Minnesota Golden Gophers Improve to 4-0; Is It Time to Take Them Seriously?

Mark MillerCorrespondent ISeptember 23, 2012

Sept 22, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Donnell Kirkwood (20) celebrates with offensive linesman Ed Olson (58) and fullback Mike Henry (30) after scoring a touchdown in the second half against the Syracuse Orange at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers won 17-10. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Heading into play on the University of Minnesota's campus this Saturday, the Golden Gopher football team faced what could very well be a turning point in the school's program.

With a 3-0 record heading into the game, the Gophers still faced a great deal of skepticism as their opposition wasn't enough to turn the heads of the football world.

The Golden Gopher athletic department did everything in its power to put fans in the stands for the team's first primetime matchup of the season, and it worked.

A sellout crowd of 50,805 was on hand Saturday night, and while the Syracuse Orange came into the weekend with a 1-2 record, they had put up admirable efforts against Northwestern and USC in losing efforts, so the Gophers knew the game couldn't be taken lightly.

Senior quarterback MarQueis Gray was as expected sidelined this weekend with a high ankle sprain, but with sophomore Max Shortell putting forth a solid effort last week in fill-in duty, there was plenty of reason to believe he could do the job again.

Shortell wouldn't post numbers that in any way resembled the three touchdown effort from the prior week, but his 16-for-30 passing night (231 yards) proved to be enough, as the Gophers defense would steal the show, forcing five turnovers in a 17-10 victory.

With that, the Gophers now head into conference play with a win total already exceeding their 2011 record, and a fanbase ready for something big.

The Big Ten conference appears to be down this year, so while the nonconference results can't be disputed, the proceedings of the rest of the season can be looked at in two ways.

For those on board with what Minnesota brings to the table, second-year head coach Jerry Kill could finally have brought the winning back to campus, and for the others, success could just be a result of lackluster competition in the conference, something that won't ever last in a BCS conference like the Big Ten.

Having suffered numerous losing seasons in recent years, the Gophers won't complain either way, as they head to Kinnick Stadium next weekend to take on the struggling Iowa Hawkeyes before entering their bye week, which will certainly be a welcome sight for a team looking to get healthy before the home stretch.

No matter what the end result ends up being, the pride associated with finally winning games on a regular basis is something that Gopher fans hope they can get used to.