Taking stock of the Big East and SU's play this past weekend, we just might have a better shot at a bowl than we originally thought. First of all, we looked serviceable.
Pros: Paulus is clearly no gimmick, but a solid leader with a better arm than people were predicting. Our running-backs look strong (not a surprise however). Mike Williams dropped a couple, but I like to think that won't last. And our defense got after people. Aside from big plays to Decker, the D really stepped up. Running the ball proved difficult for the Gophers and our line was able to get pretty good pressure throughout the game.
Cons: Our OL, while not as bad as I feared they'd be, was not all that great. Paulus had to scramble more often than he should have and our running-backs usually had to work for their yards. Lemon looked ok, but really, aside from Williams, our receivers aren't scary. Mike Owen didn't impress and with Provo hurt, our TE situation is iffy. Having quality TEs would do wonders for the other receivers. Holmes is the real deal, but it remains to be seen just how good anyone else on the secondary is ready to be.
If we were gonna win 6 (or even 5) games, Minnesota had to be one of those wins. That was the thinking before this weekend I feel. Well, that may still prove true, but I think I like our odds a bit more now. If we beat Akron and Maine (and after seeing the team in action I think we will) that means we need 4 wins between Northwestern and the Big East (we aren't beating Penn State, so I'm not even counting them).
Northwest crushed Towson, but that doesn't tell us much. Still, to be conservative about it, let's mark it down as a loss for now. That means 4 Big East wins would be necessary to have bowl hope. Cincinnati looks like the class of the conference, so that's a loss. South Florida could have a letdown game or two, but they play us early, so that too is probably a loss. But I think we have a shot at the rest of the teams.
Louisville may have won, but they didn't look good doing it against a crappy Indiana St. I still think we can beat them.
Rutgers shit the bed against Cincy. Sure Cincy seems the class of the conference, but they still aren't Florida or USC. Very few people mentioned Rutgers as a possible win for us before this weekend, but I think they are back in that mix.
Connecticut is probably better than us, but they didn't blow up Ohio (did anyone see it?) and I think we can hang with them.
Pittsburgh should beat us, but they only played Youngstown St and from what I heard they struggled. It doesn't show on the scoreboard, but can anyone confirm that Pitt did not look all that great? If there is truth in them not looking strong, I can't write them off as a loss just yet.
West Virginia should beat us. They probably should have beat Liberty by more than 13 though. And we usually seem to play them tough (emphasis on usually). And they travel to the Dome this year. I'm not saying we will win, but I won't be completely surprised if we do.
All that said, there are a lot of variables. Are there more wrinkles to the Stallion or did we see what it has to offer? If so, teams can lock it down. Does Paulus have the poise to minimize mistakes like his interception? INTs will happen, but ones like his in OT are easily avoided. Will the receivers and TEs start catching more balls? Paulus had 4 or 5 good first down passes dropped Saturday. Those need to go away fast if we wanna win close games. Can we get third down under control? Like dropped passes, 1-12 on 3rd down ain't gonna get it done. Will the defensive intensity stay up? I think it will. The D looked like a well trained group who is gonna get after the ball and hurt people. The secondary and LBs might be suspect, but I think overall the D looks strong enough to keep us in games if not win them for us.
After taking stock of all that, I don't think it's unreasonable, at this point, to say that we might have a shot at 5 wins. And a shot at 5 wins means there will probably be an unexpected close game somewhere that we could steal. Akron and Maine are must wins obviously. So too are Louisville and Rutgers I think. The problem there is that Louisville and Rutgers both come near the end of our schedule, so the damage may be done before we even get to them. If all goes well though, UConn at the end of the year is a huge (and winnable) game.