The Big Ten will play nine conference games this season for the first time since 1984. Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys isn’t a fan of the move.
“I said it before, I’d rather play 10 and have five (home) and five (away). I don’t like the idea of one year you have five at home and the next you have five on the road. It’s not easy winning on the road and I think that will play a part in what happens each year because of that. That’s my only problem with it,” he told reporters this week.
If Claeys had his way, the Golden Gophers would be facing a conference contest this week. Instead, they’ll host Colorado State of the Mountain West Saturday (11 a.m. CT, ESPNU).
Minnesota opened the season with home wins against Oregon State and Indiana State before receiving a bye last week. It’s scheduled to kick off the Big Ten campaign next Saturday at Penn State before welcoming rival Iowa to TCF Bank Stadium.
The Gophers shouldn’t get caught overlooking Colorado State. They just need to recall escaping Fort Collins with a 23-20 overtime win last year.
“Colorado State, I’m sure, felt like they gave one away a year ago,” Claeys said. “Coach (Mike) Bobo has done a great job. He’ll have them ready to play.”
Bobo is in his second season with the Rams after serving as Georgia’s offensive coordinator from 2007-’14. The Rams are 9-7 under his tutelage, including a 2-1 mark this year.
Colorado State opened the campaign getting shellacked by rival Colorado, 44-7. The Rams then switched quarterbacks, benching second-team all-league pick Nick Stevens and turning to true freshman Collin Hill. They’ve averaged 35 points the last two weeks in wins against San Antonio and Northern Colorado.
“I think they feel good about the quarterback they’ve got and they’re used to going places and playing people. I’m sure we’ll get their best and we’ll have to be ready to go,” Claeys said.
Last year, Colorado State led the Gophers 17-13 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Minnesota responded with the go-ahead touchdown with 55 seconds remaining in regulation, only to see the Rams drive for a game-tying field goal.
The Gophers forced a fumble on Colorado State’s first possession of overtime. They then kicked a field goal to win the game.
“That’s one we got away with,” Claeys said. “When you watch the film, I thought their offensive line handled us up front on the defense line, for the most part, and played harder. The same with their defense line getting after our offensive line. We definitely need to play better or it will be the same type of deal.”
Minnesota’s offense has taken a big step forward so far this season. The Gophers were last in the Big Ten in scoring at 19.7 points per game a year ago. They’ve kicked that number up to 44, good for third in the league.
Red zone efficiency is aiding the Minnesota cause. It’s nine of nine there, scoring touchdowns on every trip.
“We spend a lot of time in the red zone at practice. We do one live session each week in the red zone, ones on ones and twos on twos. Some people might not agree with that, but down there you get the intensity that you need,” Claeys said.
The coach said the staff didn’t change much during the bye week. The Gophers will proceed with what they do.
“We usually try to get guys back healthy and rested. Even those it’s only the second week, the bye weeks have taken on such a recruiting emphasis. We practiced twice and then we cranked it back up on Sunday,” Claeys said.
The focus has been on Colorado State and finishing off the non-conference part of the schedule on a high note. Fellow Big Ten West resident Iowa lost to North Dakota State last week and Wisconsin rallied late in escaping Georgia State.
Claeys knows his team can’t get caught looking ahead:
“We’ve done pretty good in the non-conference. Still, it’s based on winning. There’s others who couldn’t quite get it done. So, we’ve been able to get it done. But it’s always one at a time. That’s the challenge for everybody is to not get your teams to overlook one week to the next because everybody is capable of winning.”
The Gophers could have another big piece on offense Saturday. Claeys said said running back Shannon Brooks (broken foot), who led the team in rushing a year ago, has been cleared to play.
“We’ll see how he gets through practice, too. He really hasn’t practiced. If he’s sore, we won’t take a chance with him this week,” the coach said.