They've been jilted by Iowa, and Wisconsin is otherwise engaged. A Gophers tradition of 78 years comes to an end this fall and, according to football schedules released Wednesday by the Big Ten, it won't be renewed for a while.
Not since 1932 have the Gophers closed the Big Ten football season against anyone other than Wisconsin (53 different times) or Iowa (25 times in the past 28 seasons), but that tradition will be interrupted Nov. 26 when Illinois visits TCF Bank Stadium. And in 2012, Michigan State becomes Minnesota's season-ending opponent for at least three seasons.
"The idea was to preserve all the great rivalries, but not necessarily on certain dates," said Mark Rudner, senior associate commissioner of the Big Ten, who handles football scheduling. "Minnesota and Michigan State is a division game, and that was part of it."
The Gophers still will compete for Floyd of Rosedale each year, since Iowa and Minnesota are both in the newly created Legends Division, and they are guaranteed an annual game for Paul Bunyan's Axe, the oldest rivalry in college football, even though Wisconsin is in the Leaders Division. Continuing those games was more important, Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi said, than quibbling over when they're played.
"I would much rather end with Iowa or Wisconsin, but we do not all get our way when the Big Ten works to satisfy 12 institutions," Maturi said in an e-mail. "We came out very well with the divisions -- others did not. If I had a choice, I am happier with the division, versus when we play each opponent."
When Nebraska was invited to join the Big Ten beginning next fall, Iowa, beaten by the Gophers 27-24 in the 2010 finale, jumped at a chance to become the Cornhuskers' new opponent for its traditional day-after-Thanksgiving game. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has lined up with Penn State for its new season-ender, a matchup of two of the Leaders Division's top teams. Ohio State and Michigan has been the conference's season-ending marquee game for decades, and Illinois-Northwestern and Indiana-Purdue are instate rivals.
That leaves the Gophers with Michigan State, and perhaps an opportunity to start a new trophy game.
The new schedules include a few more new wrinkles. For instance, due to the mathematics of playing five divisional games, one guaranteed intradivisional game, and two other conference games, seven-time defending champion Ohio State will not play Minnesota again until 2015 -- probably for the best, considering the Gophers have lost 36 of the past 38 meetings.
Also, since season finales will now be played after Thanksgiving so the new championship game can be played the first Saturday in December, the regular season, which under NCAA rule can begin on Aug. 30, will be 14 weeks long in 2013 and 2014 (but back to 13 weeks for the following four seasons). That means Big Ten teams will have two byes during the conference season in those years, the first time in Minnesota history that has happened.
• Holy Family linebacker Peter West- erhaus, a Star Tribune all-metro player and one of Minnesota's top recruits for this fall, spent two nights in an Arizona hospital last week with a fractured skull and eye socket after being struck on the head by a small boulder while hiking in the Grand Canyon on a family vacation. Westerhaus is home and recovering well, Holy Family coach Dave Hopkins said, and should be ready for two-a-days with the Gophers this fall.