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Minnesota take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: The two teams couldn't have been farther apart a year ago, as Kansas was headed to the Orange Bowl while Minnesota completed arguably the worst season in team history at 1-11. Now they meet at Sun Devil Stadium with a chance to finish strong.
Minnesota improved its record by six wins from 2007, but four consecutive losses to close the season tapered optimism in the Twin Cities. Head coach Tim Brewster trumpets his team's one-year improvement but acknowledges some obvious deficiencies along the offensive line.
Quarterback Adam Weber and the Gophers' offense will need to show up against a Kansas team that averages 32.7 points per game. The passing connection between Weber and star wideout Eric Decker fueled Minnesota's early season success, and Kansas, like most Big 12 teams, is susceptible to the pass.
Kansas' passing attack provides arguably the biggest challenge Minnesota has faced all season with quarterback Todd Reesing and wide receivers Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe. Led by All-Big Ten cornerback Traye Simmons, Minnesota's defense racked up a Big Ten-leading 30 turnovers this season and will need to force Jayhawks mistakes to hang around in this one.
Minnesota makes its second trip to the Insight in three seasons. In 2006, the Gophers blew a 28-point halftime lead in what turned out to be Glen Mason's final game as head coach.
The Gophers limped into a bowl with a four-game losing streak, capped by a humiliating 55-0 home loss to Iowa to cap the season. But a bowl trip is still something to be cherished, considering the Gophers are coming off a 1-11 record last season.
Kansas didn't finish much better, dropping four losses in their final six games. But gritty quarterback Todd Reesing directed a dramatic comeback victory over Missouri in Kansas' regular-season finale that help end the season on a positive note. And their post-season action this season marks the first time in Kansas' 119-season football history where the school has had back-to-back bowl trips.
Reesing keys a potent passing attack that ranks eighth nationally in passing and has a pair of top-20 receivers in Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe. The defense has struggled against the better Big 12 offenses, having difficulties getting off the field because of a lack of a consistent pass rush.
After starting the season 7-1, Minnesota has struggled down the stretch offensively, scoring 17 points or less in five of their final seven games. And the blame can be tossed everywher as the Gophers rank 104th in rushing, 91st in total offense and 81st in scoring offense.
Wide receiver Eric Decker has emerged as the Gophers' major offensive threat, ranking 13th nationally in receptions.
It will also bear watching to see if Kansas can protect Reesing after ranking 92nd in sacks allowed. Minnesota has one of the Big Ten's premier pass rushers in fifth-year senior defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg, who ranks among the top 20 nationally in both sacks and tackles for losses.