Man, I used to hate Minnesota.
Back when Glen Mason was coaching the Gophers, they were hateable in a "look at those incompetent bozos with their smug superiority let's punch them in the face" sort of way. It's typical Iowa-Minnesota stuff; the reason that Hayden Fry's Minnesota story remains the best story ever told is that Look-How-Smart-We-Are Minnesota couldn't count to twelve.
Minnesota was the program that couldn't win a game where all it had to do was execute a punt. And things like that happened with such frequency that Minnesota was absolutely mockable but not quite hateable. And yes, there is a difference.
It was Tim Brewster that made Minnesota truly loathsome. Brewster's massive pile of horseshit, whether it be Vince Young or the Denver Broncos or Minnesota's illustrious tradition or Hayo Carpenter or whatever other shiny object he tried to dangle in front of Gopher fans, was only outdone by his results. He was all sizzle, no steak, and obviously that from the first day. It was, in sum, the perfect hire for everyone who had an inclination to hate Minnesota. And it worked marvelously. Everyone hated Minnesota during the Brewster era. Shit, Kirk Ferentz hated them, and we somehow can't get Kirk to hate anyone but Dantonio and whoever is coaching Ohio State. Kirk hung 55 on him in the last game at the Metrodome, a particular level of indignity he saves only for those he truly despises. The next year, Kirk posted 12 points and dared Minnesota to match it, like he'd put a battery on his shoulder and dared Brewser to knock it off.
When Brewster left and was replaced by Jerry Kill, precisely the sort of meat-and-potatoes guy Iowa fans are genetically predisposed to like, it threw the entire world upside down. Here was a win-the-right-way no-nonsense coach, a coach who immediately disposed of the Brewster hype machine and went to work building a program from the ground up. He correctly identified what Minnesota could be good at -- recruiting linemen and halfbacks and running the damn ball -- and installed it immediately. No longer would Minnesota lurch from one fad offense to another. In fact, the Gophers are about as out-of-fashion as Iowa is at the moment, their only saving grace being an occasional dalliance with the zone read option. Humbert called it correctly on last night's podcast: While Minnesota fans might be obsessed with emulating Wisconsin's iso/trap/power running game, it's Iowa's zone scheme that is Minnesota's actual current philosophical match. The Gophers are primarily based on the inside zone (as opposed to Iowa's outside zone) but the theory is the same.
Defensively, Minnesota is reliant on a longtime coordinator who is massively underpaid and always seems to build a solid gameplan that more than makes up for an occasionally-horrific offense. Tracy Claeys might not be Norm Parker, but his ability to build a top-notch secondary out of spare parts certainly draws comparisons to Phil. Minnesota's defense is fairly simple, straightforward base coverage with enough wrinkles to keep offenses honest but nothing so fancy as to draw attention. You've seen this same thing for the last 15 years.
Minnesota's favorable comparison to Iowa extends to personnel. David Cobb, with each of his 230 pounds carrying its own low center of gravity, is a running back's running back, a bowling ball with vision to see through the pins. Jacobi said he reminds him of Shonn Greene, and it's easy to see why, but there is more than a little Adam Robinson in that frame. The Gophers' secondary looks like Iowa's, a bunch of overlooked Midwestern kids who wanted to play at Ohio State and only got an offer from Ohio. They are big and slow up front, and that suits them just fine, thank you very much.
Iowa plays at Minnesota for the fourth time in the last five years Saturday, and Minnesota students will chant how they hate Iowa while watching a team that clearly admires Iowa quite a bit but might hate them anyway just because they're Iowa. The last two years, Iowa has looked at its still-developing cousin, smiled, and punched it in the teeth, a showing of brute force done in large part to show KIll and the Gophers just how far they still had to go. Can Iowa summon that thing that it had the last two years (and that it found again last week) and hate the somewhat-likable once more? Can they absorb the WHO HATES IOWA and respond that they hate this Iowa, so long as Iowa is wearing ugly maroon and yellow uniforms with an upside-down W on the helmet.
All else being equal, Iowa is the better team, and when the philosophy and talent are roughly equal, the only real question is motivation. If Iowa matches Minnesota there, a Big Ten West title is still in reach. Fail at that, and it could quickly turn into another inexplicable Iowa rivalry loss.