The Twins did their job. They contended until the start of football season. They are hereby dismissed.
On Saturday, the Gophers football team improved to 2-0 with a second shellacking of an inferior opponent while their Big Ten West opponents imploded.
On Sunday, the Twins began a crucial game at 1:10 p.m. at Target Field. By the time the Vikings received the first kickoff of their season, a few blocks away at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Twins were on their way to a third straight loss and a 4½-game deficit in the American League Central.
When the Vikings easily defeated Green Bay, 23-7, they joined the Gophers in raising pulses and expectations, in part thanks to the failures of their primary rivals.
The Gophers and Vikings have in common young, enthusiastic head coaches with an offensive background, copious skill-position talent and what currently appears to be an open road to the postseason.
Their schedules look far less daunting than they did even a week ago.
Wisconsin was widely thought to be the best team in the Big Ten West. Saturday, Wisconsin lost at home to Washington State, which has reached double-digit victories once since 2003.
Iowa has scored 14 points over two games — a 7-3 victory over South Dakota State and a 10-7 loss to Iowa State. Nebraska, rumored to once have been a football school, fired head coach Scott Frost on Sunday instead of waiting until Oct. 1, when his buyout would have been reduced by $7.5 million. Northwestern lost at home to Duke.
As their rivals have withered, the Gophers have enjoyed two practice games against unworthy opponents. They have outscored their invited directional schools 100-10 and will face a lousy Colorado team on Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium. They will be 3-0 entering Big Ten play, and they should become the new favorites in the Big Ten West.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck is going to hate the previous paragraph.
“That’s what this job is about,” he said Monday. “It’s about thinking, and thought. It’s a job of being very proactive and looking around every single corner and it’s a job of fighting human nature. That’s the job, in my opinion, of a head coach.
“I don’t think they [players] can block it out. Because it’s a constant all around them, and it’s on their phone, it’s around all of you [media.] … So you’re gonna hear it, that’s fine. But when you hear it, do you not listen to it? Because when you listen to it, then it becomes your own way of thinking.”
The Vikings’ second game will provide a different test from their first. They’ll play Monday against a running quarterback, on the road, in a disgustingly hostile and inevitably alcohol-saturated environment in Philadelphia.
If the Vikings win that one, they could be looking at an extended winning streak. After Philadelphia, their following opponents are Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, Miami, Arizona and Washington. The Vikings will either be favored or have a fighting chance in each of those games. Their next truly daunting opponent is the Bills, in Buffalo, on Nov. 13.
If the Packers receivers don’t improve quickly, and if the Packers defense chooses not to cover great receivers like Justin Jefferson, the Vikings, like the Gophers, might find their division unexpectedly winnable.
Both teams have marked advantages over their rivals from Wisconsin.
The Gophers have a number of overclassmen — fifth- and sixth-year seniors. Their running back, Mo Ibrahim, might be the best player in the conference.
The Vikings have three receivers better than the Packers’ best receiver, and one of them is Justin Jefferson, perhaps the NFL’s player of the week.
Does an important early victory alter the Vikings’ expectations?
“Honestly, I think what it does is makes you home in a little bit more this week,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “We’re going to start putting a target on our backs.”