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Minnesota's Big Ten Title Hopes Could Hinge on Navigating Tough Late-Season Schedule

Jerry Kill

Jerry Kill

Now might be a decent time to start buying low on Minnesota in the Big Ten West Division. The balance of power in the Big Ten still appears to be in the top-heavy east, but the West can quickly become Minnesota’s to lose the way this season has been going.

Minnesota could be about to get a harsh dose of reality in the second half of the season. Before it does though, Minnesota has two games it should be able to win against Purdue and at Illinois. After that, it may be up to the momentum to carry them the rest of the way, because the back-end of the schedule could be steep.

Minnesota’s final four games are at home against Iowa and Ohio State and on the road at Nebraska and Wisconsin. The game with Iowa could determine first-place in the Big Ten West. Ohio State may be the best team in the Big Ten after all. Road trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin could have the division riding on the outcomes, and both the Huskers and Badgers figure to be favorites in that equation. But who can count Minnesota out?

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Jerry Kill has been through a little bit of everything as a head coach, and he has battled back time and time again during his time at Minnesota. Seizures have become a public story for Kill, but each time he seems to come back more motivated to prove nothing will keep him down. That message has been a rally cry for the Gophers as well, because every time it looks as though Minnesota is getting knocked down, this team finds a way to respond.

Though the level of competition has not been too intimidating, outside of a road trip to TCU, you can see that mentality playing out this season. Against Middle Tennessee early in the year, Minnesota jumped out to a 28-0 lead. The Blue Raiders made things interesting in the second half, but the team found a way to hold on. It was a bit of an eye-opener for Minnesota and should have told this team that finishing strong is just as important as starting strong.

Last season Minnesota ended the season on a three-game losing streak, including a loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl, another game the Gophers failed to drive the final nail in the coffin.

This season has shown Minnesota can start strong. Now all that remains to be seen is how the Gophers finish.

- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)