Big Ten: Insight 0831

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Jon Lemoine/US Presswire
 Minnesota wideout Eric Decker had a big night with 149 receiving yards but the Gophers did not have enough offense to counter Kansas.

The first eight games showed how far Minnesota has come from its 1-11 disaster in 2007.

The last five games showed how far the Golden Gophers still need to go.

Minnesota's 42-21 loss to Kansas in the Insight Bowl capped a five-game slide to close a season that began with so much promise. This looked like a mismatch heading in, and unfortunately for the Gophers, it was. A seasoned Kansas team led by do-it-all quarterback Todd Reesing overwhelmed Tim Brewster's squad.

To have any shot at an upset, Minnesota's defense had to force turnovers, something it did better than any Big Ten team this season. Either the defensive line or the secondary needed to disrupt Reesing's rhythm, and both units could not get it done. Jayhawks wideout Dezmon Briscoe torced the Gophers for 201 receiving yards and three touchdowns, and teammate Kerry Meier added 113 receiving yards and a touchdown. Meier also threw a touchdown to Briscoe.

First-year Gophers defensive coordinator Ted Roof did a nice job with a revamped unit for two-thirds of the season, but Minnesota (7-6) looked more like last year's defense down the stretch, allowing 97 points in the final two games. Though rush end Willie VanDeSteeg is a key loss, most of the defense returns for 2009 and should be improved.

As expected, Minnesota emphasized the power run game after bringing in new offensive line coach Tim Davis in late November. The Gophers had some early success and took a 14-7 lead on two touchdown plunges by new fullback Jon Hoese. Brewster clearly has the right idea in restoring Minnesota's traditional run game, but it will take more time for the system to fully take shape.

With Reesing and his receivers doing whatever they pleased, Minnesota was forced to pass to stay in the game. Gophers wideout Eric Decker had a big night (149 receiving yards), but Minnesota simply doesn't have enough weapons to win an offensive shootout right now.

Despite a very disappointing finish, Minnesota still has some positive momentum after a six-win improvement from 2007 and TCF Bank Stadium opening in September. Brewster is recruiting well and brings the enthusiasm and high expectations this program needs. Led by quarterback Adam Weber, he nucleus is back for 2009.

But make no mistake -- the Gophers aren't there yet. Late-season collapses are far too common for this program, and Brewster has to end the trend immediately.

As for the Big Ten, yuck. Aside from Northwestern's impressive effort Monday, the bowl season has been a disaster. The Big Ten is the only BCS conference without a win, while other leagues, particularly the Pac-10, have made major strides. Perhaps the new year will bring better outcomes for the league.

Insight Bowl preview

December, 31, 2008
12/31/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten is 0-2 in bowl games so far, and things don't get much easier for the much-maligned conference. Here's a snapshot of the Big Ten's third bowl matchup as Minnesota (7-5) takes on Kansas (7-5) today in Tempe, Ariz. (6 p.m., NFL Network).

WHO TO WATCH: Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber and wide receiver Eric Decker formed one of the nation's top passing connections for the first two-thirds of the season. But Decker wasn't the same after an ankle injury Nov. 1, and he comes off left knee surgery earlier this month. If the talented and tough junior returns to full strength, he should rack up big numbers against the nation's 113th-ranked pass defense.

WHAT TO WATCH: The makeover of Minnesota's offensive line under Tim Davis will be a fascinating subplot in this game. Hired three days after the regular-season finale, Davis has given the Gophers a new identity rooted in the power run game. So much change in so little time could lead to growing pains, but Minnesota's tradition-rich run game was nonexistent this fall and needed a jumpstart.

WHY TO WATCH: Despite a collapse down the stretch, Minnesota is one of the better stories in college football this season, rebounding from a 1-11 clunker in 2007. The Gophers are sizable underdogs, but their new-look defense generates turnovers (30 takeaways) and could force some mistakes from Todd Reesing and crew. The real intrigue rests with Minnesota's offense. It's rare when a team makes major changes during bowl preparation, and Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster hopes his players catch on fast.

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/27
Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
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Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12