Think back, if you can, to the end of September. That’s just a month in the past, but right now, that feels like 2 seasons ago for PJ Fleck and Minnesota.

In case you have already forgotten, the Gophers stormed out of the gates with a 4-0 start to the season. That included a road trouncing of Michigan State that vaulted the program to the top of a list of B1G West contenders this season.

Now, bring yourself back to the present coming out of Week 8. Minnesota is 4-3, well off the pace for the division lead and likely left jockeying for bowl position in the conference.

What happened?

Shift in Schedule

For starters, Minnesota finally saw what it was like to see the competition on its schedule beef up. Yes, the Gophers did start the season 4-0. The FBS programs from that stretch are a combined 6-15.

Once the calendar flipped to October, it was a completely different story with Minnesota facing a pair of B1G West contenders and Penn State in Happy Valley as a part of a B1G crossover game. Purdue, Illinois and Penn State are a combined 17-5 coming out of Week 8.

The rise in competition was always there, always expected. But even with that increase in competition, the Gophers did not appear primed to fall off a cliff quite as sharply as they did.

In their 4-0 start, the Gophers averaged nearly 46 points per game. That number was also destined to fall, but Minnesota has not reached 20 points yet in October.

Over the past 3 games, Minnesota is averaging 13.66 points per game. The best output in that stretch? 17 points scored in the blowout loss to Penn State.

The offensive struggles are significantly more concerning at this point with the defense holding its own with the lone exception of the loss to Penn State. In the games against Purdue and Illinois, Minnesota allowed a total of 46 points, more than efficient enough to keep the team within striking range.

Hope for the rest of the way?

The good news for Minnesota is that the gauntlet stretch of the schedule subsides in Week 9. While it would be unwise to discredit and overlook Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights present a much more favorable matchup for the Gophers at home.

Once the calendar flips to November, the rest of the schedule will be particularly interesting. Those games include matchups at Nebraska, vs. Northwestern, vs Iowa and at Wisconsin.

Essentially, the rest of the schedule gives Minnesota a shot to be in every single game down the stretch, though some of those will be trickier than others.

Nebraska has found its offensive firepower of late while Wisconsin is trying to find a spark under interim head coach Jim Leonhard. Even with Iowa’s offensive struggles, scoring on the Hawkeyes is likely a tough challenge for the Gophers.

Either way, the hopes of finding more wins this season should be much greater for Minnesota moving forward than they were over the past 4 weeks. At least, that’s the hope.