 percent — between the numbers and his ears — when he ran for 59 yards on 6 carries during Minnesota’s final possession that iced the game. Ibrahim wisely slid to his rump rather than scoring with 1:11 left to ensure Nebraska never got the ball back.

Quite a reversal for a team that came in averaging just 3.8 points during the fourth quarter.

It was Ibrahim’s seventh straight game with more than 100 rushing yards, tying a school record held by Laurence Maroney.

Morgan overcame some early misthrows and drops to finish 17-for-30 with 181 yards.

But the real heroes, Fleck said, didn’t show up on TV with no fans in attendance Saturday.

The coach began his postgame press conference by thanking the medical and training staff that worked overtime to make sure his makeshift roster was healthy enough to play.

“We hadn’t played in 22 days,” Fleck said. “I don’t think people truly realize how hard it is.”

The Gophers and the rest of the league now wait to hear what the B1G has in store for next Saturday. The original plan was for divisional crossovers based on final standings, but rumors among athletic directors suggested the plan could be tweaked to prioritize rivalry games.

Minnesota-Wisconsin, which has been played every year since 1906, would certainly fit the bill.

But the plane ride back to MSP International Airport was certainly a celebratory one Saturday. Morgan’s spoken recently of “finding the fun again” in a season where nothing is normal and Minnesota has seen its fair share of poor on-field output.

The Gophers found it Saturday.

“Fun is overcoming adversity,” Morgan said. “Fun is responding. Fun is executing. Fun is finishing a drive and being around the team and getting to play football because we didn’t for two weeks.”