Football forced to wait for Buckeyes

M By Brian Hall and Brian Stensaas

minnesota’s football team will congregate as usual this Saturday to watch a collegiate football game.

Only this time instead of heading to the Metrodome or another Big Ten campus, the Gophers will make their way to the Gibson-Nagurski football complex to watch their next and toughest opponent to date, No. 4 Ohio State, play host to No. 18 Penn State.

Such is the life for No. 25 Minnesota during its bye week. The Gophers are approaching the extra week with two main objectives: giving rest to the injured and making sure they are extra prepared for the Buckeyes.

While the bye week has its benefits, it comes at a time when Minnesota (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) has been playing its best football of the season – three straight wins against conference foes.

“It’s a mixed bag, because you have a little momentum going,” coach Glen Mason said. “I look around, and we have some guys that are banged up, and we should be able to get them healthy in a week. My job is to try and keep the edge and make sure they are going to play hard.”

Mason said the team “needs to recharge its batteries” so the Gophers will be worked more mentally than physically this week.

The walking wounded include co-captains Asad Abdul-Khaliq (quarterback) and Mike Lehan (cornerback), leading receiver tight end Ben Utecht and starting linebacker Justin Fraley.

Although the week will be less physical, the team is not afraid of losing the edge or momentum gained in the three straight wins.

“If you can’t keep your focus on as big a game as this, then you have a problem,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “I don’t think keeping our focus will be a problem.”

And which team do the Gophers hope prevail Saturday?

“We are all rooting for Ohio State,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “We want them to win so when we go down there it’s an even bigger matchup. We are going to be the underdogs, and that’s our favorite position to be in.”

Lehan hits the field

minnesota cornerback Mike Lehan participated in practice Tuesday and might play Nov. 2 when the Gophers travel to Ohio State.

The senior co-captain is still recovering from an infection. He suffered a deep thigh bruise prior to the Illinois game and has not played since. Lehan was hospitalized last week after the bruise apparently hemorrhaged and blood began to collect in his knee.

New rule on signees

earlier this month, a select group of Big Ten faculty representatives approved a rule allowing coaching staffs to oversign recruits by three per year. It’s a trend that’s been in effect around other conferences for years and welcomed with open arms from the Big Ten’s fraternity of coaches.

“It’s a positive change from the standpoint of being able to be on the same playing field as other schools around the country,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “It’s an important rule.”

Under the new rule, coaches will be allowed to sign up to 28 recruits each season. Now, if some recruits were to be declared ineligible or suffer injury after signing, the school will not be down a scholarship player the next year.

Plugging the meter

two weeks ago, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said his team was in temporary parking atop the Big Ten standings.

Tuesday, he admitted it’s safe to say there’s a quarter in the meter for his 7-1 team. But he knows not to get too comfortable in the space.

“Things change so much around college football,” Ferentz said. “We’re only halfway there; there are a lot of games left.”

The 13th-ranked Hawkeyes, who finished 7-5 last season, face a huge test Saturday on the road against No. 8 Michigan.

Evans out for the year

wisconsin wide receiver Lee Evans, last year’s Big Ten leader with 975 receiving yards, will be out for the remainder of the season.

A first-team all-conference selection last season, Evans injured his knee in the annual spring game and will not recover in time to see any action this season.

BCS beginnings

the first Bowl Championship Series standings were released Monday and featured three Big Ten teams.

Ohio State (6), Michigan (8) and Iowa (13) were all ranked in the 15-team poll, which is used to decide the national championship game in January’s Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma and Miami topped the poll, which will be released each Monday until the final release Sunday, Dec. 8.