A day after the toughest loss of his college coaching career, Gophers coach Tim Brewster was already well aware of this week's story lines:
North Dakota State, the relatively tiny I-AA program, taking on Brewster's Big Ten team.
North Dakota State, ranked No. 1 in the I-AA polls but not yet eligible for the playoffs after its move from Division II, eyeing Minnesota as its personal playoff game.
North Dakota State, with a roster filled with former Minnesota preps, trying to avenge last year's 10-9 loss to Minnesota.
"I know about the little guys in green coming to Minnesota ... a lot of the psycho-drama that [the media] loves to play out," Brewster said. "Well, you know what? We're going to be ready to play."
Of that, Brewster said he was certain, in part because of a talk the first-year coach had with some of his upperclassmen upon the team's return to campus Saturday night. The Gophers suffered a 49-48 double-overtime loss at Northwestern, blowing a 35-14 lead, surrendering 589 total yards and losing on a failed two-point conversion to end the second overtime.
"We walked a little bit and we talked a little bit," he said. "What we said is between us, but it was kind of a state-of-affairs, letting these guys know we've got five games left and we're going to play these last five games extremely hard."
The Gophers are no less physically beat up than they are emotionally. Brewster said senior safety Duran Cooley is out for Saturday's game, and possibly for the season, after injuring his knee Saturday. Linebacker Mike Sherels (hamstring), defensive back Desi Steib (leg) and running back Duane Bennett (ankle) did not play at Northwestern, but Brewster held out hope that they'd be ready for NDSU. Senior running back Amir Pinnix is uncertain for Saturday, after pulling a quadriceps muscle.
A day after the loss, Brewster was convinced of two things: It was his toughest yet as a head coach, and his decision to go for two points was without regret.
"It was brutal," he said of the loss. "Absolutely brutal. Brutal. Like a knife had cut the guts right out of your stomach."
There are some North Dakotans who felt that Brewster planted the proverbial knife in their guts before the season, when he questioned the wisdom of playing a I-AA opponent that does not help a major program with its recruiting efforts. Brewster did not back off that opinion Sunday, noting, however, that he never mentioned North Dakota State by name.
"I have not said one thing negative about North Dakota State," he said.
"The only thing I was saying is that, for me to build a championship program at Minnesota, I'd like to play a nonconference schedule that would help me with recruiting."
Clearly North Dakota State loves playing at Minnesota because of similar logic, as eight of the Bison's 22 starters are from Minnesota. Those roots, plus NDSU's lofty I-AA national ranking, figure to fuel plenty of emotion Saturday.
"That 10-9 game last year might be the best thing for us this year," Brewster said. "I don't think I'm going to have to do a whole lot of convincing of my charges that these guys are a pretty good group."
Matt Carufel, former Cretin-Derham Hall offensive lineman, has decided to leave Notre Dame and will enroll at either Minnesota or Iowa, according to Cretin-Derham Hall assistant head coach Andy Bischoff. Bischoff said Carufel and his parents will meet with Brewster this week. Carufel, a sophomore tackle, is also expected to visit Iowa. He would have to sit out the 2008 season and would have two years of eligibility remaining.
Gary Tinsley, a senior linebacker for Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast High School, verbally committed to play for the Gophers on Sunday.