Power-5 prejudice exists in the media, and as the media goes, so does the public.
Can you think of a better reason why the Minnesota Golden Gophers would be a CFB betting favorite against the defending Mountain West champions this Saturday night?
The MWC is already making a case as the best Group-of-5 conference in FBS football this season. Hawaii beat Arizona in Week Zero, while Colorado State gave Colorado problems despite CSU having had a miserable campaign in 2018. Boise State walloped FSU with an epic comeback in Tallahassee.
Fresno State did not prevail over Southern Cal in Week 1. However, the Bulldogs proved their mettle in a game in which the smaller-conference upstart simply kept coming back for more no matter what. Only BYU’s dreary loss to Utah in the Holy War (and San Diego State’s curious lack of offense vs Weber St.) hurts the MWC’s mojo headed into the 2nd full weekend of the 2019 season.
The Bulldogs are an upper-tier Power-5 level squad and so are the Boise Blue. So why would 1 of those 2 teams be a Las Vegas underdog against a mid-level Big Ten opponent?
At this point, your guess is as good as mine. Let’s try looking a little deeper.
Who: Minnesota Golden Gophers at Fresno State Bulldogs
When: Saturday, September 7th, 10:30 PM EST
Where: Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, CA
Lines: Fresno (+2) at MINN (-2) / O/U Total: (48.5)
P.J. Fleck’s Golden Gophers have pulled off a few impressive wins over the program’s last several games dating back to 2018. Minnesota beat Indiana in October, clobbered Purdue in November, beat Wisconsin on Thanksgiving weekend, and rudely dismissed Georgia Tech in Paul Johnson’s final game coaching the Yellow Jackets.
But could the success be at least in-part a mirage? Purdue was a wildly inconsistent team in ’18, peaking in mid-season and failing to follow-up on an upset defeat of Ohio State. Minnesota was also beaten badly by a sorry Illinois program in November, helping buy Lovie Smith a few more losses…erm, games as the Fighting Illini’s skipper.
The Gophers labored to put away FCS opponent South Dakota State in Week 1 of 2019 as QB Tanner Morgan had a rather ordinary performance. Rodney Smith rushed for almost 100 yards, but the ground game mostly plodded along. WR Rashod Bateman saved the day with a monster outing, but the Gophers gave up a healthy amount of rushing yards to the visiting Jackrabbits, thanks to a muddled picture at LB:
With Kamal Martin suspended and Blake Cashman graduated, sophomores Thomas Rush and Mariano Sori-Marin made their first starts alongside middle linebacker Thomas Barber last week. Fleck rated the group’s play as average. “I thought they played hard,” he said. “Just didn’t play the system correctly at times, which hurt us.” Barber made five tackles, Rush and Sori-Marin had two apiece. Redshirt freshman Braelen Oliver, who played in two games last year, had one tackle. Collectively, they missed assignments to give up big plays and sometimes struggled to line up in the right spots. “Like Coach Fleck (said), we didn’t have our best game at all,” Barber said.
Martin, who has played in 37 games at the U, will return for Saturday’s game at Fresno State.
As for Fresno State, there are so many positives to take away from the program’s previous 3 games – a snowy win over Boise State, a bowl win over Arizona State, and a close-shave loss to USC – that it’s hard to know where to begin. The box score makes it look as though Southern Cal ran-up a big lead and then coasted to the finish line last Friday, but that’s not how the 2nd half played out at all.
Jorge Reyna has established himself as a legitimate dual-threat QB on an elite FBS level, and while the pass protection didn’t always keep him clean in the pocket, Minnesota’s edge-rush isn’t likely to be as fierce as the Trojans’ front-7. Fresno averaged 5+ yards per carry, limited USC’s ground game, and intercepted J.T. Daniels twice in the losing effort.
Finally it must be pointed out that the Power-5 is doing a fair bit of traveling for OOC play this season – Fresno State would probably be a true underdog (or a true toss-up) against Minnesota on the road.
But given that Saturday night’s scrum is at Bulldog Stadium, there is simply no objective reason to consider the Bulldogs a real-life underdog against the Golden Gophers…except that the Gophers are coached by P.J. Fleck and play in the Big Ten. Forget the steps forward that Minnesota has been taking – Fresno State is already leaps and bounds ahead of Fleck’s progress thanks to Jeff Tedford’s excellent leadership.
Try an experiment. Write down “Fresno State 35, Minnesota 17” on a piece of paper and yell “Big Ten!” and “P.J. Fleck!” at it to see if it changes.
Hint: it won’t. I’m loving a double-unit wager on Fresno-to-cover or Bulldogs on the moneyline.