Tough decisions ahead for Gophers football

After last year’s 10-win season and two consecutive bowl victories, expectations were higher.

What does a 5-0 start, not one, but two 1,000-yard running backs for the second-straight year and a total of just 10 committed turnovers for the entire season get you? Not a trip to the Rose Bowl or even a trip to another warm-weather bowl game New Year’s Day.

Try praying to play in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit. Sounds like a pretty sad situation, but that is exactly the case for Gophers football.

If Michigan State and Northwestern win this weekend, that would put the Gophers in eighth place in the Big Ten. The conference only has bowl tie-ins for seven teams, so the Gophers might not even play in a bowl at all.

There are a lot of questions that need to be addressed and some tough decisions to make. If Athletics Director Joel Maturi really wants a new on-campus stadium anytime soon, he needs to think long and hard if coach Glen Mason should be on the sidelines next year.

Mason deserves considerable credit for bringing back the football program from mediocrity, but I am sorry Mason, with all the talent the Gophers have, a record of 6-5 and praying to play in a bowl game is not impressive at all. Also, keep in mind the Gophers are counting a win over a Division I-AA team to make themselves bowl eligible.

This will be a tough decision for Maturi because Mason is a stand-up guy and has ran a scandal-free program, but Mason has also shown no signs that he can take this team to that next level.

After last year’s 10-win season and a bowl victory in each of the last two years, expectations were higher. With two of the best running backs in the nation coming back, a preseason All-American center and many other starters returning, the Gophers should have been at least as successful if not better than last year, but Mason dropped the ball.

Rose Bowl predictions were the talk of Gophers country before the Michigan game. It was a tough loss, but a respectable one. A three-point loss in Ann Arbor, Mich., is nothing to look too down on, but the way Mason let his team fall into a downward spiral to end the season is.

I assume Maturi watched the Wisconsin-Minnesota game a couple weeks ago. If he did, I hope he picked up on a few things. The Badgers finished lower in the Big Ten than the Gophers did last year. Like the Gophers, the Badgers had many starters back with a new starting quarterback. That new starting quarterback for the Badgers was Richfield, Minn., native Jon Stocco. It just so happens that Stocco arguably had his best collegiate game against his native Gophers. With all respect to Bryan Cupito, how did Mason ever let Stocco, a hometown boy, cross the border into Badger territory?

Finally, I hope Maturi noticed Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator Bret Bielema and the job he has been doing this year. Bielema will be one of the hottest head coaching candidates this winter and Maturi should do everything in his power to get him on the Minnesota sidelines. Overpay him if you have to, but it will be worth it in the end.

Defense wins championships and that is why – even after the Badgers’ disastrous loss last weekend – they will still be playing somewhere nice in Florida on New Year’s Day, not praying to play in Detroit.

One hates to compare schools, especially bitter rivals, but Wisconsin and Minnesota were about dead even coming in the season in the rankings and in expectations.

Mason supporters will argue that for all he has done for the program, he deserves every chance to come back. But all of the talent the Gophers are returning again for next year must be taken into consideration. Can we afford to have it wasted again on a bowl game in a city such as Detroit? A golden opportunity such as this certainly cannot be squandered.

Everyone knows the University needs an on-campus stadium and the only way to do that is to generate some big-time bowl money, not by underachieving. It is hard to imagine the Gophers sidelines without Mason, and I count myself lucky not to be in Maturi’s shoes.

Like it or not, college football is a big-time business, and sometimes the only way to take your business to the next level is by cutting off what holds you back.

Adam Somers is a University student. He welcomes comments at [email protected].