Reflections of '03, anticipation of '04

A week after the Gophers won their second straight bowl game in dramatic fashion, it's time to encapsulate the year that was and the road ahead.

GAME OF THE YEAR: Minnesota 42, Northwestern 17 — Not necessarily the most impressive victory, but this win in mid-October gave the Gophers a 6-0 record and showed they would be a force in the Big Ten all season. Not only was Northwestern a bowl team, the Wildcats jumped out to a 14-0 lead and did everything they could to shut down the Minnesota ground game. As a result, Asad Abdul-Khaliq went to the air and burned Northwestern with the deep pass throughout the last three quarters.

PLAYERS OF THE YEAR: RBs Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney — Barber, a sophomore, ran for 1,196 yards and 17 touchdowns. Maroney, a freshman, ran for 1,121 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Gophers ground game was sensational in 2003 and there's no reason it won't be at least as good next season.

RAPID REVIEW: Minnesota had a satisfying 10-win season, but it really would have been something if the Gophers could have beaten Michigan. Minnesota took a 6-0 record into the game and had a three-TD lead in the fourth quarter before falling victim to a furious Wolverines comeback. The Spartans were still in a funk the following week when Michigan State went to the Metrodome and won by 10 points.

FAST FORWARD: This should be a powerful offensive team once again. While Asad Abdul-Khaliq moves on, Barber and Maroney will key the offense. Based on their respective performance in the bowl win over Oregon, Maroney might have an edge on Barber next season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's like playing Michael Jordan. Give him his 32 and shut down [Scottie] Pippen." — Minnesota defensive coordinator Greg Hudson on Oregon WR Samie Parker, who caught 16 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns against the Gophers.

PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2004: RB Laurence Maroney — On a team with a sensationally deep crew of running backs, Maroney may be the best of the bunch. He finished the season with 1,121 yards and is the most explosive of the Minnesota running backs. He has the speed to get to the outside and take it the distance.

RB Marion Barber — Nearly as talented as Maroney. Barber was redshirted as a result of injuries in 2002, but he was dominant this season. Barber may not be as fast as Maroney, but he has power and make-you-miss ability between the tackles.

INJURY IMPACT: The Gophers should be healthy by the start of spring football.

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