"This is a season in which we can be a really good football team," Brewster said. "I've said that all along, and I believe we're getting to be a much better, much improved football team. We're going to win games in the Big Ten. We're going to keep getting better and stronger as this season progresses."
Now is the time. The Gophers play at Indiana, at Northwestern and at home against North Dakota State the next three weeks. Given their record (1-4, 0-2 Big Ten), youth and defensive concerns, the Gophers can't view any game as anything but a difficult test.
Yet, realistically, the Gophers certainly match up better with those teams than with Ohio State and Purdue. Brewster described this three-game stretch as "critical."
"Anybody who has watched our football team play the last couple of weeks can see that we're an improving football team," he said.
The Gophers have lost both of their Big Ten games by double-digit margins, but they feel encouraged by their effort and improvement, particularly on defense. The Gophers had their best defensive performance of the season Sept. 29 in a 30-7 loss to Ohio State. They gave up season lows in total yards (459), points (30) and passing yards (209).
Those numbers are still bloated, and they came against a no-frills, conservative Ohio State offense. But the defense has made strides since those first few games when teams ran up and down the field.
"We're improving a lot," senior safety Dominique Barber said. "Defensively, we're playing hard and fast."
The Gophers now face their first Big Ten road game against an Indiana team that pulled off a stunning 38-20 victory at Iowa. The Hoosiers, who lost to Minnesota 63-26 last season, have dynamic players on offense and are driven by the memory of former coach Terry Hoeppner, who died this summer from complications of a brain tumor.
Indiana is 4-1 overall and certain to be brimming with confidence.
"They're playing with a purpose," Brewster said. "They're playing with a mission. They're playing with Coach Hoeppner's memory in their minds. That's real. I went down to his funeral, and I felt the passion and pain of those kids. They are playing for Coach Hep, and it's obvious."
The Gophers will have to match that intensity while also finding a way to slow quarterback Kellen Lewis, who is dangerous throwing or running the ball and is one of the conference's most exciting players. Lewis was named the current Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, after he completed 73.1 percent of his passes for a career-high 322 yards with three touchdown passes — including one to himself after he picked up a fumble and sprinted for the score — against Iowa.
It will be a difficult assignment, but the Big Ten appears unpredictable and not particularly strong.
"There is pretty good parity in the Big Ten right now," Brewster said. "I don't think anybody is head-and-shoulders better than everybody else. Each day we have to keep going. The plan is not going to change. Let's go on the road and win a game."