Cockerham calls signals for upstart U

Michael Dougherty

Peruse the Gophers football team’s schedule and notice that Minnesota’s opponent for Saturday’s season opener will be Ohio.
But do not confuse the 108th-ranked Bobcats from Athens, Ohio with the No. 13 Ohio State Buckeyes from Columbus.
Although the Bobcats campus is only about 90 minutes from Columbus, the two programs could not be further apart.
The Buckeyes are in what many are calling a rebuilding year, yet they are still considered a top 10 team. They are in the process of trying to replace David Boston, Antoine Winfield, Andy Katzenmoyer and the other seven players from their 1998 team that are currently in NFL camps.
Ohio, meanwhile, has the unenviable job of trying to replace Steveland Hookfin, its top rusher from last season who signed a free-agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons.
Let’s see, which is harder? Replacing the likes of Boston, Winfield and Katzenmoyer, or replacing something called a Hookfin?
The Bobcats finished 5-6 last season, 5-3 in the Mid-American Conference — the same conference that current Viking Randy Moss played in while with the Thundering Herd of Marshall.
The Ohio game is the first of three-straight nonconference home games that might raise some eyebrows when bowl selection committees are looking for teams come holiday time.
While the Gophers are opening the season by cautiously sticking their toes in the water, fellow conference foes are doing a big old cannonball from the high diving board.
Penn State (ranked second in this week’s Associated Press poll) kicked off the season with a 41-7 trouncing of then-No. 4 Arizona on Saturday, while the Buckeyes lost at home to then-No. 11 Miami on Sunday 23-12.
Eighth-ranked Michigan opens at home against Notre Dame on Saturday, and Iowa gets a visit from sixth-ranked Nebraska.
Notre Dame, Nebraska, Miami, Arizona and Ohio — one of these things is not like the other.
However, when those committee members are looking at records and they see the Gophers at 6-5 or 7-4, that win over the Bobcats will loom much larger than would a butt-whupping courtesy of one of the aforementioned powerhouses — just ask Ohio State.
And make no mistake about it, ending the Gophers 12-season bowl drought is a goal for Mason and his players this year.
“We have a chance to be a real competitive, respectable and improved football team,” Mason said. “Any time you’re in a program that has been losing for a number of years and you have a chance to go to a winning program, that’s a giant step.
“In this league it’s usually the difference between being a non-bowl team and a bowl team. I think we have a real legitimate shot at that, and I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t take that step.”
So put aside the criticism of Mason and his team’s creampuff schedule, because it doesn’t take an engineering student to figure out the Gophers have a much better chance of going undefeated than Ohio State does.

Notes: Gophers senior running back Thomas Hamner is suffering from a few nagging injuries, including a sprained back. Those injuries could keep him out of the Ohio game, and backup Byron Evans will not play because of a pulled hamstring that has kept him out of practice.
If Hamner can not play, it’s possible redshirt freshman Tellis Redmon might start Saturday. Redmon was impressive during the spring game and has continued to delight coaches during fall practice.