Trip to Rockies represents a different mountain for Minnesota football to climb
A Minneapolis resident visiting the Denver area might find a surprising amount of similarities between the two American destinations.
Sure, the geography is different. But Minnesota and Colorado feature the same deluge of traffic bolting out of the major metropolitan area for a weekend at the cabin. And, in both cases, only a fraction of the folks on the freeway care deeply about major college football.
Both the Gophers and Buffalos have seen their glory years come and go. Colorado’s are much more recent.
The programs share the distinction of being major-college offerings in markets that feature NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS franchises.
The 3,000 Minnesota fans expected to make the trek to Boulder for this weekend’s 12 p.m. CT tilt can empathize with their black-and-gold-clad adversaries. They aren’t the biggest fanbases in their respective towns, but those who do follow tend to follow closely.
There’s a pluckiness to both programs. Minnesota hung with No. 4 Ohio State for most of their season opener, while Colorado is coming off a 10-7 slugfest loss to No. 7 Texas A&M at Empower Field at Mile High.
This one will take place in scenic Folsom Field. With the Rocky Mountains as the backdrop, there may not be a prettier setting in college football.
But with the vistas comes the altitude. Coach PJ Fleck has solicited the service of several health experts on campus to prepare for the Gophers’ first trip to Colorado since 1992.
“We’re going to be there the shortest amount of time as possible,” Fleck said. “With your body, the longer you’re there, the more it’s going to affect you. So if we can get in and get out, it shouldn’t affect us very much at all.”
A win would be the second road, nonconference victory over a Power 5 opponent in as many tries under Fleck. The first, a 48-14 win at Oregon State, came in the coach’s second game after coming over from Western Michigan.
Colorado leads the all-time series 3-0. But none of that matters come Saturday.
What does is Minnesota’s ability to move the ball — especially through the air, which proved problematic in the second half of a too-close-for-comfort win over Miami (Ohio) last weekend. Led by linebacker Nate Landman (14 tackles this season) and cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, the Buffaloes were able to hold A&M mostly in check in a matchup of old Big 12 foes.
Colorado backs Jarek Broussard and Alex Fontenot can both do damage against porous run defenses, a moniker that’s been all too befitting of Minnesota dating to last season. Second-year coach Karl Dorrell is still in building mode, but folks in Pac-12 country are wary of what Colorado could become.
It’s been just 5 years since the Buffaloes played in the 2016 conference championship game.
For Minnesota, it’s another chance to stack up and show out against a quality opponent. While this game won’t ultimately determine the Gophers’ fate in pursuing a Big Ten West crown, beating Colorado on the road could do wonders for a young running back corps now led by Trey Potts, as well as a defense that’s better than it was last year but still looking for a signature day to hang its hat on.
It won’t be easy. But it should be a fun trip regardless of result.
“They’re really good,” Fleck said of the Buffs. “Very physical on defense and really good tacklers. Their linebackers are really talented and love to play football. They keep everything in front of them.
“On the offensive side ball, they got two really good backs. They’re physical, they got a good, young quarterback that can run around and create as well as throw the football down the field. But you can tell they really like to play football and they like playing for each other. They’re a connected football team and a really good football team.”