After going 1-11 last year and posting their lowest win total since 1983, the Minnesota Golden Gophers now appear to be poised to finish with their best record since Glen Mason’s 2003 Sun Bowl team, barring an unforeseen collapse.
2007 saw the Gophers lose to teams like Bowling Green, Florida Atlantic, and last and certainly least, North Dakota State of the FCS.
The schedule the Gophers have hasn't exactly been murderers' row, with a lucky scheduling quirk keeping Penn State off the slate.
The only ranked foe the Gophers have faced was Ohio State, and they lost to them 34-21, but the game would have been much tighter had the game been in Minnesota instead of in hostile territory at the Horseshoe in Columbus. The team has gone 7-1, beating most everyone they have faced and looking efficient and effective in the process.
With home games against Northwestern, Michigan, and Iowa, and a road trip to Camp Randall to play the Wisconsin Badgers, the Golden Gophers are well on their way to an incredible turnaround of 11-1.
The reasons for the unexpected success and the amazing turnaround have been many, but head coach Tim Brewster has to be credited as the main factor. Brewster brought in a couple of weaker academic classes that other schools wouldn’t take and a lot of JuCo prospects to speed up the turnaround.
The team’s top three running backs this season—DeLeon Eskridge, Duane Bennett, and Shady Salamon—have all been signed over the past two recruiting seasons.
Three of the starters in the defensive backfield and four of the top seven tacklers overall have been added in the past two seasons and are set to lead the defense next season, when linebackers Steve Davis and Deon Hightower have graduated, as well as defensive lineman Willie VanDeSteeg.
Brewster has another quality class coming this spring with some high-end offensive skill position players already committed, as well as a good number of talented offensive linemen ready to come in and challenge for playing time.
The aforementioned defense has vastly improved over last season as well. In 2007 the Gophers defense allowed 440 points for an average of 36.7 points per game.
Through eight games in 2008, the Golden Gophers have allowed an average of 17.1 points per game—and with the remaining opponents, it is likely that the number will stay low. Quite a turnaround for a defense that was so porous last year.
JuCo transfers Tramaine Brock and Traye Simmons have been some of the main reasons, as they have helped to shore up the defensive secondary while the elder statesmen like Davis and Hightower have helped in the linebacking corps.
With all the talk about the great defensive success and Tim Brewster’s coaching ability, it is important not to forget perhaps the most important part of the team’s success, the Adam Weber to Eric Decker combination.
Weber, the team’s sophomore quarterback, has been phenomenal this season, ranking second to only Juice Williams in the Big Ten in all major passing categories, and has nine TDs to only two interceptions. Junior wide receiver Decker, however, has been even better.
It is hard for a wide receiver to garner much hype playing in Minnesota, but Decker has done just that. He is certain to take home Big Ten All-Conference honors and has a good shot to take home All-American honors as well.
He is behind only Austin Collie of BYU in yards per game and is in the top 10 in the country for receptions, with all those ahead of him having played one more game than Decker.
The junior has the chance to shatter some Minnesota receiving records if he chooses to come back for his senior season and continue to work with his star QB.
Decker is the star of the team, but it has been an entire team effort this year making such a remarkable turnaround possible for this beleaguered team.
Athletic Director Joel Maturi took some heat for firing former head coach Glen Mason after Mason posted the best winning percentage of any Gopher coach in the post-war era, but his hiring of Brewster has proven to be an astute one.
If the Gophers can handle the upcoming schedule over the next four weeks, then a January bowl game appearance seems likely—perhaps even in the Granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl, especially if Ohio State loses another game.
With the majority of the team’s major contributors slated to return next year and another solid recruiting class on its way to the Minnesota campus, Brewster’s run of success in 2008 looks to be a sign of the good things to come, rather than a one-year wonder.