How the Gophers fared in 2004: 7-5 overall, 3-5 Big Ten
(Links to USA Today game stories)
Sept. 4 – MINNESOTA 63, Toledo 21
Sept. 11 – MINNESOTA 37, Illinois State 21
Sept. 18 – Minnesota 34, COLORADO STATE 16
Sept. 25 – MINNESOTA 43, Northwestern 17
Oct. 2 – MINNESOTA 16, Penn State 7
Oct. 9 – MICHIGAN 27, Minnesota 24
Oct. 16 – MICHIGAN STATE 51, Minnesota 17
Oct. 23 – MINNESOTA 45, Illinois 0
Oct. 30 – INDIANA 30, Minnesota 21
Nov. 6 – WISCONSIN 38, Minnesota 14
Nov. 13 – Iowa 29, MINNESOTA 27
Dec. 31 – Minnesota 20, Alabama 16 (Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.)
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
Starters returning: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Versus Wisconsin: With Paul Bunyan's Axe on the line each year, this is a heated rivalry that almost always gets interesting. Minnesota holds a 59-47-8 edge on Wisconsin but the Badgers dominated last season at Camp Randall, winning 38-14. The last two times Wisconsin visited the Metrodome, though, the results were reversed, with the Gophers winning 42-31 in 2001 and 37-34 in 2003.
Badger Nation 2004 coverage
Gophers 2004 in brief
The past two seasons Minnesota looked poised for something special. Then along came Michigan.
In 2003, the Wolverines rattled off a ridiculous 31 fourth-quarter points to overcome a 21-point fourth quarter deficit for a numbing come-from-behind victory that left the Gophers reeling. Last year was déjà vu. The Gophers led 24-20 with just over three minutes left in Ann Arbor, only to watch a small piece of Chad Henne's coming out party unfold, as the Wolverine signal caller directed an 87-yard game-winning drive to beat Minnesota 27-24.
Including that performance, the Gophers lost six of their final seven Big Ten games, finishing in eighth place with a 3-5 mark. That downward spiral included a 51-17 pounding at the hands of Michigan State in which Minnesota gave up 636 yards, a demoralizing loss to lowly Indiana, a heartbreaking 2-point loss to rival Iowa, and a 38-14 trouncing from rival Wisconsin, with the Badgers thrusting their best offensive performance of the season (525 total yards) by a long margin upon the Gophers.
There were plenty of positives on offense for Minnesota last season. Tailbacks Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber were two of the best running backs in the nation. Maroney checked in with 1,348 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Barber had 1,269 and 11. First-year starting quarterback Bryan Cupito shook off his lack of experience for a solid 2,000-yard-plus season and young receivers Ernie Wheelwright and Jared Ellerson combined for nearly 1,200 yards. The Gophers were fifth in the nation in rushing behind an elite offensive line.
The defense was another case altogether. At times Minnesota could not even slow teams down on their way to the end zone. The Gophers were eighth in the conference in scoring defense, ninth in total defense, seventh in rushing defense and an abysmal 10th in passing defense. Only eight teams out of the 117 in Division I-A did a worse job stopping the pass than Minnesota, which gave up 266 aerial yards per outing.
Looking ahead to 2005
Even with Barber trying his hand at the NFL, Minnesota's running game should be among the 10 best in the nation. Maroney is an incredible running back who should be a star behind a line that is again one of the nation's best. Center Greg Eslinger will give the Big Ten its second straight Rimington Award winner, following Michigan's David Bass from last year. Guard Mark Setterstrom is another first-team All-Big Ten type.
But the passing game must be more efficient than Cupito's sub 50 percent accuracy last year, and the defense needs to at least achieve mediocrity, or this will be a long year in the Big Ten for the Gophers.
Minnesota should race through its non-conference slate behind its running game. But with Purdue, at Penn State, at Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State opening the league schedule, it is not unconscionable that the Gophers could begin the Big Ten 0-5. But Minnesota has the talent to just as easily end that stretch 3-2 or 4-1.
The Gophers have seven starters back on defense, but there are no guarantees that is a good thing. It certainly does not help that Minnesota must replace its best pass rusher (defensive end Darrell Reid, who had 7.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss), its best cover guy (All-Big Ten corner Ukee Dozier) and its third and fourth leading tacklers (linebacker Dominique Sims, with 74, and strong safety Justin Fraley with 71).