A season's worth of optimism was gone, officially and permanently, by halftime.
     The Gophers' victory over Miami (Ohio) last week had revived a spirit of anticipation around Jerry Kill's team -- even if you got the feeling he didn't share it. The loss to USC was actually heartening, and the loss to New Mexico State could be written off as a blip. But when North Dakota State had no trouble moving the ball consistently, when the Bison scored on all three first-half drives and quarterback Blake Jensen completed pass after pass the same way every quarterback seems to against the Gophers, the truth was undeniable.
     Kill was right. He can't work miracles. This is going to take time.
     "We've got what we've got," the coach said more than once about his team's talent level. "All you can do is push them to play fundamentally sound."
     That's taking a while, too. The Gophers committed personal fouls twice to keep Bison drives alive, gave up five sacks, and allowed both interceptions to be returned for touchdowns.
     "I ain't blaming nobody else, baby," Kill said. "That's me."
     So he says, but few will hold him responsible for what happens this season, nor should they. As Kill pointed out frequently in August, Southern Illinois went 1-10 in his first year with the Salukis, before gradually turning into a lower-level powerhouse.
     That's the blueprint that Kill warned everyone he was using this season, a fact that got lost in the giddiness of being competitive against USC. Now, with Denard Robinson waiting next week and a rugged Big Ten season ahead, Minnesota understands what he's been saying.