Souhan: Gophers Bowl could be first step towards something bigger in 2022

The Gophers play in one of the best non-New Years bowls on Tuesday.

They face a named opponent, West Virginia, and the name of the bowl – the Guaranteed Rate Bowl – isn’t as embarrassing as most New Age sponsor names that make the host city seem like they’ve lost a bet. .

The game will be a fair reward for a group of college athletes who have put a lot of effort into building a profitable football team for the benefit of others, and they should be paid in cash.

A hot-weather bowl game doesn’t equal a paycheck, but it’s better than the alternative, which isn’t playing a hot-weather bowl game.

For the team’s many veterans, including the 12th-year seniors on the offensive line, this bowl game is what the Minnesotans might call a pretty good deal, then. It’s a victory lap for a series of teams that made history in 2019 and came together to make the 2021 season a success.

This game could also be more than that – something much more promising. This game could be the first step towards building another big winner in 2022, building another team that could accomplish what the 2019 team did and become a national story.

Running back Mo Ibrahim will return in 2022, and he could have claimed the Heisman Trophy this year had he been in good health.

Receiver Chris Autman-Bell will be back. Quarterback Tanner Morgan too.

This is the veterans’ base for a dynamic attack, especially as Gophers coach PJ Fleck made the wise decision to bring back former offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca.

Ciarrocca helped Morgan, Ibrahim, Autman-Bell and two NFL-caliber receivers – Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson – claim an Outback Bowl victory and a Top 10 ranking in 2019.

The easy explanation for Morgan’s two-year crisis after that bowl victory was the loss of Bateman and Johnson. There is some truth to this, but the loss of two receivers does not explain the worsening of the throwing mechanics and the noticeable indecision.

As Morgan matured, he should have gotten better in the pocket, better at making decisions, and precise enough to improve his current receivers. That didn’t happen, not under Ciarrocca’s successor Mike Sanford.

Ciarrocca should be able to bring Morgan back to the role of high game manager, if not the rising star he appeared to be in 2019.

The quartet of Ciarrocca, Ibrahim, Morgan and Autman-Bell are set to make the Gophers formidable in 2022, and we’ll get a first look at what that might look like, minus Ibrahim, on Tuesday against West Virginia.

Gophers coach PJ Fleck could use a 2019 pickup. He promised great things when he took on the Minnesota job, before starting to talk about “zero” years and other nonsense about it. kind.

It is usually delivered. He’s 34-23 overall, 2-0 in bowl games and 21-22 in Big Ten. He is also 16-9 in the conference for the past three years.

It’s a good resume for a school that has struggled to consistently compete in the Big Ten.

To live up to his own goals, however, Fleck will need to have more Outback Bowl moments, and even an impressive victory Tuesday in Phoenix will not qualify.

Fleck did the right thing by bringing Ciarrocca back. Next year he will have a lot of talent for skill positions. He will be in his sixth season at Minnesota, which means his recruiting should pay off, if his rookies are as good as advertised. Tuesday’s game could therefore be more of a preview than a criticism.

Gopher Elders should enjoy their time in Arizona this week. Those who return for next season could use today to hint at something even better on the horizon for 2022.

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