How the Gophers fared in 2002: (8-5 overall, 3-5 Big Ten)
Minnesota 35, Louisiana-Lafayette 11
Minnesota 31, Toledo 21
Minnesota 41, Buffalo 17
Purdue 28, Minnesota 15
Minnesota 31, Illinois 10
Minnesota 45, Northwestern 42
Minnesota 28, Michigan State 7
Ohio State 34, Minnesota 3
Michigan 41, Minnesota 24
Iowa 45, Minnesota 21
Wisconsin 49, Minnesota 31
Minnesota 29, Arkansas 14
Aug. 30 v. Tulsa
Sept. 6 v. Troy State
Sept. 13 at Ohio
Sept. 20 v. Louisiana-Lafayette
Sept. 27 at Penn State
Oct. 4 at Northwestern
Oct. 11 v. Michigan
Oct. 18 v. Michigan State
Oct. 25 at Illinois
Nov. 1 v. Indiana
Nov. 8 v. Wisconsin
Nov. 15 at Iowa
Starters returning: 16—8 offense, 8 defense.
Versus Wisconsin: The Gophers lead the all-time series 59-45-8. Wisconsin, though, has won seven of the last eight battles for the Paul Bunyan Axe. Last season, Anthony Davis ran for an incredible 301 yards and five touchdowns on 45 carries in a 49-31 victory. Brooks Bollinger closed out his Big Ten career with a 134 yards passing on 6 of 12 through the air to go along with 18 carries for 112 yards.
Badger Nation coverage:
Gophers 2002 in brief:
The season was looking bright before a November trip to Columbus kicked off a four-loss tailspin. Minnesota was 7-1 prior to its contest with Ohio State, but the Buckeyes dealt the Gophers a 34-3 loss. Minnesota then dropped games versus Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin in succession, yielding 169 points in the four-game stretch. The Gophers recovered in time for the Music City Bowl, though, beating Arkansas 29-14.
Quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq continued to develop into one of the best-kept secrets in college football. A dynamic player, Khaliq threw for 2,190 yards and 19 touchdowns and ran for 322 yards and five touchdowns.
Terry Jackson contributed 1,317 yards rushing and Thomas Tapeh chipped in 906, helping the Gophers average more than 200 yards per game on the ground.
Minnesota moved the ball and put points on the board, but they also yielded a hefty amount, 32.0 points per game in Big Ten contests. There were highlights here as well, though, led by the team's 31 sacks.
Kicker Dan Nystrom missed only one field goal all season, tallied 102 points and earned some All-America accolades. He was named the Music City Bowl MVP after hitting five field goals.
Looking ahead to 2003:
The Gophers return a lot of talent, particularly on offense. Senior Abdul-Khaliq is as good as any offensive player in the Big Ten and he has a potent supporting cast. This team may prove to have the best skill position players in a very talent-laden conference. Senior Tapeh and junior Jackson were a superb tandem last season. Jackson's 1,317 yards were fifth in Minnesota history and yet he was listed as the No. 2 halfback heading into fall practices, behind sophomore Marion Barber, who took a medical redshirt last season. As a true freshman in 2001, Barber ran for 742 yards (6.3 per carry average) and seven touchdowns and was named a freshman All-American.
The receiving corps is loaded as well, headlined by tight end Ben Utecht, who may be the best at his position in the country. The team has size, speed and experience at wide receiver.
Mix in a sturdy offensive line and the Gophers should have success on that side of the ball.
Minnesota also returns most of its starting defense. Improvement is needed from last season, but with all four starters returning along a defensive line that made a habit of getting into the backfield and with two stars in middle linebacker Ben West and free safety Eli Ward, the Gophers could make a lot of noise this season.
The big question is replacing Nystrom and punter Preston Gruening, as good a duo as any in college football in recent years. Junior Ryan Duffy will be entrusted with the place kicking duties, while redshirt freshman Pete Ross will take over for Gruening.
The non-conference schedule is practically tailor made for a 4-0 start, setting up a conference-opening showdown with Penn State. If the Gophers take that game, they should be 6-0 when Michigan comes to town Oct. 11. Minnesota has the huge advantage of not playing Ohio State or Purdue this season. All things considered, the Gophers can certainly contend for the Big Ten title this season.