2005 Opponent: Minnesota Golden Gophers

We are back with the latest installment of our look at the Big Ten and OSU's opponents for 2005. Today, we look at the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who are led by running back Laurence Maroney.

We continue our look at Ohio State's 2005 schedule as well as the Big Ten. In today's eighth installment of the series, we look at the Oct. 29 game at Minnesota.

Minnesota

* Date, Time: Sat., Oct. 29; time, TV TBA. (ABC has a doubleheader with games at noon and 3:30 p.m. This game is a good bet to be in the 3:30 window.)

* Location: Minneapolis, Minn.; Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

* Last Year, Bowl: 7-5, beat Alabama in Music City Bowl. Big Ten: 3-5/eighth.

* Coach: Glen Mason (ninth year at UM, 51-45; 19th year overall, 110-109-1).

* Returning Starters: 15. Offense (8): WR Jared Ellerson, WR Ernie Wheelwright, LG Mark Setterstrom, C Greg Eslinger, RT Joe Ainslie, RB Laurence Maroney, QB Bryan Cupito, TE Matt Spaeth. Defense (7): DT Mark Losli, DT Anthony Montgomery, DE Mario Reese, SS Terrance Campbell, MLB Kyle McKenzie, FS John Pawielski, CB Trumaine Banks. Specialists (0): None.

* Big Ten Championships: 18, last shared title in 1967.

* Rose Bowls: 2, last appearance in 1961.

* BCS Bids: None.

* National Championships (AP since 1936): 5 (1934, ‘36, ‘40, ‘41, ‘60).

* Series Vs. Ohio State: Ohio State leads the all-time series 37-7, including 18-4 in Minneapolis. Minnesota rotates on to OSU's schedule after a two-year respite. OSU has won the last two meetings, 31-28 in 2001 in Minneapolis and 34-3 in 2002 in Columbus. Minnesota's 29-17 upset of OSU in 2000 in Columbus snapped a 16-game OSU winning streak in the series. OSU has won 30 of the last 32 games in this series. OSU is a perfect 9-0 all-time in the Metrodome.

* Schedule: Sept. 1, at Tulsa; Sept. 10, Colorado State; Sept. 17, Florida Atlantic; Sept. 24, Purdue; Oct. 1, at Penn State; Oct. 8, at Michigan; Oct. 15, Wisconsin; Oct. 29, Ohio State; Nov. 5, at Indiana; Nov. 12, Michigan State; Nov. 19, at Iowa.

* Outlook: The Gophers reached 5-0 last year and seemed destined for big things. But a 27-24 loss at Michigan started a 1-5 spiral to wrap up the regular season. Still, the win over Alabama marked a third straight bowl win in as many years for the Gophers.

"We are very optimistic for the 2005 season, although I'm not exactly sure why," Mason said. "The conference should be as tough as it has been in recent history. We return most of the offensive team we had that was pretty respectable a year ago."

Despite losing Marion Barber III, one half of the dual 1,000-yard rushing tandem with Maroney, a year early to the pros, the Gophers could be poised to take the next step in the Big Ten. Maroney (1,348 yards, 12 TDs) was a first-team All-Big Ten pick, as was Eslinger.

"We return an outstanding running back in Laurence Maroney," Mason said. "He should be bigger, stronger and faster this year."

Cupito (2,097 yards passing, 14 TDs) enjoyed a fine debut season at quarterback.

"We return our quarterback and we think that is important in the Big Ten," Mason said. "Bryan Cupito, I thought, played pretty well last year. At times, he received some undue criticism. His play against Alabama in the bowl game put him in a position to establish himself as a leader on our football team."

Minnesota has made some strides defensively, but the Gophers were still ninth in the conference in total defense a year ago. McKenzie (79 tackles) leads the linebacking corps, while Campbell (77) moves from linebacker to strong safety.

"We were disappointed in the play of our defense last year," Mason said. "But I am confident that we will take a step forward this year. We should be a lot more athletic at the linebacker position than we've been and we should be solid in the secondary."

* Jerry Rudzinski Says: Last year, Minnesota kind of fell apart at the end. That's been the story for them over the past several years. They started out 5-0 and ended up 7-5. They never recovered from that loss at Michigan, and the great teams recover from that. They show up the next week. Michigan State just lit them up in East Lansing.

Offensively, they have some weapons. Laurence Maroney averaged 6 yards a carry and had over 1,300 yards when he was splitting time with Marion Barber III. I'm probably a little higher than anybody on Cupito. I just think he is efficient. Mason just wants Cupito to manage the offense and not necessarily win the game for them. He'll throw the ball to Jared Ellerson and Ernie Wheelwright. Wheelwright might end up being one of the best in the Big Ten.

They may have the best center-guard combination in the country in Eslinger and Setterstrom. We know they will be coming right up our spine with the running game. Our linebackers better be ready.

Defensively, they need to improve the pass defense. They were good enough against the run. OSU can use its skill out on the edges and come out on top.

* Steve Helwagen Says: As long as Mason remains the coach at Minnesota, this will be a dangerous game, especially in Minneapolis. I actually enjoy covering games in the climate controlled comfort of the Metrodome. I know, college football was meant to be played outside on grass. But once every two years for a change of pace, I don't mind this setting. It's easy in and easy out downtown.

As noted above, the Buckeyes have made themselves at home in the dome with a perfect 9-0 mark.

Minnesota is a solid middle-of-the-pack Big Ten program right now with designs on pushing its way into the title hunt. The Gophers just seem to come up one or two breaks short in their biggest games. But Mason has transformed this program. Think back a decade when the Gophers ran the spread because they couldn't match up between the tackles. Mason has instilled a toughness and the results have been three straight bowl wins.

Maroney could be a load for opposing defenses and I'm sure Mason wants to see Cupito and his entire defense take the next step. If they do, look out.


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