Can the Gophers actually make the College Football Playoff?

It's the best start to a Gopher football season in 115 years.
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The Minnesota Golden Gophers' season is beginning to reach surreal proportions. After struggling to beat South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern early in the year, the Gophers picked up a victory over fourth-ranked Penn State on Saturday and reached 9-0 for the first time since 1904.

If the best start to a Gopher football season in 115 years isn't enough to get you excited, the possibility of Minnesota rowing the boat all the way into the College Football Playoff for the first time is something that is straight out of a college football video game (that is, if such a thing still existed).

But instead of turning off our Xbox 360, the Gophers have a dark horse chance of entering the field of four to compete with for a national championship. 

With three (and hopefully four) games remaining on the schedule, could the Gophers crash the party of college football's elite? That will be determined in the final four weeks.

Nov. 16 at No. 18 Iowa (6-3)

Why they can win: With a 6-3 record, Iowa looks like an impressive team even after falling to Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon. However, they've had a tough time in big games. While Iowa looked like title contenders by teeing off on Miami (not the good one) and Middle Tennessee State, they've scored a total of 37 points (12.3 PPG) in their three games against ranked opponents. With the Gophers likely becoming a top-ten team in the next CFP rankings, they should be the favorites based on Iowa's performance in big games to date.

Why they won't win: Kinnick Stadium is one of the more intimidating venues in college football. While they no longer have a pink locker room to welcome their visitors, they do have a series advantage over the Gophers at home. It's been 20 years since Minnesota claimed Floyd of Rosedale in Iowa City and that could spell a classic letdown game that would be too familiar for Minnesota sports fans.

Nov. 23 at Northwestern (1-8)

Why they can win: Northwestern is bad. Not just kind of bad. They're really bad. Just how bad you ask?

This of course came after Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald gave out his email to seek help from "Twitter experts" earlier this season. With their coach having an ego crisis and their team having a fear of the end zone (except when they scored 15 points against Wisconsin), this should be a win for the Gophers.

Why they would lose: I repeat, Northwestern is bad. Everything in Minnesota sports says that this should be a spot where the Gophers lose, but the Wildcats are light years away from where the Gophers are currently at.

Nov. 30 vs. No. 13 Wisconsin (7-2)

Why they can win: The key to beating the Badgers this year has been stopping Jonathan Taylor and making quarterback Jack Coan beat you. The senior's stats include a 74.5 completion percentage and a 12:3 TD to INT ratio, but he doesn't have the same "take over the game" quality that several other quarterbacks in the Big Ten have. With the game also being played at TCF Bank Stadium, the Gophers could have another rowdy crowd if they walk into this game with an 11-0 record.

Why they won't win: Jonathan Taylor is as good as Northwestern is bad. The Badgers' junior has racked up 1,259 yards and 19 total touchdowns in nine games this season and for a team that coughed up 124 yards and two touchdowns to Journey Brown on Saturday, that could spell disaster. 

Also, the Badgers have the nation's seventh-ranked defense allowing just 12.6 points per game. Add in the fact they'll probably be ornery after losing Paul Bunyan's Axe last year and Bucky will be in full spoiler mode even if they're out of the Big Ten West race.

Dec. 7: Big Ten Championship Game

Why they can win: In this scenario, the Gophers' likely opponent would be No. 1 Ohio State. The Buckeyes are currently first in the CFP rankings and with Justin Fields, J.K. Dobbins and a plethora of weapons, Ohio State has scored 51 points per game while allowing 8.6 points per game, both tops in the nation. 

If we're looking for a positive here, the Buckeyes are currently petitioning the NCAA over the availability for stud defensive end Chase Young. An early report says that Young will have a four-game suspension for having the audacity to have his sister in attendance at the Rose Bowl, but since it's the NCAA maybe they'll really try to put the hammer down, increase the suspension and give Minnesota at least one advantage.

Why they won't win: Ohio State is the best team in the nation and it isn't even a debate. While teams like Clemson, LSU and maybe a second tier can give them a run for their money, it's a valid question as to whether the Gophers could hang with a team that has dominated everyone they've run into so far. 

That being said, you could use the "they haven't played anyone" argument with just two ranked opponents on their schedule, but they routed No. 20 Cincinnati and No. 13 Wisconsin by a combined score of 80-7. The Gophers did compete with the Buckeyes in Colombus last season, falling 30-14, but both teams are completely different from that meeting and could lay out a much different story should they meet in the title game.

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