New stadium can only do so much for Gophers football program

by Josh Katzenstein

The Big Ten announced Monday that the Minnesota football game against Northwestern will kickoff at 11 a.m. on Sept. 26 , making it the fifth morning game of the season for the Gophers. Though Minnesota may not be an American or regional favorite, the question of what the Gophers must do to earn national coverage looms. On Saturday, Minnesota unveiled the new, $280 million TCF Bank Stadium in a 6 p.m. matchup with Air Force on the Big Ten Network. The stadium is among the biggest stories in the Big Ten, but the Gophers still werenâÄôt center stage. The Big Ten Network does have national coverage, but ESPN or ABC both would have helped the Gophers reach new heights in terms of national awareness. Obviously, SaturdayâÄôs USC-Ohio State matchup wasnâÄôt going to take a backseat to any game. However, with only one game on ESPN, one game on ABC and two announced kickoffs in primetime, it seems the Gophers may need more than a new stadium to earn national coverage. After all, USC already has five more games slotted for primetime television spots. With the announcement of the Northwestern game, four of MinnesotaâÄôs game times remain to be announced. There are a few things the team can do to see better coverage, but the task is easier said than done. Win a big game With No. 8 California coming to town, the Gophers have a chance to make it on the national scene for the first time in 2009. A loss to the Bears, though, could suggest that little has changed at Minnesota. Last season the Gophers only played one game against a ranked team, then-No. 14 Ohio State. They lost. Two years ago, the Gophers played two teams in the Top 25. They lost both. In 2007, Minnesota even lost to Football Championship Series (formerly Division I-AA) opponent in North Dakota State University . The last time the Gophers beat a ranked opponent was in 2005, when they beat both No. 11 Purdue and No. 21 Michigan . Minnesota football has only been ranked in the top 15 for one week (in 2004) since 1981. A win over the Bears wonâÄôt catapult the Gophers back to any type of national glory, but the game is the Gophers first chance in 2009 to garner national respect. Winning big Although head coach Tim Brewster has said he wants the Gophers to play a tough schedule, the team must find a way to take advantage of any lesser opponents left on the schedule. The Syracuse game stands out as one Minnesota could have and should have used to make a statement. The Gophers earned a spot on ESPN2 in part because of SyracuseâÄôs new quarterback and former Duke point guard, Greg Paulus. Apparently the talk about Paulus wasnâÄôt enough bulletin board material to spark Minnesota. Even when the Gophers were winning, Paulus was in the spotlight. Syracuse lost to No. 5 Penn State this Saturday 28-7. Yet the Gophers did nothing to show that they were significantly better than a team that only won three games in 2008. In 2008, the Gophers had a couple of blow out games (42-17 over Bowling Green, 37-3 over Florida Atlantic), but they also found themselves on the wrong end of a 55-0 blowout loss to Iowa, which will not be soon forgotten. Rivalries Many people turn to college football for the historic rivalries, and Minnesota is a part of more than one. Last season, the Gophers failed to win any of their trophy games, with consecutive losses to Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. Fans turn out for rivalry games with the hopes that they will have bragging rights at dayâÄôs end. Currently, the Gophers have none. They havenâÄôt beaten Iowa since 2006, Michigan since 2005 , and Paul BunyanâÄôs Axe has had a room in Madison since 2003 . The Gophers have the schedule to prove that their 1-11 season from just two years ago was a fluke. The question is whether or not they can prove it to the fans, the voters and their opponents.