Nobody believed in Minnesota at the start of 2019.

People weren’t picking the Golden Gophers to win the Big Ten West division. People liked Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa. You know, the usual.

In fact, in one poll, Minnesota was picked to finish sixth. Not in the Big Ten — in the West division alone. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck talked about that and his team learning to play championship football in the month of November.

The Golden Gophers’ program isn’t used to that:

“No matter what anyone else says, we were picked [by the Big Ten media to finish] sixth in the West, almost last in the West, second to last,” Fleck said. “We knew if we could have our young guys grow up fast we could have a really special season and a special team. I think the season has been special up until this point. I think there is a lot of meat left on the bone and we have to continue to get better every day.

“This team is learning how to win championship football in November. It has been a long time since we had to do that. When you’re actually in the race and you actually have the lead and you have all of that stuff, there is a lot to deal with. This team is learning how to play championship football. We were able to do it one week against Penn State, we weren’t able to do it the next week against a top-20 team in Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. We just have to be more consistent.”

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Fleck’s right. His team does have to be more consistent. That said, Minnesota is 9-1. It’s been very consistent. It just had one slip up — on the road — against Iowa. Minnesota played well, just not well enough.

Up next for the Gophers is a game at Northwestern. Minnesota is supposed to win that game. It has to if it wants any shot at making the College Football Playoff.

Then, to close the regular season, the Gophers get Wisconsin at home. That will be a much tougher task. That said, at least Minnesota is playing meaningful football in November.

Fleck seems to like it, and as long as his program continues to learn to play in these types of games to end seasons, the best is yet to come for the Gophers.