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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Row the Boat // B1G 2022, Minnesota Potluck Preview #1

Or...Row the Beet? A sugary sweet preview of Minnesota’s progress under the man we call Peejus.

Welcome to Minnesota Week! Grab yourself a heaping helping of hotdish, prepare to make pleasant conversation with the old lady sitting next to you at supper, and let’s all get through this together.

Yes, it’s time for the church basement luncheon that is Minnesota Gophers football – eating uncomfortable silences for breakfast, listening to that overenthusiastic youth pastor talk about how he’s going to change the culture academicallyatheticallyspirituallysocially as all the old people roll their eyes, and…who knows, maybe, just maybe, we’ll get our dadgum chili hot.

We’re gonna throw some porketta in the Crock-Pot and come back to it on Thursday, but in the meantime, let’s get out of the Twin Cities–for today, at least–and hop up to a different part of the state: the far west and northwest of Minnesota, where sugar beets rule the fields. In 2017, according to the U of M, Minnesota accounted for 35% of the nation’s sugar beet crop; one cooperative extraction plant in Renville, that year, rendered 3.6 million tons of sugar beets into 1 billion pounds of pure white sugar.

(If you’re wondering where we’re talking about, and also why: if you never understood how Collin Peterson could keep getting elected for 30 years or who was electing him, this is more or less why.)


Enough of that: let’s talk beets. I refused to touch them as a kid (hell, I still do now), but knowing that a Minneapolis company is doing its best Dwight Schrute and actually turning beets into BĒT Vodka? I am very much intrigued.

Writers, just start me there:

  • Please take a stance on beets.
  • Is there an “odd agricultural crop” that your state is particularly good at growing that we just haven’t been talking about?
  • Any other kinds of regional spirits made from an odd agricultural product that we should be trying?

Green Akers: Sugar beets are shite. They’re big business in the part of Michigan I’m from, too, and as hinted at, they’re a prime example of why the US doesn’t actually believe in free markets - just markets stacked in favor of the people who are paid up with the right politicians. If you believe in free enterprise at all, sorry about it, but Michigan and Minnesota are not better places to grow sugar than the entire Caribbean and it’s only bonkers subsidies that allow those industries to compete.

That said, I can hard pivot from there to the incredible variety of crops Michigan’s capable of growing - more than, IIRC, any state other than California. I’m going to notice the invitation to discuss apples, I’m going to sidestep that bear trap, and just stick to cherries. The Traverse City folks will put cherries in just about anything, so grab up some whiskey if you’re so inclined.

misdreavus79: There’s this “beet, orange, and carrot” juice I used to drink as a kid that was really good. Eating them on their own was not particularly my thing, but as an adult I don’t mind them as much. But that beet/orange/carrot juice was the shit.

Does seafood count as agriculture? Because I’m pretty sure that’s what we got over on this side of the country.

Uh, well, there are 200 different ways in which people can make rum in the Caribbean, the DR not excepted. Does that count?

Kind of…: Sugar beets:beets::field corn:sweet corn. Beets are great. Put them on a salad. Pickle them. Roast them and eat them straight. Whatever. The purple/red ones are great. The golden ones are great. They’re really versatile.

Cranberries aren’t that odd, but Wisconsin dwarfs everybody else in production of them. I dunno, put a couple of them in your brandy old-fashioned instead of maraschino cherries. Or, just go to the farmers market and buy from the Mennonites. They always have stuff you’re not familiar with but is pretty good (except for Jerusalem artichokes…those can fuck right off).

MNW: Beets suck. (I do know the difference between sugar beets and beets, Kind of..., I just was out of ideas for today. We’re at mid-season Potluck form, kids.)

I’m curious to try some of these various “We put [local product] in a spirit!” iterations, and now that you mentioned the cranberries of central Wisconsin, I want to try this vodka. In a similar way, my wife swears by Cold River Blueberry Vodka of Freeport, ME. And the potato vodka of northern Wisconsin is A-OK in my book, too. Make vodka out of MORE things, not fewer.

The Football

The Gophers may just have found a way to get Minnesotans everywhere to eat their beets – the overly-saccharine “Row the Boat” has given way to some quiet competence, as Philip John Fleck is now 35-23 (21-22) as head coach and 3-0 in bowl games. Peejus helms a program in 2022 with at least some hype surrounding, as WSR mentioned this morning and we’ll talk later this week…

  • A returning All-B1G running back in Mo Ibrahim
  • A tenth-year game-manager QB in Tanner Morgan, who…
  • …put up some numbers in 2019 with the man returning as his OC, Kirk Ciarrocca
  • A stable offensive line
  • A playmaking defense that is decidedly not a liability

Has…has Minnesota become...competent again?

