Miller on the Bears' schedule

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Miller on the Bears' schedule

The day the NFL releases its regular-season schedule could easily be the greatest day other than the Draft, season opener, the start of playoffs and of course the Super Bowl. Anyway, there is no way NFL fans can plan for a Super Bowl and fall weekends until the schedule has been released.

Bears fans, your prayers have been answered as it looks pretty favorable for the Chicago Bears.

Week 1: Sept. 9 vs. Colts -- The Bears' defense gets ready to exploit rookie first-round QB Andrew Luck

Week 2: Sept. 13 at Packers -- Division games are always good early to get your mind right for season; none better than facing rival Packers on Thursday night in primetime.

Week 3: Sept. 23 vs. Rams -- Facing a Rams team at home that does not yet have an identity or enough playmakers.

Week 4 Oct. 1 at Cowboys -- If Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan does not fix the defense, Brian Urlacher and the boys can keep key Dallas offensive playmakers in check on another Monday nighter.

Week 5: Oct. 7 at Jaguars -- It's always good to face one-dimensional teams. Maurice Jones-Drew must be stopped while Jags quarterback Blaine Gabbert is trying to get comfortable in a new offense under Mike Mularkey.

Week 6: BYE

Week 7: Oct. 22 vs. Lions -- The Bears should be well rested for a divisional Monday nighter that could be huge in the standings. The Bears must win this home game.

Week 8: Oct. 28 vs. Panthers -- There cannot be a letdown here. Carolina pushed around the Bears last year in Soldier Field. The Panthers are a dangerous team entering 2012 and are getting better.

Week 9: Nov. 4 at Titans -- The Titans are another dangerous team. They were nearly a playoff team last year, finishing 9-7. One plus is the Bears may be facing second-year QB Jake Locker at this point.
Week 10: Nov. 11 vs. Texans -- Buckle up for this one. This will be the Bears' fourth primetime game. Houston is a complete team. They finally busted through the AFC South to the playoffs. The Texans defense is legit.

Week 11: Nov. 19 at 49ers -- Another Monday nighter completes five primetime games for the Bears, which is the most any team can have in a season. It should be another dandy against the NFC Division runner-up.

Week 12: Nov. 25 vs. Vikings -- The Bears cannot coast in this one, but this is a nice breather from the previous five weeks.

Week 13: Dec. 2 vs. Seahawks -- The Seahawks are still one-dimensional. Stop Marshawn Lynch.
Week 14: Dec. 9 at Vikings -- The Vikings will not be much improved from facing them two weeks prior.
Week 15: Dec. 16 vs. Packers -- The Bears have to split with the Packers. This is their chance at home.

Week 16: Dec. 23 at Cardinals -- Look at all of these NFC games to finish the season. These matter for playoff seeding. The Cards won seven of their last nine games last season, finishing strong.
Week 17: Dec. 30 at Lions -- What better way to end the season than with a division game? The Lions believe last year was not a fluke. The Bears may have an opportunity to knock the Lions out.

Early thoughts just looking at the schedule: The Bears could go 12-4 again with a new sheriff in town like general manager Phil Emery and a couple of breaks. The pressure is on with the new GM, but Weeks 7-11 provide a brutal five-week stretch along with Weeks 15-17.

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After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

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USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."