Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota (FAM), my weekly column that tours football topics in our state from preps to pros. You can find last week's FAM column right here. — Chip
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Before Tuesday, the Twins had not won a playoff game since the M&M Boys were just becoming teammates. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are retired now, and the historic 18-game playoff losing streak is finally over after a 3-1 win over Toronto.
Baseball has taken center stage in Minnesota, but FAM never pauses, and the football schedule offers its own version of M&M this weekend: Michigan and Mahomes — perhaps the best college football team in the nation and the best quarterback on the planet — are both coming to Minneapolis.
This unparalleled one-two punch in brand appeal and star power makes this weekend a highlight of the fall for football fans. Gophers-Michigan is on campus Saturday in prime time, and Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and non-famous and very famous (maybe?) Chiefs fans alike take over downtown Sunday afternoon.
There are opening acts to these headliners, though. Let FAM give you a quick tour of it all, from preps to pros:
Thursday, 7 p.m.: Eden Prairie at Minnetonka. The No. 1 Eagles vs. the No. 3 Skippers in Class 6A. Both undefeated at 5-0. Eden Prairie has outscored its opponents 193-70 this season. Minnetonka has won three games by one point. One major bummer: Minnetonka senior quarterback Milos Spasojevic is sidelined because of a knee injury.
Friday, 7 p.m.: Chatfield at Caledonia. A clash of Class 2A powers and rivals. Caledonia is No. 2 in the state at 5-0; Chatfield is No. 3 at 5-0. Chatfield's average margin of victory this season is 41.4 points. Caledonia's is 35.2. Caledonia has lost three consecutive meetings in this series after having its 71-game winning streak end in the 2021 season opener, which was the nation's longest active winning streak at the time.
Saturday, noon: Butler at St. Thomas. The Tommies have won 12 consecutive Pioneer League games and are 16-2 since joining the conference in 2021. Butler is 2-0 in the league with its only loss this season coming against Montana 35-20 (ranked No. 13 in FCS). The Bulldogs were the surprise team in the Pioneer League last season, finishing with a 7-4 overall record.
Saturday, 6:30 p.m.: Michigan at Gophers. The Wolverines provide the ultimate measuring stick for P.J. Fleck's team. Jim Harbaugh's Michigan squad is ranked No. 2 nationally and owns the nation's stingiest defense (6.0 points per game allowed). Michigan is a legit national championship contender again and has held possession of the Little Brown Jug since 2015.
Sunday, 3:25 p.m.: Chiefs at Vikings. The Vikings are no longer winless, but they don't have time to enjoy their first win — not with Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champions up next. Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores faces a quandary: to blitz or not to blitz Mahomes. Neither approach is likely to confuse or disrupt Mahomes, a magician at quarterback.
Sunday, 3:26 p.m.(?): There is, of course, one other story line surrounding this game, and anyone who has paid attention to the NFL, social media or pop culture the past two weeks knows exactly what that is. FAM has no inside knowledge about whether you-know-who will be there in attendance at U.S. Bank Stadium, though reports are that she nearly blew the roof off the place during her most recent visit. If Ms. Swift makes an appearance, it'll take the TV cameras less than a minute to let us know.
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America's No. 1 runner
Shen Butler-Lawson established a career high in rushing yards — 235 — to help Minnesota State Mankato remain undefeated with a 27-24 road win over Bemidji State on Saturday in a matchup of two top 10 teams in Division II. He popped TD runs of 80 and 5 yards in the second half, but something about his stat line was still bugging him a day later.
"I fumbled twice," he said. "I pride myself on not fumbling." Alas, he was happy that his defense "got a stop for me and saved me."
Butler-Lawson shouldn't be too hard on himself. He leads all divisions of college football in rushing at 180.4 yards per game. He is tied for first in Division II in touchdown runs with 11.
The junior is aware of his place atop those statistical categories because coaches and teammates often remind him. He says he has other concerns.
"It's cool, but ultimately I really want to win a national championship," said Butler-Lawson, a big reason why the Mavericks are 5-0 and ranked No. 4 nationally.
He grew up in Augusta, Ga., and attended high school in Missouri. He initially spent two seasons at Division II Missouri Western, then used his connections to transfer to Mankato last season after feeling at home during his recruiting visit.
"The coaches took me in like I was their son," he said. "It was an amazing feeling."
His brother, Sheldon, joined him this season as a freshman wide receiver. They are living together, which Shen described as "like being little kids again."
On the field, big brother has become another transfer portal success story.
"Everything that I've worked for, I finally see it paying off," he said.
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- Harrison Smith: Vikings safety had one of the best games of his career against Carolina with 14 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumbled that turned into a touchdown.
- Jack Strand: MSU Moorhead quarterback passed for 448 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-26 victory over Northern State.
- Charles Langama: Maple Grove running back rushed for 328 yards and seven touchdowns on 26 carries in a 55-21 victory over Blaine.
He said what?!
"He is a Hall of Famer. He is the greatest safety of all time. That is what we expect out of him. He showed us that he still has it. Even with all of the stuff people say about him, he is still one of the greatest."
— Vikings safety Camryn Bynum on fellow safety Harrison Smith's dominating performance Sunday.
Numbers to know
- 77: Pass attempts by Carleton's Jack Curtis in a 36-35 comeback win over Concordia (Moorhead) on Saturday, breaking the school record of 61 pass attempts.
- 181.3: Receiving yards per game for Gustavus Adolphus senior Jake Breitbach, which leads all divisions of college football. He also leads all divisions in receptions per game at 13.0.
- 30: Total points allowed by the Gophers' opponent Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines, who rank No. 1 nationally in scoring defense at 6.0 points per game.
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The Vikings' turnover woes continued Sunday with two Kirk Cousins interceptions, including a 99-yard pick-six. The Vikings have an NFL-worst 11 giveaways, several inside the red zone. Kevin O'Connell has made it a regular talking point with his team, threatened playing time and incorporated different gadgets in practice to emphasize ball security. The problem still isn't fixed, and winning will continue to be a struggle until it is.
An important 48 hours for:
Brian Flores. The Vikings defensive coordinator has used an array of blitz and coverage schemes in the first four games. Now he's facing the best quarterback in the NFL who won't be easily fooled. Flores will begin installing his game plan for Patrick Mahomes when the team returns to practice Wednesday.
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A FAM FINAL WORD
The Gophers and Vikings play two of the best teams at their level of competition. Talent ultimately wins games, but both teams must come prepared with smart game plans to stand a chance in their matchups.