Jim Souhan
See more of the story

In 2019, the Gophers football team put together the program's best season in a generation.

What they proved on Saturday, in a 34-7 spindling of recently-ranked Michigan State in Lansing, was that the 2022 team could be better.

Maybe not as spectacular. The 2019 team featured Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson making acrobatic catches downfield, and the 2022 Gophers have lost top receiver Chris Autman-Bell for the season because of a knee injury.

The '22 Gophers may be so well-rounded and experienced that they can produce spectacular results without spectacular plays.

Saturday, the Gophers looked comfortable winning methodically, with the kind of game that other college coaches could show their players as an instructional tape.

Minnesota is 4-0. The Gophers have outscored their opponents 183-24. They have one currently-ranked opponent remaining on their schedule — a game at No. 14 Penn State on Oct. 22.

The Gophers haven't looked this complete since Murray Warmath was coaching them. And they haven't had this favorable a schedule …ever?

To get to 11-2 and a ranking of No. 10 in 2019, the Gophers had to upset No. 4 Penn State at home and No. 12 Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

Their chance at an undefeated season ended with a four-point loss to Iowa on the road, and a 21-point loss to Wisconsin at home.

The 2022 Gophers have gotten off to a much better start than that historic 2019 team.

Remember, in 2019, the Gophers almost lost their opener, at home, to South Dakota State, then needed an interception in the second overtime from the great Antoine Winfield, Jr., to beat Fresno State on the road.

In Week 3, the Gophers beat Georgia Southern by three.

That team didn't hint at excellence until October, when it blew out Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland to set up the Penn State showdown.

The '22 Gophers have been dominant on offense and defense. They have one of the best players in program history in running back Mo Ibrahim, who rushed for 100 yards for the 13th consecutive game. They have a quarterback in Tanner Morgan who is 31-12 as a starter and had perhaps the most impressive game of his career, given the circumstances, on Saturday.

Remember, Michigan State was ranked 11th in the country a couple of weeks ago, and playing in Lansing is never easy.

At least, it wasn't supposed to be.

P.J. Fleck gets the credit for all of this, because college football is about head coaching.

He made two important decisions that set up this run of success, which includes the Gophers' current seven-game winning streak, during which they have not allowed more than 14 points in a game.

He re-hired offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca after Penn State fired him.

He hired defensive coordinator Joe Rossi after Robb Smith was exposed as a disaster.

Players win games. Fleck's recruiting has built a deep, fundamentally-sound and quite talented team. Players should also receive most of the credit when a team succeeds — especially unpaid college athletes risking their lobes and ligaments for highly-paid bosses.

Saturday, those players performed as if they knew what Michigan State was going to do. That speaks to coaching.

Maybe we'll find out that Michigan State is a dysfunctional team, that the Gophers should have beaten the Spartans by 50.

This is why context matters.

Given the history of their programs, Michigan State should never be this badly outclassed by anybody — especially the traditionally mediocre Gophers.

As Fleck will tell his team this week, this is the wrong time to look ahead. Purdue and Illinois loom before the Penn State game.

Three struggling programs — Rutgers, Nebraska and Northwestern — are on the schedule between Penn State and showdowns with Iowa and Wisconsin to end the regular season.

Judging by the first four games of the season, this Gophers season could be historic. Maybe even better than 2019.

The Gophers will be ranked this week.

They may be ranked quite high by the end of the season.

The columnist did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and interviews from an on-site reporter.