Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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A fan can't be sane and justify this Gophers loss

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: December 28, 2013 - 4:49 PM

The hardcore fans of Gophers football are a humorous and hallucinative group.

The maroon sweaters were ready to create much adieu over a victory against Syracuse in the Texas Bowl on Friday evening. They were going to shout with glee that this would be an even greater accomplishment than ending a five-bowl losing streak and winning one for the first time since 2004.

It also was going to make the 2013 Gophers the second U of M football team to reach nine victories in the past 108 years.

How could such a wonder be possible in only the third season for coach Jerry Kill and his staff?

It was left to oldtimers to provide perspective, pointing out that nine victories would be much more the product of today's 12-game schedule and easy access to a bowl game than a valid link to the Gophers' long-ago greatness in football.

Bernie Bierman won four national titles from 1934 through 1941 when the Gophers played an eight-game schedule and the university was unwilling to accept a bowl bid. Murray Warmath's Gophers had nine-game regular seasons before playing in the Rose Bowls of January 1961 and 1962.

There were five bowl games for major college teams into the late '50s, and there were a mere seven as the Gophers were getting the Big Ten nod for back-to-back Rose Bowls. Today, there are 35 of these things.

As it turned out, Twin Cities newspapers, Websites and airwaves were not inundated with this nine-win claptrap on Saturday. That's because the Gophers managed to get upset 21-17 by Syracuse ... upset by a 6-6 team with two 56-point losses on its resume: 59-3 vs. No. 1-rated Florida State (so it goes) and 56-0 vs. Georgia Tech (you got to be kidding me).

A year ago, the maroon sweaters responded with boisterous accolades for the Gophers' 34-31 loss to favored Texas Tech in the same Houston game (then called the Meineke Car Care Bowl).

Tech's defense had collapsed down the stretch of the 2012 season. Coach Tommy Tuberville had vamoosed for Cincinnati. The Raiders were in an interim coaching situation.

When a local pundit suggested Texas Tech had the look of a distinterested bunch, until rallying to win in the final minute, the Gophers crowd howled in disagreement.

No, this was a sensational effort against an outstanding foe -- and a triumph for the improvement the players had made under Jerry Kill and his coaching staff during the December practices leading to the bowl game.

On Friday night, the Gophers again lost late -- before a crowd that wouldn't have filled O'Shaughnessy Stadium at St. Thomas -- and we learned new things from the maroon sweaters in the aftermath, such as:

Third-tier bowl games aren't really that important. The Gophers looked a bit disinterested in the first half, due obviously to the disappointment of being back in Houston rather than having received a deserved invitation to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

And, most importantly, this still goes down as a great year -- GREAT! -- even if it did end with a three-game losing streak.

In other words, the theories that were applied to laud the Gophers after losing narrowly as Houston bowl underdogs in 2012 was turned 180 degrees to excuse the Gophers after losing narrowly as Houston bowl favorites on Friday.

Here is a fact that probably won't be getting much run in conversation among the maroon sweaters:

Kill has been a coach in Division 1A (a k a, FBS) since moving from Southern Illinois to Northern Illinois in 2008. He is now 0-5 in postseason games:

2008 Independence Bowl -- Louisiana Tech 17, NIU 10. 2009 International Bowl -- South Florida 27, NIU 3. 2010 Mid-American Conference championship game -- Miami (Ohio) 26, NIU 21. 2012 Meineke Bowl -- Texas Tech 34, Gophers 31. 2013 Texas Bowl -- Syracuse 21, Gophers 17.

That game against Miami was the last coached by Kill before he accepted the Gophers job. And his NIU Huskies went into that MAC title game as 17-point favorites.

Just the unvarnished facts, Goldy, nothing else.

As for opinion: The Gophers have now played in 16 bowl games. Syracuse's resume was the worst for any opponent in those 16 games. The fact the Gophers were able to lose to the 'Cuse is an embarrassment that cannot be justified by sane followers of the program.

Key word: sane.

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