Take Two: Can Fleck turn Minnesota into a contender?
Take Two returns with a daily offering tackling a handful of issues in the college football landscape. Rivals.com National Recruiting Analyst Adam Gorney lays out the situation and then receives takes from Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell and a local expert from the Rivals.com network of team sites.
Minnesota narrowly missed a bowl appearance in coach P.J. Fleck’s first season, but he did not necessarily finish all that well with a 39-0 loss to Northwestern followed by a 31-0 defeat to Wisconsin to wrap up the regular season.
Recruiting has also seen a dramatic uptick in the last week, as Minnesota added more than 1,000 pounds of beef to its offensive line with commitments from JUCO Jason Dickson, a former UCLA commit, and Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy standouts Curtis Dunlap, formerly a Florida pledge, and Daniel Faalele. The Golden Gophers have also recently landed JUCO QB Vic Viramontes, who started his career at Cal.
Minnesota currently holds the sixth-best recruiting class in the Big Ten, tops in the West Division.
Can Fleck, who turned around a moribund Western Michigan program into a 13-1 juggernaut, make Minnesota a meaningful contender in the Big Ten West? Or are the Golden Gophers destined to always be an also-ran in a conference loaded with superior teams?
FIRST TAKE: MATT JESSEN-HOWARD, THEGOPHERREPORT.COM
“This was very much a Year One - or Year Zero as he likes to call it - for P.J. Fleck.
"The Gophers narrowly missed a bowl game, but Fleck feels confident about the progress he’s made building his culture, and recruiting is the best it’s been in a decade. So for a program that’s historically recruited poorly and coming off a year with an off-field incident that hit national headlines, that’s absolutely progress. Contending for a Big Ten West title is likely still a couple years away, but most in the fan base are of the opinion that if he could lead Western Michigan to a 13-1 record, he’ll lead Minnesota to national relevancy, as well.
“Minnesota faces similar challenges to Iowa and Wisconsin in that they’re able to recruit very well from their own states, but the states generally produce less than half the Power Five talent needed to assemble a recruiting class. So it’s crucial to have recruiting success out of state. In that sense, I don’t think these three programs are very different from many other Power Five programs in small- or mid-sized states. The stability and competence at Wisconsin, led by Barry Alvarez, and Iowa, led by Kirk Ferentz, have bred success. The recipe for success at Minnesota is similar, even if the styles are different: Fleck is hoping to instill a stable, winning culture that’s both unique to him and nationally known.”
SECOND TAKE: MIKE FARRELL, RIVALS.COM
“I don’t see the Golden Gophers as an emerging power. They don’t have the recruiting base or the tradition. At least with Nebraska, you have the tradition to sell. From all accounts, my assumption is that Dunlap was dropped by Florida. Faalele didn’t have a ton of options, as far as major options down South. They did a good job of getting two high-profile offensive linemen, both of whom are very, very big - but I don’t think it’s a symbol they’re going to start recruiting IMG consistently or that they’re going to start recruiting the state of Florida and landing four-stars every year.
“With the disadvantage they have geographically and the lack of a winning tradition, it’s going to be tough for them to push through and win the West. I don’t know how long Fleck’s going to stay. He might be there forever. I don’t know if anyone really knows. He was a hot coach that was looking for a Power Five job, and he got that. There’s nothing to say anybody is going to go out there and try to steal him away. He has to prove he can be a winner at this level now before we can think about him taking another job.”