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Minnesota Winning a Bowl Game Could Shake Final Cobwebs out of Dormant Program

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Minnesota Winning a Bowl Game Could Shake Final Cobwebs out of Dormant Program
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota football claims seven national titles to its credit, but most people alive today have never witnessed a truly great Gophers team. However, with a win in the Texas Bowl, Minnesota could be on its way to clearing the last cobwebs out of a dormant program and heading toward greater things.

Just how dormant has the program been? Minnesota last won the Big Ten in 1967, a season in which it went 8-2 and split the title with Indiana and Purdue (my, how times have changed). 

Since then, the Gophers have managed to win eight games just one time (1999) and more than eight once—going 10-3 in 2003 and winning the Sun Bowl. 

The next season Minnesota would go and win the Music City Bowl, 20-16, over Alabama. It would be the last time a Gopher team won a bowl game. 

Leon Halip/Getty Images

Breaking that streak would just be another hurdle overcome this season under Jerry Kill and his coaching staff. 

Kill and his longtime assistants have had a pattern of historic third seasons everywhere they've been, and this season is no different.

His teams have gone a combined 27-47 in the first two years of play at Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois and Minnesota, but the third year has been a breakout year—with Kill coached teams going a combined 28-9 (to date) in year three. 

The history-making at Minnesota this year began with a 4-0 start and a win over Nebraska for the first time in school history. Minnesota has already won eight games for just the third time since 1967 as well.

Now, the next hurdle in the way—winning a bowl game for the first time since 2004—is a streak that stands at five games currently.

Doing that would not only break another barrier for the program but put Minnesota on the cusp of doing something great. It would mean just the eighth time in school history that a team has won nine games. 

It's all just a stepping stone to what Kill wants this program to be, but the significance of a win in the Texas Bowl isn't lost on Kill. 

"We have a great opportunity to compete and continue to make history as a team," Kill said to the Associated Press via Fox Sports North. "Nine games, winning nine games is important to us, winning a bowl game is important to us."

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

One of the key parts to that building process has been the emergence of junior running back David Cobb. He came virtually out of nowhere, playing almost exclusively on special teams before this season (just 11 carries entering this year). 

In 2013, Cobb has run for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. 

He's been the catalyst to one of the Big Ten's best rushing attacks, helping the team average 200.9 yards per game—which was the fifth-best total in the B1G and 32nd nationally.

Cobb will be key to the Gophers' chances against Syracuse in the Texas Bowl for sure, but this has always been a team effort, and Minnesota's defense will play just as big of a role. 

The defense has been very solid against the pass, ranking fifth in the Big Ten this year—giving up just over 200 yards and only 16 passing touchdowns during the regular season. 

Defenders Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for their efforts individually, becoming the first duo of Gophers to earn first-team honors together since 2008.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Hageman finished with 34 tackles, a team-high 11 tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, eight passes defensed and one fumble recovery—just to name a few of his statistics this season. 

Vereen had 56 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one interception as a defensive back this year. 

For Hageman and Vereen, it is their last game in the maroon and gold and a chance to leave a lasting legacy for the program with a win.

However, for 12 players from the state of Texas it is also a chance to erase the bad memories of coming home and losing last season. 

"We enjoyed our experience last year and wish we could have come away with a victory," Kill told Fox Sports North. "I know our players, especially the 12 from Texas, welcome the opportunity to represent the University of Minnesota in a state that has great football tradition."

Minnesota is just a few short steps away from being taken seriously by not only the hardcore football fan but the casual one too, and a win in the Texas Bowl will go a long way toward building that credibility. 

Consider it just par for the course for a third-year team under Jerry Kill, though.

 

Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.

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