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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Gophers ranked in AP poll for first time since preseason 2020

Minnesota showed in Saturday’s 34-7 rout at Michigan State that even if the early schedule was soft, the team is not. The outcome of the Gophers’ Big Ten opener in East Lansing has more outsiders taking notice.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Michigan State
Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan looks for a receiver Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in the second quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. The Gophers won 34-7 and are now ranked in the Top 25 at No. 21.
Dale Young / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The volume is being turned up on the University of Minnesota football program.

That’s otherwise known as “outside noise” surrounding Minnesota’s team, according to head coach P.J. Fleck, and its source is what pundits, or pretty much any outsider, has to say about the squad in a subjective context.

It’s things such as: The Gophers’ three-game nonconference schedule to open the season was softer than a panda wearing a cashmere sweater.

Minnesota showed in Saturday’s 34-7 rout at Michigan State that even if the early schedule was soft, the team is not. The outcome of the Gophers’ Big Ten opener in East Lansing has more outsiders taking notice.

The Gophers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) were ranked Sunday in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since the 2020 preseason poll. After receiving fewer than 50 votes in each of the first four polls this season, Minnesota debuted Sunday at No. 21 with 288 votes.

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The USA Today/AFCA coaches poll put Minnesota at No. 23 in this week’s poll.

The volume has turned up, but it’s not necessarily loud.

If Minnesota beats Purdue (2-2, 0-1) in its Homecoming game on Saturday, and after the bye week, tops Illinois (3-1, 0-1) in Champaign on Oct. 15, then the sound will resemble decibels coming from bullhorn when Minnesota travels to Penn State on Oct. 22.

The Nittany Lions are ranked 11th in this week’s poll, and that game is set to be Happy Valley’s annual “white out” game played in prime time. Volume could reach 11 for that matchup.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Michigan State
Michigan State Spartans wide receiver Cade McDonald is swarmed by the University of Minnesota defense in the fourth quarter Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in East Lansing, Michigan.
Dale Young / USA Today Sports

Fleck will want nothing to do with looking ahead, but he doesn’t try to hide pride and hype from his players.

“They are going to hear it. I know that. I’m not dumb,” Fleck said Saturday in Spartan Stadium. “But we need the internal message to be way louder than the external message because everything from the external is (uncontrollable). It’s all what-ifs. It’s all circumstantial and subjective; everybody can have their opinion. What we need to do is make sure we have facts inside our walls.”

One fact has been Minnesota’s huge success on third down this season. The Gophers’ offense and defense both rank No. 1 in the nation statistically and are outpacing the team’s best marks in that category in years.

Fleck pointed to their huge success in that department against a Spartans team which was ranked 11th in the AP poll two weeks ago. Minnesota’s offense converted on 10 of 12 third downs against MSU, and the U’s defense allowed Michigan State to convert on only 2 of 8 third downs.

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The Gophers, meanwhile, turned down the racket this week on one burning question: Who will step up after the season-ending injury to No. 1 receiver Chris Autman-Bell?

Minnesota spread the ball out to 10 pass-catchers on Saturday, and Mike Brown-Stephens led the way with six receptions for 73 yards. Daniel Jackson, Dylan Wright and Brevyn Spann-Ford each caught three balls for at least 40 yards. Jackson had a pair of TDs.

MORE MINNESOTA GOPHERS COVERAGE:
With about 15 minutes of playing time each game, Minnesota’s freshmen are getting a crash course in big-time college basketball
P.J. Fleck’s program hasn’t yet won the Big Ten West, but it’s building a track record unseen since the 1960s
Mara Braun, who had a career-high 34 points and a buzzer-beater in a 101-99 victory over Lehigh, scored a game-high 27 points.
Six-year senior was named to all-Big Ten first team, but also lost conference award to Michigan's Blake Corum.
The award comes after a comeback season that saw the outside hitter lead the conference in kills per set (4.43) and points per set (449).
In September, Whalen was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Virginia Tech (7-1) was a 12-point favorite over Minnesota (4-3) and rolled to an easy victory.
Minnesota had aspirations to reach the Big Ten title game. But the Gophers lost crucial intra-division games to Purdue, Illinois and Iowa, and it cost them a Big Ten West championship.
The Gophers will be back in action on Wednesday, where they’ll take on Wake Forest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at 7 p.m. at The Barn.
Minnesota is the No. 2 seed in its region and will play Friday at Maturi Pavilion.

Fleck was asked Saturday if he expects more attention this week and revealed he will work filter it.

“You guys have had outside noise from the start,” Fleck told reporters. “That’s your job. You do a really good job of it. I love ya for it. It gives me something to talk to our team about.”

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This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
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