It's been an interesting journey for Tim Brewster as coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. He emerged from relative obscurity when he was hired to take over for Glen Mason following the 2006 season. Not only had Brewster never been a head coach at the professional or collegiate level, he'd never even been a coordinator. Still, Athletic Director Joel Maturi saw something in Brewster and took a gamble.
Brewster had already built up a reputation as an excellent recruiter. He'd worked hand-in-hand with Mack Brown in both Chapel Hill and Austin and is given credit for bringing Vince Young to the Longhorns. He's continued that trend with the Gophers, bringing in some of the most highly-rated athletes the Gophers have ever seen.
As a result, the Gophers are more athletic than they were under Coach Mason. Brewster needs more out of his recruits this year if the Gophers are to be successful.
It all starts on the road against Syracuse. In order for the Gophers to put together a season that's impressive enough to warrant Maturi extending Brewster's contract, this is a game the Gophers not only need to win, but need to win convincingly.
For years, one of the biggest knocks on the Gophers was that they never played anyone respectable in their non-conference games. That all changes beginning this year. While Syracuse's program is a bit down, they are still a BCS school. Adding Air Force and a potential Top 10 school in California gives the program more credibility. Not to mention future schedules which already include USC and the possibility for more "big time" opponents.
A loss against Syracuse could lead to disaster for Brewster. Excitement for the program is nearing all-time highs with a new stadium opening on Sept. 12th. In order to elevate the program to the next level, the Gophers will need to utilize the home field advantage that's been given back to them by moving the team back on campus. The program doesn't want to enter its new facilities on a down note, that's why it's so crucial for the Gophers to beat Syracuse.
Assuming the Gophers take care of business their first two games and at the very least remain competitive against Cal, they'd be 2-1 heading into the Big Ten season. That's where Brewster can really establish himself as the Gophers long-term coaching solution. If Brewster's going to gain the confidence of Joel Maturi, he needs to win at least one of the school's trophy games. Minnesota plays for traveling trophies with four rivals (Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn St. and Michigan). Michigan is off the schedule this season, so Brewster has three opportunities to take possession of a trophy.
The Gophers best chance appears to be against the University of Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan's Axe. After a road game at Northwestern, the Gophers first Big Ten home game in the new stadium is against the Badgers.
The Gophers played well enough to beat the Badgers in Madison last season without Eric Decker, but stupid penalties and freshman mistakes ultimately cost the Gophers a game that they easily could have won. Beating the Badgers at home in October would go a long way towards instilling confidence in the administration that Brewster has what it takes to win rivalry games.
If Brewster can find a way to get the Gophers to at least .500 in Big Ten play, that would definitely be a step in the right direction. The fan base wants to see the Gophers back in the Rose Bowl, but you've got to take it one step at a time. The are probably a year or two away from being an upper echelon Big Ten team. The easiest way to accelerate that process would be to go out and beat one of the "big boys".
Coach Brewster needs that signature win to pad his coaching resume. It'll never be easy, but he's going to have prove that he can occasionally beat the teams at the top of the conference. This year, that means Ohio State and Penn State.
Brewster's predecessor was able to win games in Columbus and Happy Valley with teams that arguably weren't as talented as this Gophers team. This year is as good as any when it comes to beating the Buckeyes or the Nittany Lions.
Even a down year for OSU or Penn St. is probably better than your average year at most Big Ten schools, but you have to strike while the iron is hot. Both OSU and Penn State suffered pretty significant losses on both sides of the ball. If Brewster can put together a gameplan that results in a big road win against one of those teams, it certainly will help vault the Gophers from Big Ten bottom feeders to the middle of the pack.
The talent is there for the Gophers to win at least nine games this season. Everyone has to stay healthy and the team has to learn from the mistakes they made during last season's year end tailspin.
If the Gophers go at least 4-4 in the Big Ten and are able to beat Iowa or Wisconsin, I think he receives the contract extension he's been looking for. If he does those things and finds a way to add a big time road win to his resume, Maturi and Co. would be foolish not to lock Coach Brewster up.