Patrick Reusse: Iowa lives high on the hog, U gets pig in a poke

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 23, 2008 - 5:52 PM

Kirk Ferentz has transformed the Hawkeyes, while Tim Brewster spins his wheels with the Gophers.

Those thousands of Big Ten football fans who always showed a tremendous appreciation for the Metrodome created a frenzy in the big blue room as the contestants left the field at halftime.

"Let's go Hawks," came the roar from throughout the big blue room. "Let's go Hawks."

The Iowans arrived an estimated 20,000 strong on the Big Ten's last Saturday in the Dome.

It turned into a night when Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz reinforced his reputation for making a football team better, and Gophers coach Tim Brewster again showed more aptitude for ragging officials than preparing his athletes for a test.

What was proven on Saturday night was what was suspected all along: The 2008 Gophers were the worst 7-1 team you could find in a BCS conference -- strictly a product of a cupcake schedule and in no way an indication Brewster was putting together something significant in his second season.

Gophers loyalists have embraced Brewster in a longshot hope that the avalanche of words contains substance and not merely salesmanship, and others have embraced him because Brewster understands the wisdom of never underestimating the naiveté of his audience.

The coach keeps saying he's "extremely, extremely proud" of his athletes, his program and his school, and amazingly, amazingly, people react as if those words have meaning.

Brewster spent the fall getting credit for turning around an 1-11 team, when in truth he was the guy who took over a roster with the potential of six, seven victories and turned it into the losingest outfit in Minnesota's football history.

What Brewster has done with this program is to turn Glen Mason's record of 6-6 and 3-5 record in the Big Ten in 2006 into 7-5 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten two years later.

Mason's last team went 3-1 in nonconference games with the loss coming at California. Brewster went 4-0 in nonconference games without playing a significant opponent.

So, nothing has changed in two years, except this:

The 2006 Gophers became bowl-eligible with a three-game winning streak at season's end, including 34-24 over Iowa in the Metrodome. The '08 Gophers finish with a four-game losing streak, including Saturday night's 55-0 wipeout.

What the Hawkeyes demonstrated is that when a coach of substance juts his jaw and keeps working he can get his team on a 5-of-6 streak to conclude the Big Ten, and when a coach of rhetoric keeps offering meaningless blather his players are likely to suffocate.

"Are you a baller?" is a challenge Brewster has been known to shout at his players.

On Saturday night, the bawlers were in maroon sweaters and streaming for the revolving doors at halftime. And with 11 minutes left and the Hawkeyes nursing a 55-0 lead, the only spectators left to say goodbye to the Dome were members of the Minnesota band and those thousands of Iowa faithful.

Back on Oct. 11, Brewster claimed a 27-20 victory at Illinois was a "program changer," and soon the calendar changed to November, and his team managed to become more inept than was the case at the end of a 1-11 season.

The Gophers lost to Northwestern on their home turf, were trounced by the worst Michigan team in decades, blew a 14-point lead at Wisconsin and now this:

A 55-point loss that was the fifth-worst in Gophers history -- and topped in 27 years in the Dome only by Nebraska's 84-13 landslide in 1983.

The seven victories now stand as a tribute to nothingness: Northern Illinois, Bowling Green and Florida Atlantic are from an inferior tier of competition and around .500, Montana State was mediocre in Division I-AA, and the Big Ten victories came against an Illinois team that went 5-7 and wound up tied for sixth in the Big Ten, a Purdue team that tied for ninth and an Indiana team that finished 11th.

There was an attempt to give the Gophers credit for a spirited effort a week ago at Wisconsin, and now that rates as folly -- after watching the Badgers luck out to defeat Cal Poly in overtime Saturday.

The Gophers sounded somewhat haughty last week about not wanting to wind up in the Motor City Bowl as the prize for this phony 7-5 record.

Hey, fellas, do you think Detroit has any urge to host another football disaster, such as yourselves, when it already has the Lions?

Whatever, we've now completed two Big Ten seasons with Brewster, and he's 2-for-2 in coaching up unforgettable flops -- the Gophers' first-ever 11-loss season in '07, and now the worst Big Ten loss in history to end '08.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • preusse@startribune.com

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