With three games to play, Minnesota still has a chance at advancing to a New Year's Day bowl. It is still a much better position than last year, when the Gophers were crawling through the paddle line taking beating after beating.
"We're a 7-2 football team with three games left and an opportunity to win all three games," coach Tim Brewster said. "I couldn't be more energized and more optimistic about getting Michigan at home, going on the road to Wisconsin and getting Iowa at home. I feel great about it."
Most years, a stretch of the Wolverines, Badgers and Hawkeyes to close a year might be three-straight losses for Minnesota. Not now. The Gophers opened as nine-point favorites over Michigan, and should be favored against Wisconsin and Iowa, too.
Three wins to close the season would make the Gophers 10-2 and give them their first regular season of double-digit victories since 1905. The only other time the Gophers won 10 games in a season was 2003 under Glen Mason, and that team needed a Sun Bowl victory over Oregon to get to 10.
How 10 victories would impact the bowls remains to be seen. Bowl committees spend a lot of money putting on their games, and in return they like to have fan bases that travel well and spend money in their city. Traditionally, that has not been the Gophers, and that has hurt them.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The running game has struggled most of the year, and never more than last week, when the Gophers couldn't get into the end zone following a first-and-goal from the 8-yard-line. A precise 92-yard drive came up empty when Joel Monroe missed a 20-yard field goal attempt, a deflating feeling for an offense that relies too heavily on the pass. It probably won't get fixed this year, but an offseason priority will have to be improving the running game, which ranks 94th in the nation.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Allowing a backup quarterback like Mike Kafka of Northwestern to run for 217 yards in a game is inexcusable, and the Gophers know it. The defense doesn't have long to adjust, since red-hot Michigan tailback Brandon Minor is ready to take his turn. Michigan is a disaster offensively, but Minor has rushed for 327 yards and six touchdowns since being inserted into the starting lineup three games ago. The Gophers must do a better job corralling Minor than they did against Kafka, otherwise they'll suffer a similar fate.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan at Minnesota, Nov. 8 — Two teams coming off crushing losses, for far different reasons. The Gophers still have plenty to play for, including a 10-win regular season. Michigan watched its 31-year consecutive bowl streak go up in smoke, and is guaranteed to finish with a losing record. It won't get any easier against the Gophers.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Hopes are growing and expectations are high. That's where we want to be." — QB Adam Weber,