You hear fewer rumblings (and grumblings) in the Twin Cities today about Fleck’s persona–unless he’s stubbornly losing to Bowling Green or Illinois–though that might just be the fact that boomers are dying left and right and, with them, Patrick Reusse’s audience. Minnesota has won an Outback Bowl (may it rest in peace). The Gophers have the Axe. Things…aren’t half bad?

So, writers:

  • Have we, like all but the most stubborn of Twin Cities “journalism” blowhards, learned to Stop Worrying and Row the Boat?
  • What would constitute progress for Fleck and the Gophers in 2022? Is it West Division title or bust?
  • Name one annoying habit within your program that you’ve learned to accept and maybe, just maybe, even love?

Green Akers: Speaking as a fan of a different school, Row The Boat doesn’t really feel like it’s making much more forward progress here, but this ain’t the worst sandbar to have run aground on. We’ll see if the OL development can withstand losing the first large cohort of multiyear starters, but a capable run game and run defense is enough to win 7 or 8 games a year in this division. I can’t say division title or bust, but the ‘23 Gophers will be breaking in a new QB (to the extent that matters for this team) and could see massive attrition on defense. The iron’s hot, but if they don’t strike this year, it sure doesn’t seem like there’s much urgency that would preclude a short rebuild after that.

Annoying habit…Tucker’s still a new enough coach, with a shiny Peach Bowl trophy at the front of the case and a 2-0 mark against Michigan. The aggressive branding might get old quick if the results on the field take a stumble this year, I guess. The other thing would be, if he can’t elevate the offensive line play that was a long-term weakness of the program under his predecessor despite paying huge money for his non-coordinator OL coach, yeah, that’ll grind the gears a bit.

misdreavus79: Wait, Minnesota beat Wisconsin last season? Huh!

Anyway, worrying about “rowing the boat,” or any other rallying cries of similar nature that coaches come up with to motivate their teams is, well, an exercise in futility. Now of course, being a sports fan is mostly futile attempts at drawing meaning from the meaningless, but I think hyperfocusing on these aspects of the job is always a bit extra.

When it comes to actual performance, you can’t deny that P.J. Fleck has done at least as well as Jerry Kill did before him, if not better. He has, after all, actually beaten Wisconsin. Sure, Kill beat Iowa, but hey, can’t win them all, right? Now all that’s really left is do what Northwestern has done twice: Actually win the division. And, if we get rid of them, you have two chances at doing so. Don’t waste them.

As per my own program, well, I don’t know. There’s plenty to choose from. I’ll go with the program’s stubborn insistence of wearing the blue uniforms during the whiteout. For fuck’s sake, it’s a whiteout! Wear white!

Kind of…: Pretty much nailed it. Fleck is competent enough to piss off Gopher fans in a nine-win season (to be fair, I don’t blame the fans; the BGSU and Illinois games were tough to watch), so I’m not sure how much higher the ceiling gets. They’re definitely competent at worst. Probably not West or bust, but if they don’t win the West AND don’t beat Iowa, I really don’t see how they can say they progressed over last year.

I have learned to accept (but definitely not love) that Paul Chryst isn’t going to give special teams the amount of attention some other coaches do. It’s not as bad as I make it out, but it’s not good. Fine. Whatever. It’s not changing.

MNW: I asked this question specifically so I could make the point about Iowa, and then Kind of... kicked my legs out from under me. The Gophers need to beat the Hawkeyes pretty damn soon. I mean, it’s hilarious that they can’t, because,’s just Iowa, guys. They run the ball 95 times. QB can’t throw. Defense is pretty good. Adjust!

Not necessary West-or-bust, but I think a couple years from now we could be right back at the “8-4 doesn’t cut it in Minnesota!” kind of a thing, only this isn’t Glen Mason and you hypothetically shouldn’t have the fanbase apathy you did back then.

I don’t necessarily love Pat Fitzgerald’s curmudgeon routine with the media, but I don’t care about it to the extent that some people fly into a spittle-soaked rage about it. He’s an asshole. You’re not getting any information. No one except Pat Ryan is going to tell him he has to do otherwise. Get over it.

BoilerUp89: The goofs are my preseason pick to win the West. There is enough returning talent and a kind enough schedule that I think they should do it. Since this is probably the last year of divisions in B1G play, whatever the Gophers accomplish this season is their ceiling under Fleck.

I have learned to accept and love the fact that Purdue is not going to commit to running the football. Passing the football 60 times in a monsoon makes for entertaining football. If you don’t like that, then you are probably a fan of one of the other 13? 15? 19? Big Ten programs.