Some Gophers football players put on black sunglasses when they went inside their locker room at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill., on Saturday. After the 41-14 win over Northwestern, a few players even kept them on for the plane ride to Minnesota.
They weren’t looking for UV light protection, and fashion wasn’t their motivation, either. The shades symbolize how they are trying to view their season.
“Block out the external,” head coach P.J. Fleck said.
On Friday nights before games, Fleck goes around to players’ hotel rooms with a message and a little trinket gift. Last week, it was a pair of Blade sunglasses to serve as a metaphor to not be distracted by the brighter lights shone on the program.
That spotlight increased Tuesday when Minnesota (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten) debuted at No. 20 in the College Football Playoff ranking. While Minnesota is a 15-point favorite against Illinois (3-6, 2-4) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium, the rankings tease what lies ahead: rivalry games versus No. 21 Wisconsin on Nov. 27 and No. 22 Iowa on Nov. 13.
On a four-game winning streak, Minnesota wants to block out human nature’s desire to look ahead, instead of focusing on the present. But some national reporters are questioning the U’s current spot in the CFP poll.
“Not sure how Minnesota gets ranked,” ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg tweeted. The Athletic’s Chris Vannini said: “Minnesota has one win over a team with a winning record (Purdue) and a loss to Bowling Green. No. 20.”
The Gophers, dragged down by that upset loss to Bowling Green in September, have yet to crack the rankings in the Associated Press or coaches’ polls, but with their current hot streak, they did receive a season-high amount of points in both polls after the blowout of Northwestern.
The U program, which officially embraced the No. 20 spot in social media posts, tries not to put too much stock in any of that. When they take the field to face the Illini on Saturday, one player will be holding a shield, and it’s the same idea as the sunglasses.
“External vs. internal,” Fleck said. “The shield protects the internal. That is what the shield was invented for. … The invention of the shield and how far ago that was and why and how. … if you are out-numbered and maybe don’t have what somebody else has, if you put your shields together, with creativity and other types of things, you can move forward.”
Fleck said on his KFAN radio show that running back Bryce Williams (leg) had surgery on Tuesday and that first-year freshman defensive back Jordan Nubin, the younger brother of starting safety Tyler Nubin, has been working at tailback in practice. He is a contingency play along with linebacker Derik LeCaptain behind the two remaining scholarship RBs, Mar’Keise Irving and Ky Thomas. K.J. Moore, an East Ridge alum, is also on the depth chart.