The Gophers have never really been a good road team in men’s basketball, and that certainly includes their games at Michigan. They are 20-51 in Ann Arbor, and have lost six straight entering Saturday’s meeting.
Michigan has been up and down this year, losing a non-conference game to New Jersey Institute of Technology at home, but has won a couple of Big Ten games in a row.
This Michigan game is a big game for the Gophers, because they do have two home games coming up, and they will be underdogs in both – against Iowa, a team that is unbeaten in the Big Ten, and Rutgers.
The Gophers need to win at least two of those three games to stay in any kind of a run for the NCAA.
The Gophers men’s hockey team is at Michigan this weekend, which always reminds me of the early days of college hockey when Al Renfrew coached the Wolverines (from 1957-73) and John Mariucci was behind the Gophers bench (1952-66).
Renfrew got the great Red Berenson – who is now Michigan’s coach – to come down from Canada, and that started a great pipeline for the Wolverines. Mariucci liked to play Minnesota kids, and the two coaches had quite a rivalry.
There’s no doubt that the Gophers face one of the toughest opponents of any team in the bowl games when they face Missouri in the Citrus Bowl on Thursday.
If a team like Missouri can play Alabama to a standstill for three quarters, you can bet they are pretty good. Alabama is No. 1, and Missouri is No. 16 and would be in the top 10 if it hadn’t lost to Indiana.
That loss to Indiana is the one thing that gives the Gophers strong hopes in this game. Missouri must have some weak spots. Indiana was one of the worst teams in the Big Ten this season, but the Hoosiers beat Missouri in the Tigers’ home stadium.
Emotion will be important for the Gophers. They can’t afford to be flat, like they were in last year’s bowl loss to Syracuse. I’m sure Coach Jerry Kill and the players learned a lesson, and will be ready to play their best on New Year’s Day.
For the Gophers to beat Missouri, Mitch Leidner has to have one of his best days passing. Missouri has a very good defensive line, and it’s going to be difficult to win by running the ball only. The Gophers are still smarting from their last game, that Wisconsin loss, where they blew a 17-3 lead to a team that got beat 59-0 the next week by Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
Winning this bowl game, in a nationally televised game, on New Year’s Day, would be another huge step for the Gophers. They would go into the offseason with a lot of optimism, and clearly would be a top 20 team entering next season.
I won’t take credit for Barry Alvarez being hired as football coach at Wisconsin and turning the program around, after first going 1-10 in his first season after being hired by athletic director Pat Richter in 1990.
At the time that Alvarez was offered the job, I was in Miami covering the 1990 Orange Bowl between Colorado and Notre Dame. Alvarez at the time was Lou Holtz’s No. 1 assistant on the Notre Dame staff.
A group of us, including Alvarez and Holtz, were going out to dinner one night, and early in the afternoon I got a call from Holtz to come to his suite. When I got there, Alvarez was there and Holtz said, “Barry has just been offered the Wisconsin job. You’ve been around the Big Ten for a long time, what do you think of the Wisconsin job?”
Wisconsin had struggled for a long time, hiring a number of coaches and not being able to put a consistent winning program on the field. When Alvarez asked me about the position, I told him “You have to have a hole in your head to take that job.”
I called the Star Tribune office to find out the records of the previous coaches. They were 9-36 combined the previous four seasons under Jim Hilles (one year) and Don Morton, who had just been fired after three seasons.
Alvarez didn’t listen to me, of course. He made the right decision, even though he was 1-10 his first season, he then took the team to three Big Ten titles and three Rose Bowls before retiring after the 2005 season.
The Gophers and Badgers have played a lot of crucial football games over the years, just like this Saturday’s meeting where the winner will go to the Big Ten title game.
The teams met in 1962 when Murray Warmath had one of his best teams, and the Gophers were headed for the Rose Bowl – at least until they lost to Wisconsin 14-9 in Madison. There were two crucial 15-yard penalties on the Gophers in that game – one on Bobby Bell for roughing the passer, and the other on Warmath. The Badgers, ranked No. 3 at the time, went to the Rose Bowl ahead of the Gophers, who were ranked No. 5.
Bell was called for roughing Wisconsin quarterback Ron VanderKelen on a play late in the game, with the Gophers leading 9-7. Bell hit VanderKelen to cause a fumble, which the Gophers recovered in midair. The referees penalized Bell for some unexplainable reason, and Warmath protested the call and got another penalty, giving the Badgers the ball on the Gophers’ 13. The Badgers scored with two minutes left in the game for the victory.
Then you have probably the biggest upset by the Gophers in the series when they beat Wisconsin in Madison 17-14 in 1984, when Lou Holtz was coaching the Gophers. The Badgers that year had three first-round draft choices in wide receiver Al Toon, defensive end Daryl Sims and cornerback Richard Johnson, and a second rounder in lineman Scott Bergold. In all, they had 11 players who would be taken in the 1985 NFL Draft – and 14 others who would drafted over the next three years.
During a practice the week before the game, Holtz called me to the middle of the field and said, “I’m going to give you a little scoop, just between us. Minnesota is going to beat Wisconsin, and Doug Mueller, one of our defensive tackles, is going to make 12 or 13 tackles.”
Well, the Gophers went into Madison and beat that good Wisconsin team. Mueller, a freshman, made 12 tackles and was instrumental to that victory.
Analyzing the Minnesota-Nebraska game coming up this Saturday, it’s tough to figure out how the two teams will react to what happened to them in their previous games.
Nebraska suffered one of the worst defeats in their history, 59-24 at Wisconsin on Saturday, something that was not expected. Earlier this season, Wisconsin was having quarterback problems. But they have found a quarterback in Joel Stave, although against Nebraska only threw for 46 yards.
Melvin Gordon ran for an NCAA-record 408 yards for the Badgers who, as usual, have a great ground game.
So the question is can Minnesota, which lost a one-touchdown margin game to Ohio State, bounce back against the Cornhuskers? And can David Cobb duplicate, to a point, the rushing totals of one Melvin Gordon against Wisconsin?
The Gophers have taken some awful beatings at Nebraska. But I think it will be hard for Nebraska to bounce back, and I think the Gophers, who performed so well against Ohio State, will play their best of the season.
Of course, it could be the opposite. Nebraska could take it out on the Gophers, because it is tough to win at Lincoln.
This was the second time that the Badgers have handed the Cornhuskers a big, lopsided loss in a big game. They beat them 70-31 in the Big Ten title game two years ago.
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