Gophers

Minnesota Golden Gophers teammates hold up the Governor Liberty Bell trophy after defeating the Penn State Nittany Lions at TCF Bank Stadium Saturday, Nov. 9. Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS-- The Minnesota Golden Gophers football program climbed nine spots to No. 8 in the latest College Football Playoff ranking Tuesday, Nov. 12, but how they got there and why they didn’t go higher is a bigger unknown.

On a macro level, it’s clear to see how Minnesota made the biggest jump in the ranking. When ranked 17th, the Gophers knocked off No. 4 Penn State, 31-26, on Saturday. The Gophers never trailed and led by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter, before staving off a Nittany Lions comeback.

On a micro scale, it’s more difficult to decipher how the Gophers (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) stack up with four programs they trail in the rankings: No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 Alabama, No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Utah. Each are 8-1.

The CFP’s 13-member committee ranks the top three teams first, followed by the next pool of six teams, including Minnesota, for spots No. 4 to 6 and so on.

But CFP committee chairman Rob Mullens is recused from the discussion because he’s Oregon’s Athletics Director and the Ducks are part of that pool. So, Mullens, the CFP’s primary spokesperson, couldn’t speak Tuesday directly to how Minnesota stacks up with those teams.

“When you are looking at Minnesota, their schedule (pre-Penn State) was a concern, particularly their nonconference schedule, and just as it laid out up through Week 10, they had only played one team in their league that had a winning record (Illinois),” Mullens said in a conference call with reporters. “But the added win against Penn State, obviously, impressed the committee.”

ESPN commentator David Pollock and Kirk Herbstreit felt like Minnesota should have climbed to about No. 6.

Pollack called Minnesota’s win over Penn State an “amazing performance” and noted they have been a team “rising consistently,” with four blowout Big Ten wins in the month preceding Saturday’s win.

Mullens said “we start with a clean sheet of paper every week,” and Minnesota’s win over previously fourth-ranked Penn State “jumped a lot of teams.” But Mullens also said they look at each team’s season resumes.

Mullens was asked if Alabama, which lost to new No. 1 Louisiana State last week, was put up against Minnesota in the discussion, and again Mullens couldn’t answer because he was out of the room.

Bill Hancock, the CFP’s executive director, was later asked if a secondary spokesperson would be able to add questions because of Mullen’s recusal and he said they were exploring that for later in the season.

Last week, Minnesota’s 17th ranking came behind four one-loss teams and with six two-losses. After that lower ranking, Fleck said he would take note of it and share their placement with his players before the Penn State game.

Gophers safety Antoine Winfield Jr., shared Tuesday afternoon that they take their own approach.

“We know, within our four walls, we’re No. 1,” Winfield said. “So we just kind of addressed it like that, and we just know that we’ve got to continue to get better day in and day out.”

That present-day mindset rolls into Saturday when Minnesota plays No. 20 Iowa (6-3, 3-3) at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The Gophers then faces last-place Northwestern (1-8, 0-7) next week in Evanston and welcome No. 14 Wisconsin (7-2, 4-2) to TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 30.

The Hawkeyes slipped two spots in the CFP ranking after losing 24-22 Saturday to the Badgers, which went done one spot because the Gophers leapfrogged jumped them and many others.

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