Fear the Wolverine? Fear the Turtle? Fear the Gopher? Strange Times in Big Ten

Maryland wounded. Minnesota showing bite. But nobody messed with wolverine. Unique mascots and other ups and downs.

The rest of the nation can have its Tigers and Bulldogs and Huskies. The Big Ten likes unique mascots. Especially the kind that, if they happen to be roadkill, as Rankman likes to point out, no tears would be shed.

Footnote: When Rankman says this, he quotes our friend Andy Bagnato, who was a Chicago Tribune sportswriter before he grew up. Then again, Bags is a Wildcat, Big Ten version. As opposed to the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and various other versions.

Proud to say, the only other Badger nickname I’ve seen was on a golf hole at the Dukes course, in the hills above St. Andrews.

Mark Harmon, the actor/ex-UCLA quarterback, told a fine story about his father, Tom Harmon, a Michigan legend who broke Red Grange's touchdown record shortly before World War II.

In those days, Michigan had a caged wolverine in the tunnel, Tom told his son. It was so mean and snarly, though, that the players refused to go past it. And so, it had to be removed.

That, boys and girls, is why we don’t have live badgers, gophers, wolverines etc. in the modern era.

FEAR THE TURTLE?

Which brings us to more Week 5 fallout: Going into last weekend, we were thinking, ``Fear the Turtle.’’

Coming out, we are thinking, ``Fear the Gopher?’’

Reports that Maryland—conqueror of mighty ranked Syracuse in a blowout—was ready to join the Haves of the Big Ten were put to rest in a 59-0 rout administered by Penn State. For now, the Terrapins remain Have Nots.

Terps QB Josh Jackson, the Virginia Tech transfer who excelled when Maryland pounded Howard and Syracuse by a combined 142-20 in its first two games, needs to read defenses better and stay out of interceptions.

For all their flaws, the Terrapins play at Rutgers, at Purdue and against Indiana the next three weeks. Good efforts could bring good results. Then again, Maryland can lose any of those games. Saturday’s trip to troubled Rutgers, with an interim coach and pent-up emotions, is a dangerous assignment.

Here’s another possibility, which is very real: Penn State is the real deal. If the young quarterback, sophomore Sean Clifford, can keep the offense firing, the defense is stout enough that Ohio State had better be ready—even though the storyline has been dominated by Michigan-Ohio State chatter.

Close readers of TMG may recall that in our pre-season Sweet 16 rankings, I told you that Wisconsin—not Nebraska—was the best bet in the West. And that Penn State—not Michigan—was the chief threat to Ohio State in the East.

You’re welcome.

HOW ‘BOUT THE GOPHER?

But what about Minnesota? The Gophers, who held on at Purdue 38-31 after leading 38-17 on Saturday, are 4-0 for the first time since 2013. They are 4-0 including a Big Ten win, for the first time since 2005, when they also beat Purdue in their league opener.

What happened the rest of the way? Minnesota went 3-5 and finished 7-5.

Kudoes to P.J. Fleck for a fine start. But I want to see more. The win at Purdue, I suspect, was more of a comment on the Boilermakers than the Gophers.

And speaking of boilermakers, talk about a unique nickname. How many schools cut to the chase (chaser?) with a nickname that gets you a shot poured into a beer in bars across America?

Will this be another fine start the ends up 7-5 for the Gophers, who are much better at navigating non-conference schedules than Big Ten slate?

The Twin Cities is abuzz with talk that Minnesota could get to 8-0 against Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland before it faces Penn State in its ninth game.

I’m not ready to go there. Let’s remember that the Gophers trailed in the fourth quarter of all of their non-conference games (South Dakota State, Fresno State, Georgia Southern) before they rowed the boat successfully.

And let’s not forget that Illinois beat Minnesota 55-31 last year in Champaign. Or that Nebraska beat Minnesota 53-28 last year in Lincoln. Or that Maryland beat Minnesota 42-13 in College Park last year.

Yeah, the Gophers get all of those teams at home this year. But that’s a lot of payback. If they can get to 6-2, that would be an accomplishment. More than that, and hats off to P.J. Fleck and his gritty Gophers.

If the Gophers manage any more wins against their November quartet (Penn State, at Iowa, at Northwestern, Wisconsin), that would be very impressive.

As I wrote in 2011 when Illinois started 6-0 under Ron Zook and finished 6-6 with a loss at Minnesota: ``Six of one. Half a dozen of the other.’’

We’ll see if the Gophers can top that.

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