1960 National Champions
The 1960-61 athletic season proved to be one of the most productive ever for the University of Minnesota Athletics Department. Swimmer Steve Jackman won the NCAA 100-yard freestyle while setting the American record, and the hockey team placed third at the NCAA Tournament. The crowning achievements, however, were the two national championships the school won. Baseball won its second national title in four years, while the Minnesota football team returned to national prominence by winning its sixth national title.
Murray Warmath entered his seventh season as the Minnesota head football coach on the heels of three consecutive losing seasons. Expectations to start the season were not very high as the Golden Gophers were not ranked by a single news service. To add insult to pre-season injury, Minnesota lost to the alumni squad 19-7. The outlook for the 1960 season did not appear to be a bright one.
The Golden Gophers opened the season against Nebraska, a game which virtually no one gave Minnesota a chance to win. Minnesota surprised everyone, thanks to strong performances by All-America lineman Tom Brown and quarterback Sandy Stephens (pictured). Stephens completed 5-of-6 pass attempts and kept Nebraska pinned deep by averaging 40.1 yards per punt on seven boots.
Minnesota's 26-14 win over Nebraska did not quiet doubters in the least and was considered a fluke. The Golden Gophers headed into the Big Ten schedule with something to prove.
Minnesota opened the Big Ten season with an impressive 42-0 rout of Indiana. Minnesota's offense sputtered in the first three quarters, but exploded for four touchdowns in the final quarter two within 60 seconds of each other.
The Golden Gophers next looked to a Northwestern team which had beaten them in each of the previous two years. It looked to be a good challenge for Warmath's undefeated team, especially since they had to contend with Northwestern's outstanding quarterback, Dick Thornton. Minnesota's offense stole the show the week before, and now it was the defense's turn to star against Northwestern. Tom Brown repeatedly leveled Thornton on rushing attacks and held him to minus-14 net yards rushing. When Brown was not stopping Thornton on the ground, he was forcing him into poor passing decisions as the U of M came away with a 7-0 victory over the Wildcats.
The Golden Gophers established their defense as among the toughest in the conference, but against Illinois the Golden Gophers flip-flopped positions and they took an outstanding offensive performance to wrap up the game. Stephens starred by scoring all three Minnesota touchdowns en route to a 21-10 win. Minnesota realized that they must play consistently on the offensive side of the ball in order to keep winning.
Warmath managed to get more consistency out of his offense the next three games, while the defense continued to stifle opponents. The Golden Gophers beat Michigan, 10-0, then went on to defeat Kansas State and Iowa, 48-7 and 27-10, respectively. Minnesota appeared to be rolling with only two games remaining in the regular season.
The Purdue Boilermakers were among the worst teams in the conference in 1960 and looked to pose little problem for the seemingly unstoppable Golden Gophers. Minnesota showed flashes of the alumni game, however, and was shocked 23-14 at Memorial Stadium. The loss was huge. It vaulted Iowa into first place in the major polls, and put Minnesota in a tie for first in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers had a must-win game against Wisconsin to end the season.
The Badgers were also a fairly weak team, but there would be no repeat upset over the Golden Gophers in the final game of the season as Minnesota cruised to a 26-7 victory. Minnesota's win, coupled with an 8-1 record, earned them enough votes to take over first place from Iowa in both the final AP and UPI polls. The Golden Gophers had earned their sixth national championship and first-ever trip to the Rose Bowl in the process.