In college football, upsets happen every week.
When teams look past opponents who might be near the bottom of their division and look ahead to tougher opponents they’ll face in the coming weeks, it leaves them ripe for an unexpected loss that could derail their season.
This season, the Gophers haven't had that problem.
“You get one chance, and you have to find a way to be 1-0,” head coach P.J. Fleck said after upsetting No. 5 Penn State last Saturday.
Fleck has emphasized going 1-0 every week since the season began. It’s a mentality that he picked up from college coaching legend Jim Tressel while he was on his staff at Ohio State.
Fleck saw the pressure the coaching staff had to stay undefeated. A 11-1 record was treated as a disappointment because they had stumbled.
"I [had] just came from the 49ers and we were 2-14, 4-12, and now I'm coming into a national championship program [at Ohio State] ... a culture that's just tremendous, a national champion head coach," Fleck said of the drastic shift in mentality.
That mindset has stuck with Fleck throughout his coaching career, and it's something he has instilled in the culture at Minnesota: every week is championship week. This week, the Gophers travel to face the No. 23 Hawkeyes for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy in Iowa City, where they haven't won in 20 years.
“This is the biggest game of the year coming up against Iowa, period,” Fleck said on Tuesday. “It's the biggest game we played in. We are 0-0, and this is a one-game championship against Iowa.”
Fleck tells his team that they must have a championship mindset every week, but it doesn't work unless the players commit to it — and they have.
"It's something that we have totally bought into from the beginning of the season coming out of camp," said redshirt sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan. "It's just a mindset and a kind of a morale our team has really adopted and taken with us the entire season."
Treating every game like a championship has been key to the Gophers' success. Fleck allows his team to celebrate immediately following the game on Saturday, but on Sunday the team wipes their slate clean and focuses on their upcoming opponent. Even after coming off one of the biggest wins in Gophers history last Saturday over Penn State, the players kept the same mentality.
“We just got a huge win, obviously, that’s great. Celebrating on the field, celebrating in the locker room, ecstatic right now,” senior linebacker Carter Coughlin said after the game against Penn State. “The second tomorrow hits, that is over with. We’re going to be 100 percent focused on our next game, and that’s been our mindset this entire season. No matter who we’ve beaten every single week, we snap back and say, 'Alright it’s time to go put our oars in the water and go take it to whoever our opponent is.'"
Coming off of what might be the best game of his career, a game that would earn him the National Defensive Player of the Week award, redshirt sophomore safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was already thinking about the next game.
“Tomorrow we’re going to watch the film, and we’re back to 0-0. On to the next week,” Winfield said.
As Coughlin sat beside Winfield in their postgame press conference after beating Penn State, he reiterated the mantra that the rest of the team embraces: focusing on the future, forgetting about the past and beating a team he has never beat.
“We’ve got our eyes fixed on the goal, which is going 1-0 in the Iowa season, and we’re going to take care of business,” Coughlin said.