Individual Honors, Team Disappointment

The Gophers finished the season with two strong running performances, but they certainly aren't going to get what they were hoping for at the beginning of the season — a major bowl game.

The Minnesota regular season ended the way it began — with RBs Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber sharing honors.

This time Maroney and Barber shared the team's Bronko Nagurski Award, given to the Gophers' most valuable player, and the Bruce Smith Award, given to the team's offensive MVP.

Maroney gained 1,243 yards in only his second season and is ranked third in the Big Ten, averaging 113 yards per game. Barber, a junior, joined Maroney in the 1,000-yard club for the second consecutive season by rushing for 167 yards against Iowa last week, placing him at 1,082 yards. Barber is fourth in the Big Ten in rushing at 98.4 yards per game.

Barber and Maroney became the first duo in NCAA history to each rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.

"It's an accomplishment for those two guys and our entire line," said head coach Glen Mason. "It's something that has never been done and now set by two of the greatest kids to be around. They have just gotten better and better. What you see is what you get."

Despite their solid performance, the Gophers lost five of their last six games and finished the Big Ten season with a 3-5 record. For the second year in a row, the Gophers' troubles started with a loss against Michigan.

Minnesota was undefeated after five games prior to their Oct. 9 trip to Ann Arbor. The Gophers had a 24-20 lead in the fourth quarter, but the defense crumbled on Michigan's final drive and Minnesota lost 27-24.

While that loss hurt, it really could not compare with what had happened in 2003 against the Wolverines. In that game, the Gophers had a 21-point lead in the final quarter and still ended up losing to Michigan.

Minnesota's response a year ago was to lose to Michigan State, but the Gophers closed the season by winning 4-of-5. This time, they could not wipe the pain of losing to Michigan from their psyches.

Still, the Gophers are most likely going to a bowl game since they have a winning record and the Big Ten has seven bowl tie-ins. The Motor City Bowl in Detroit is the likely destination — and that would not be a problem for Mason.

"Our season did not go as we would have liked, but it has not dampened my spirit about this club," Mason said. "I hope we have a opportunity to play in a post-season bowl game. If we get what we deserve, whatever bowl is fine."

Still, that's a major drop from what this team could have accomplished after a tremendous start.

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