Illinois is headed to the great white north this weekend to face Minnesota. Our guest this week, Mark Mowery of the Daily Gopher, had a little attitude to him, but it still seems likely Minnesota will apologize to the Illini for not losing in more a polite way. Anyway, thanks to Mowery for his time, we appreciate it like we appreciate scotch tape (which was invented in Minnesota, don't ya know?).

Smile Politely: Are Minnesotans being overly friendly or have you really had a great coach that people truly like replace another great coach people truly like? It's hard for us Illini fans to understand what that might be like.

Mark Mowery: Minnesota has been overly friendly for a good part of the last five decades when it comes to football. They've given the gift of victories to their opponents in ways that are impossible to describe or comprehend. While people may have liked our former head coach Jerry Kill because of the kind of person he was and the way he went about his business and people seem to like current head coach Tracey Claeys for similar reasons, hopefully he turns out to be "not-so-nice" to our opponents and gets us some victories. Although, I will take small solace in knowing that regardless of the product on the field, neither Kill nor Claeys will every approach the lameness that was the Timmy Beckman era at Illinois.

SP: Does having seven claimed championships from before there was a consensus on a "National Champion" make Minnesota the Cleveland Browns (who have some vague "championships" but have not been to the Super Bowl) of the NCAA?

Mowery: An interesting analogy. Seeing as how the Illini haven't won a "national title" since 1951, it would appear that Illinois fans would know the best comparison for this particular lack of NCAA sanctioned national championships. Unlike for Browns fans, there appears to be an end in sight for the futility of Gopher football, with the program seemingly trending upwards. I don't think such a trend is occurring in Cleveland with Johnny Football at the helm and a team that appears to lack an identity. I must give credit where credit is due though and state that at least Illinois has a conference championship between the Nixon administration and current day.

SP: Why don't Illinois and Minnesota have a rivalry trophy? You guys fight over a broken chair with Nebraska but we can't even get some cheap pottery for the winner of our games to pretend to care about?

Mowery: No geographical borders? The fact that we have both been generally been terrible in recent memory? The complete and utter lack of any kind of important history between the two programs? We've been thrown into the West division together thanks to the greedy machines of realignment but that doesn't make either of the fanbases care about the other. Personally, having grown up in St. Louis, I have a very strong dislike for the Illini because I met too many obnoxious fans in my time. But the lack of trophy may be explained due to the indifference between the two schools or the fact that you don't have a mascot to get with Goldy the Gopher and make up a trophy that is awesome.

SP: Minnesota is in the midst of a stretch of 16 games with 10 ranked opponents. The Gophers' website says this is likely the hardest schedule the team has ever faced, which is mostly in anticipation of this weekend's game, correct?

Mowery: Obviously the upcoming game will take our strength of schedule (according to S&P+) from 2nd in the country to 12th in the NFL. The schedule has been most difficult but it has provided us plenty of opportunities to play a close game week in and week out and reminisce about all of our great moral victories on Sunday and Monday! On a serious note, the Illini defense is no joke and will be one of five top 10 defenses (according to S&P+) the Gophers will play this year so it will be a challenge in some regards this coming Saturday.

SP: Based on your site's recap of the Iowa game, it seems like most fans just wanted to complain about the refs. Is there a Big Ten-wide conspiracy against the Gophers that only Minnesotans have noticed?

Mowery: There is only one obvious answer to this question. Did we really land on the Moon? Of course not! Was JFK assassinated by LBJ and several communists in a plot to take over the world? Precisely. Is there a league wide conspiracy to de-rail a middle tier Big Ten team from going from not attending a bowl game to attending a mediocre bowl in Texas? Most definitely. The only explanation for the Gophers losing against Michigan at home, at Ohio State, and at Iowa in consecutive weeks is because we've been screwed by Big Ten refs. Some people might point to the fact that those teams are 6th, 5th, and 23rd in F/+ rating in the nation, two of those games were on the road, and the multiple injuries that the Gophers have incurred and say that those are more probable reasons but I think those people are crazy. Referees obviously have their own agendas when they step on the field and because some varmint dug up their 4th green at their country club, this season they decided they don't like furry rodents.

SP: Over-under 250 yards for Josh Ferguson this weekend with the Gophers' tackles out?

Mowery: Under. Come on man! God in the form of six-pack revealing, choo-choo train running, fast as lightning and can-do-no-wrong Ohio State Buckeye Ezekiel Elliott only ran for 114 yards against our defensive tackle-less defensive line. You think some scrub from a lame named place like Naperville is going to do what ZEKE couldn't? Child please! I'm sure since the two games' performances are completely unrelated means that we'll stop Ferguson before he hits the line of scrimmage every time he touches the ball. But really, I'm sure he'll break off some runs if the Gopher linebackers are caught sleeping. Like, literally. Only if they fall asleep on the field.

SP: After Jihad Ward eats Mitch Leidner will Minnesota have any offense left or will they just lay down on the field?

Mowery: Neither. The remaining offensive players will burrow beneath the ground, much like the very animal the team proudly proclaims as its mascot. Taking the ball underground will prove to be both a brilliant and poor strategy. While the Illinois defense will be unable to tackle Minnesota's offense, the time it takes to proceed towards the end zone will bring the game to a crawl and discourage the home fans from ever showing up for another home game again. When they finally decide it's time to attempt the game winning field goal in a 0-0 game, kicker Ryan Santoso will find it's much harder to kick from a hole than it is to kick from field level.

SP: Minnesota opened as the favorite in this game, list three reasons why this is incorrect?

Mowery:

  1. Minnesota is 4-6 and since win-loss record is the best evaluator in determining the winner of college football match-ups, Vegas most definitely should have favored the 5-5 Illini.
  2. Minnesota hasn't won a conference home game in over a year. It's like the bookies aren't even paying attention to the important stuff!
  3. Bill Cubit has been on the job more than three times longer than Tracy Claeys has which gives the Illinois an obvious advantage on the sidelines that can't be ignored while odds-making.

My prediction: Pain...

But seriously, it will be interesting to see how Minnesota's improving offense plays against a quality defense. Since it's at the Bank in Minneapolis, and the Gophers need a win to remain bowl eligible, I think they do just enough to get a victory. 20--17 Minnesota.

Illinois travels to Minnesota to take on the Gophers on Saturday at 11 am. The game will be televised on ESPN News. Images from SB Nation.