The Gophers will play this Saturday on the road against the Maryland Terrapins and will receive a homecoming visit on Oct. 22 from the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. As a follower of our beloved rodents, I haven't had this level of anticipation for back-to-back gridiron challenges since Coach Mason's worthies faced UL-Monroe and Illinois State in 1999.
These will be registered as Big Ten contests, even though Maryland and Rutgers could not be phonier as additions to the conference if they were San Jose State and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo from the West Coast.
Actually, San Jose State would bring more tradition, since it has played the Gophers four times in the past quarter-century. The Gophers are 3-1 (.750) vs. those Spartans, the loss coming in Jim Wacker's first-ever game in 1992.
Talk about an indicator of things to come.
The University of Minnesota has played football since 1882, when it split a pair of games with Hamline. With Jim Zebrowski, former Gophers quarterbacks coach, now at Hamline, and the dynamic approach we're seeing from Tracy Claeys' remodeled offensive staff, that might have happened again if the teams had a pair scheduled in 2016.
Instead of Hamline, or former foes such as Municipal Pier, Rush Medical Center and Overland Aviation, we get Maryland, a team the Gophers have faced once, and Rutgers, a collection of putridness the Gophers never have had the privilege to clobber.
There was that emotional men's hoops game last March, when the 2-15 Gophers went to 0-17 Rutgers for the Big Ten finale, and the Little Richards came away with a 75-52 defeat.
That should be Minnesota's official slogan for this year's homecoming: "Avenge the Most Embarrassing Loss in 120 Years of Men's Basketball."
OK, you might need a sandwich board rather than a button to display it, but the message certainly would be inspiring.
Penn State brought a geographical challenge but also football pizazz to the Big Ten when it arrived in 1993. Nebraska was a fantastic addition in 2011 with its tremendous all-around sports program (men's basketball being the exception).
Maryland and Rutgers? We don't care about Maryland, it doesn't care about us, and nobody cares about Rutgers.
The Gophers have a better rivalry with the University of Pacific (1-1) than Maryland and Rutgers combined, and Pacific officially stopped playing football in 1995. Meanwhile, Rutgers officially stopped playing football last Saturday, when it compiled 39 yards in a 78-0 loss to Michigan.
You wanted expansion in the Big Ten? Commissioner Jim Delany should have waited for Texas to tire of the doomed Big 12, rather than add two non-entities on the East Coast.
The Big Ten probably will wind up with Texas and a partner in the next five years, but that will just make Maryland and Rutgers more cumbersome and meaningless on the conference map.
The traditional 10, plus Penn State and Nebraska, can offer platitudes, but any accomplishments by these schools will never be celebrated in the true heart of Big Ten country.
As for their embarrassments — we have plenty ourselves and don't need Rutgers and Maryland (to a lesser degree) to add to those.
The Gophers' aforementioned football meeting with Maryland took place on Dec. 22, 1977, at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., in the first-ever Hall of Fame Classic.
Maryland was a 17-7 winner in front of an announced crowd of 47,000 that was highly exaggerated. It was a cold night and the relic of a stadium was almost deserted as the Gophers and the Terps slogged through a scoreless second half.
Jerry Claiborne's Terrapins had finished 7-4 and tied for third at 4-2 in the seven-team ACC. Cal Stoll's Gophers were 7-4 and fifth at 4-4 in the 10-team Big Ten (10 … what a concept).
The Birmingham game was the lone addition to the 1977 bowl schedule, increasing the number to what then was considered a wildly inflated 13.
The Gophers required a special exemption to participate, since there was a rule a Big Ten team had to finish in the top four to accept a bowl invitation. Michigan State, third at 6-1-1, was on probation, so Commissioner Wayne Duke used that as his out to allow the Gophers to go to Birmingham and represent the Big Ten with their strong defense and lousy offense.
The bowl berth was the Gophers' third all-time — preceded by back-to-back Rose Bowls following the 1960 and 1961 seasons.
A Minneapolis Tribune reporter visited Dinkytown on game night. It was Christmas break, there were few students in the bars, and they weren't exactly glued to the telecast on the Mizlou Network.
One student watching the Gophers' offensive ineptitude said: "It took them 15 years to go to a bowl game and this is what they do."
To which his beer-drinking partner said: "Yeah, and they had to invent a bowl to send them to."
Decades later, the Hall of Fame Classic stands as a modest crime of invention in collegiate sports compared to adding Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten.