Big Ten Media Days isn't happening as planned, but we can always pretend!
We don't get the chance to talk to our beloved Big Ten head coaches in person this year, and that certainly makes us sad. But instead of sulking, we decided to fix the problem with a little imagination.
We decided to throw a make-believe Big Ten Media Days!
Here's how it works: each of our interviewers poses a hypothetical question to the coach (some serious, some not at all serious) and provides a brief explanation as to why that question is being asked. In some cases, we even took a crack at how the coach might try to answer it, because roleplaying is fun.
We're working from the bottom up in the conference, which means we've already done Rutgers, Maryland, Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue and Northwestern. Now, P.J. Fleck's rowing his boat to the (fake) podium as Minnesota takes its turn.
Let's get to those questions.
Johnny Ginter: "I can't make a Row The Boat joke because Minnesota won 11 damn games last year and beat Auburn in a bowl game, so instead I'm going to ask you if quarterback Tanner Morgan is capable of making a 'Heisman leap' in 2020. You lose some significant offensive weapons and most people imagine that Goldy has to take a step back this season, but is Morgan actually good enough to prevent that from happening?"
P.J. Fleck is the real deal, and I know this because literally everything about the dude is rife for parody and yet we can't say anything because his teams keep winning. Minnesota being cool and good is actually a pretty fun outcome for the Big Ten, since the Golden Gophers are in fact the Big Tenniest of teams; I just wonder if they can make the big boy move of weathering the loss of multiple offensive weapons while continuing to win.
Zack Carpenter: Coach, how did the success of this past season help elevate your program on the national recruiting scene and how does the commitment of a player like Avante Dickerson help put a spotlight on what you’ve been doing in Minnesota?
Just like our question for Pat Fitzgerald yesterday, the second part of this question involves an unsigned recruit so he can’t answer that part.
But Dickerson (No. 111 overall and No. 8 cornerback nationally) is the third-highest recruit the Gophers have landed since 2010, and he’s one who had Ohio State and LSU in his original top three before choosing Fleck’s program. I’m curious to know how he pulled in Dickerson and how much of a jumping-off point that could be in helping Fleck build respect and a reputation recruiting nationally.
I’m also wanting to know how last season truly has been able to set the path for this program in recruiting moving forward. Minnesota could soon emerge as the top contender in the Big Ten West, and that could be amplified if Fleck is able to have more success as a national recruiter in the Land of 10,000 Gophers.
Ramzy Nasrallah: Coach Boat, Jim Harbaugh is 56 years old. His father Jack retired from coaching at 62; we won’t count his post-retirement stints in San Diego and Stanford playing Coach Dad for Jimmy. You’re only 39. Can you pinky-swear promise that you’ll never, ever coach in Ann Arbor unless it’s to keep the Little Brown Jug in Minneapolis?
P.J. Fleck, Probably: "Michigan is an ELITE job but Minnesota is ELITE. Rowing the boat is ELITE. #ELITE"
Dan Hope: How would your team stack up in a hypothetical matchup with Ohio State?
Because Minnesota went 11-2 last season, it’s now realistic to talk about the Gophers as a legitimate Big Ten championship contender, especially considering they return nine starters from an offense? that was already one of the conference’s best last season. Winning the West is within reach – Wisconsin, who snuffed out the Gophers’ conference championship hopes in their regular season finale last year, should be their top competition in the division once again – but the bigger question is whether they’d have a real chance to beat Ohio State in a hypothetical Big Ten Championship Game matchup.
Minnesota has the reigning Big Ten Receiver of the Year in Rashod Bateman and arguably the conference’s second-best quarterback in Tanner Morgan, so the Gophers’ passing offense could potentially make them the toughest hypothetical opponent from the West for Ohio State, which enters 2020 with an inexperienced secondary outside of Shaun Wade. That said, would a Gophers defense that returns just four starters from last season have a prayer at slowing down Justin Fields and the Buckeyes’ offense?
There’s little doubt Ohio State would be favored in that matchup, but Fleck isn’t one to run away from a challenge, and I’d expect him to instill belief in his team that the Gophers are capable of winning a Big Ten title – even though Minnesota hasn’t been conference champion since 1967 and has won just two of its last 30 games against Ohio State, with its most recent win over the Buckeyes coming in 2000.
Matt Gutridge: Coach Fleck, Minnesota has shown strides of improvement each year with you at the helm. If you follow the same path that you had at Western Michigan, your gophers should be on track to win the Big Ten West this season. What do you attribute to your success at both programs?
P.J. Fleck, probably: “It’s all about H.Y.P.R.R. Not being hyper, but How, Yours, Process, Result and Respond.”
“The How is all about the people of an organization. How do you get the right people? Compare if the person is committed versus if they are interested. Last year, we faced Auburn in the Outback Bowl. The Tigers had 58 four-star players, we had five. On paper, we should have been blown out, yet we won 31-24. Why? Our kids were committed to the fight and to each other.”
(Note: Fleck’s unlimited charisma and enthusiasm were on full display with the answer above. He went on to explain the rest of his H.Y.P.R.R philosophy over the next 90 minutes. Unfortunately, Fleck’s energy caused my computer and tape recorder to crash and the transcript was lost.)