A year after going 1-11, Gophers quarterback Adam Weber said he is convinced he and his teammates were determined not to duplicate that record in 2008 the moment after they lost their 2007 season finale against Wisconsin.

"There's no doubt in my mind," Weber said. "After that Wisconsin game, a lot of guys talked about it. Everyone kind of got away from football a little bit. Then, going into the summertime, everybody sacrificed a lot of time. I think a lot of people don't realize that you have classes as well as workouts and everything going on in the summertime, and you sacrifice a lot of your time with your friends and family to change something around."

Last year's season came to a close with a tough 41-34 loss to the New Year's Day bowl-bound Badgers at the Metrodome. This year, if the Gophers can beat the Badgers, it can potentially improve the bowl destination for Minnesota and help the team regain some of its positive feelings after losing two in a row at home.

Despite those losses to Northwestern and Michigan, the Gophers are still 7-3 and can be proud of the season they have had so far.

"We knew that it fell on our shoulders to change this program around and get it back to where it needs to go," Weber said. "I think we've answered the call a little bit. But we're not satisfied."

Weber credits some of last year's seniors for this year's improvement. "Talking with even some of the older guys, the seniors who graduated, the last stuff they said to us was, 'Don't let this define you guys.'

"[Linebacker] Mike Sherels especially, [safety] Dom Barber was a big, big voice on the team. Even Mike Sherels still talks to us today about, 'Don't be satisfied, keep on going.' Because he was such a heart of our team last year, and to see him go out the way he did, [it was tough].

"Obviously, that Wisconsin loss game at the end was a heartbreaker. It was one of those things where we felt we played well, and we found a way to lose the game, and that was kind of the story of our season. So we put it on ourselves and to honor the guys in the past to change this thing around."

Sherels continues to be a presence around the Gophers, watching his younger brother, starting cornerback Marcus Sherels. "I've talked to him quite a bit," Weber said of the older Sherels. "... Mike continues to be a leader within this team, and I don't think that will ever change. Once a captain, you're always a captain."

If the Gophers can end this season strong, beating Wisconsin in Madison and then beating Iowa at the Metrodome, they might end up in one of the Big Ten's top bowl games, making things really look up for this team as it prepares to move into its new outdoor stadium in 2009.

"It will be a great test for us. Obviously we've gone against a lot of great defenses so far, and we haven't answered the call as an offensive squad," Weber said of Wisconsin. "Our defense has played very well, and we just haven't done our part. This will be a big, big test for us going into Camp Randall against a great defense, and a great team that is hungry and is making improvements. It will be a big, big test for us to see exactly what kind of character we have."

Expect Allen to play

There seems to be little doubt that Vikings defensive end Jared Allen will play Sunday at Tampa Bay despite his injured shoulder, because he wants it that way. The coaches will have an impossible time talking him out of playing, and his health is no worse that it was for last weekend's game against Green Bay.

Without him, it might very difficult for the Vikings to win.

I've seen a lot of Buccaneers-Vikings games, and it seems to me as though in many of them, the Vikings would take an early lead and then find a way to lose late in the game. The Vikings lead the all-time series 31-19 but have lost their past five games at Tampa Bay. They last played in Tampa in 2002.

Except for the last game of the season against the Giants, this might be the toughest game left on the Vikings schedule, which includes four games on the road and only three at home.

Incidentally, the Bucs are 4-0 at home and only 1-3 on the road, with the three losses by a total of 11 points. Their road victory came at Chicago.


Tim Brewster said he can't understand where the rumors are coming from connecting him with the Tennessee job. "I'm very happy at Minnesota," he said.

Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi said he felt very good about the chances of the university playing host to a men's Final Four in 2014, 2015 or 2016 when he and the local committee met with the NCAA committee in Indianapolis this week. The big drawback is that there are a lot of newer arenas. Then there's the question of if the Metrodome will even be here. ... Talk about being involved in his program. On Thursday, Maturi rode on the bus with the volleyball team for their match in Madison this weekend. He will stick around for Saturday's Gophers-Badgers football game and will return to the Twin Cities for the Gophers men's basketball game Saturday night.

Willie VanDeSteeg said the Gophers football players, especially the seniors, are determined to go to a Jan. 1 bowl. "We don't want to go back to the Insight Bowl, we don't want to go to the Motor City Bowl, we want to go to a good bowl. Obviously, we have a good chance to make some good things happen here, and we're excited about the opportunity. We've got a couple of big games in front of us and a couple of rivalry games in front of us. It will be exciting to see what we can do."

Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia wonders would have happened if all the players who left the squad early and turned pro had stayed and graduated. "I'd like to see our first line if we had [Phil] Kessel centering [Kyle] Okposo and [Blake] Wheeler right now, which could be playing on our team. But you know what, the guys that are playing in the National Hockey League, they made the right decision to move on. I've always said that if somebody is ready to play in the NHL, great, they should be playing in the NHL and not college hockey. I just think we all feel like we'd like to try and protect the guys that end up playing in the American League for a year or two before they move on. I think the way Blake Wheeler did it this year was the perfect way. He was here three years and then moved right on into the National Hockey League, and we're happy for him," Lucia said.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com