Waiting on Texas?

The Gophers are in a holding pattern before they know when, where and whom they will play for their bowl game. Meanwhile, it's an opportunity to summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the team.

The Gophers started their bowl preparation a week before the rest of the Big Ten.

With Minnesota finishing its season Nov. 15 at Iowa, head coach Glen Mason begins a very long waiting game. The Gophers finished in a tie for fourth place in the Big Ten with Iowa and Michigan State.

With a 9-3 record and a 5-3 conference mark, it looks like Minnesota will go to Texas one way or another — either the Alamo in San Antonio or the Sun Bowl in El Paso.

Either way, the Gophers would bring the kind of prolific offense that makes bowl organizers happy.

QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq is an underrated passer and a perfect leader for this team. While the Gophers clearly want to run the ball from start to finish, they can throw it when they have to. Abdul-Khaliq can throw the short pass or the long bomb, and that makes them extremely explosive.

But no matter who lines up against the Gophers, they can expect to see an overpowering running attack. Marion Barber, Laurence Maroney and Thomas Tapeh are all capable of carrying the team. The emergence of Maroney has shunted Terry Jackson — last year's leading rusher — to the bench.

NOTES, QUOTES
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq showed plenty of heart in rebounding from a left shoulder injury to throw for 388 yards in the regular-season-ending loss at Iowa. With a month to rest and prepare, look for Abdul-Khaliq to be in top form when the Gophers play in their bowl game.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Gopher defense plays with great effort, but is not good enough to overcome a bad day by the offense. Defensive backs Eli Ward and Justin Isom can make a few key plays, but they can't do it series after series.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Yes and no. I know that the outcome of our season should be better. I wanted more for this team ... knowing we were capable of it." — Minnesota QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq on whether the team's 9-3 record was disappointing.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Laurence Maroney — The freshman is an absolute burner who sits at 990 rushing yards with a bowl game to play. Once he gets 10 yards, Minnesota will have five players on their active roster who have run for 1,000 yards or more. Terry Jackson, Marion Barber, Thomas Tapeh and Asad Abdul-Khaliq have already done it. No team has ever had more than three active 1,000-yard rushers prior to the Gophers.

RB Marion Barber — The team's No. 1 running back has been sensational most of the season. He has 17 rushing TDs and has continuously rewarded head coach Glen Mason for making him the top running back in the deep stable.

INJURY IMPACT: RB Marion Barber suffered a pulled muscle in the stomach-groin area in the regular-season finale, but nothing to keep him out of the bowl.



Gopher Illustrated Top Stories