The 1-3 record the Gophers football team has compiled is a surprise to a group of 15 seniors who figured this was the year they could qualify a for New Year's Day Bowl game.
I doubt that the new coaching staff under Tim Brewster had the same optimism after getting through spring practice. But Glen Mason and the previous staff as a whole were optimistic about this 2007 group going a long way, as long as any recent Gophers team. They were in line to have eight starters return on defense as well as some talented players on offense. They had a favorable schedule, and they ended the 2006 regular season strong before losing in the Insight Bowl.
Gophers linebacker Mike Sherels is one of the seniors who saw good things for his final year of college football.
"Obviously it's tough, we expected to do much better than we have so far," said Sherels, a two-time captain from Rochester. "But it's a long season, and all we can do is keep going on each week and preparing for a win. I think we've done that so far. It's just a matter of a few plays here and there, and to get those wins, we've got to make sure those plays are going our way.
"It's a senior-led team, and this team is going to go as far as we take them. So for the remaining games, it's just going to be a battle of will. We're going to give it everything we have to put some wins up."
What is hard to understand is how this team, as experienced as it is, can continue to give games away. The final blow of the early season came right before halftime Saturday: Sherels blocked a Purdue field-goal attempt, Jamal Harris recovered and was running wide open for a end zone, but he fumbled at the Purdue 20 and it was recovered by the Boilermakers. A Gophers touchdown there would have gotten them right back into the game.
"It's frustrating, especially when we're turning the ball over as much as we are right now," Sherels said. "I know that's something that we put a big emphasis on in practice, but so far we haven't been able to protect the ball. It's a good reason why we've lost these past two games."
Sherels believes the improvement shown in the 45-31 loss might be a turning point toward better things. "I'm definitely going into every game thinking that we can win, and I'd hope that my teammates feel the same way," he said.
Sherels said he can't blame fans for not giving the Gophers any chance of beating eighth-ranked Ohio State this week. Though the game is at the Metrodome, the Buckeyes are 23½-point favorites.
"So long as we're not beating the teams that we're supposed to, people are going to continue to not give us a chance," he said. "But we're going to go into this week expecting a win.
"The morale is surprisingly pretty good. It's not guys are just in the tank giving up on the games. It's a battle every game, and we've come back in each game so far. So, if we were to crumble in the third and fourth quarter, then I think there'd be some problems, but guys are still battling."
Unless the Gophers quit turning the ball over and find a way to slow down opposition passing attacks, I believe the only game they will be favored the rest of the season is when they play North Dakota State here. And that could be a battle like it was last year.
But don't tell that to Brewster. He believes the Gophers can beat Ohio State if they don't find ways to beat themselves. But he also knows that one thing this defense lacks is speed, and speed wins games.
A capacity crowd turned out Thursday at St. Mark's Catholic Church in St. Paul to say goodbye to the great Dr. Harvey O'Phelan, who for years was the orthopedic surgeon for the Gophers, Twins and many other teams in this area. O'Phelan, 91, was a great doctor and an even better person; he took care of many people who needed treatment but didn't have money to pay for his services. He was a great man.
The Miami Herald reported on its website that the Heat is talking to the Timberwolves about trades that would involve Ricky Davis and Trenton Hassell. Davis will be a free agent at the end of this season, and there are a lot of reasons the Wolves would entertain the right offer. The Heat has two players with contracts that expire at the end of the year -- the type of contracts the Wolves are looking for -- in guard Jason Williams ($8.9 million) and center Michael Doleac ($3.2 million).
The Gophers' John Anderson is now the third-highest-paid baseball coach in the Big Ten at $136,500. Anderson said he recently interviewed for the University of Oregon job, which pays $400,000 per year plus a chance to make substantial bonuses as well as a chance to play in a new ballpark. However, Anderson who had interest in the job, wasn't offered it; the Ducks hired Cal State-Fullerton coach George Horton. ... From 1975 to '85, Tom Osiecki was the hockey coach and head of the physical education department at Burnsville High School. During that same period, Dennis Dale, Phil Lundin and Russ Fystrom were on the Burnsville staff. Now all are together with the Gophers, with Osiecki recently hired as an assistant women's hockey coach. Dale is the Gophers men's swimming coach, Lundin is the men's track coach, and Fystrom is a men's gymnastics assistant coach.
Russ Payne, David Plummer, Tyler Schmidt and Cole Young are the new Gophers men's swimming and diving captains. Meanwhile, Dale recently underwent shoulder surgery after returning from coaching Team USA at the World University Games in Thailand. ... Gophers associate athletic director Marc Ryan's string of watching 115 consecutive Gophers football games will end this weekend when he goes to Moorhead to be inducted in the Minnesota State Moorhead Hall of Fame. Ryan was an All-America track athlete at the school. Also getting inducted are Amy Gernand (volleyball), Keith Haverland (track/cross-country), Lyle Hornbacher (golf), Ray Kavanagh (football) and Scott Oliver (football), who coached Roseau High School to the Class 2A boys' hockey championship earlier this year.
The Gophers baseball team will have a fall intrasquad game Saturday at Siebert Field.
It was a tough break for former Gopher Mark Setterstrom, who in his second year as a starting guard for the St. Louis Rams was developing into an excellent NFL lineman. He suffered a season-ending knee injury Sunday. ... Setterstrom's college teammate Marion Barber III had one of the best games of his NFL career Sunday, rushing for 102 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown and also catching a 10-yard touchdown pass.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. at firstname.lastname@example.org