Losing season won’t necessarily spoil recruiting

John R. Carter

The on-field consequence of a sub-.500 record this season is obvious ñ Minnesota’s football team is not going to a bowl game for the first time since 1998.

But what about off the field? How will the Gophers disappointing season affect coach Glen Mason’s plan to rebuild his program? More specifically, how will the down year affect recruiting this offseason?

“How would I know? I haven’t been through recruiting yet,” Mason said. “But sometimes, not as much as you think.”

Because recruiting season is under way, yet far from over ñ signing day is in February ñ only time will tell how well Mason and his staff can woo players to a program suffering through a sub-par year.

Based on Mason’s coaching history, it has taken his teams a couple of seasons to revisit the postseason.

Mason was at Kansas for five years before going to a bowl game ñ the Aloha Bowl in 1992. After a turnover in talent, the Jaykawks didn’t return to the postseason until 1995. After the 1996 season, in which Kansas went 4-7, Mason jumped to Minnesota.

The situation Mason had at Kansas is similar to the one he’s in with the Gophers.

In his third and fourth seasons with Minnesota, Mason led the Gophers to consecutive bowl berths with a plethora of upperclassmen.

But graduation, departures to the NFL and suspensions left Mason with a young team this season not expected to make a bowl game.

Minnesota recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach Greg Hudson said the Gophers two postseason appearances will far outweigh the team’s struggles this year.

“It’s the coaches responsibility to show the recruits why we went to those two bowl games,” Hudson said. “And we show them that we had a lot of guys the past two years who were three or four-year starters and now they’re playing on Sundays.”

“Once you get to the consecutive bowl games you’re no longer trying to sell a perception or an idea. You’re dealing with reality. You show recruits this is what we’ve done, and this is what we’ll do again.”

At Illinois, football coach Ron Turner’s program is almost a mirror image of Minnesota’s.

Turner took the helm in 1997, the same year as Mason. The Illini were 2-9 the season before he arrived in Champaign, and during Turner’s first two seasons, Illinois won just three games.

Then came 1999. A 7-4 regular season record earned the Illini a trip to the Micronpc.com Bowl ñ the school’s first postseason appearance since 1994.

The future looked bright, until last season, when a 5-6 record dampered Turner’s efforts. Suddenly, his rebuilding process was in question.

But no tailspin ensued. Turner said his recruiting class during the 2000 season was better than it was the year his team went to a bowl. This season, Illinois is back in the polls, ranked No. 12 at 8-1 and in first place in the Big Ten.

“We had a very good year recruiting last year,” Turner said. “A lot of that had to with the year before when we went to the bowl game. There was a lot of carry over.

“The down year, going 5-6, I don’t think had a negative affect at all.”

In fact, Hudson said, schools like Minnesota and Illinois benefit from occasional heavy departures of upperclassmen.

“Sometimes you get great players because of (turnovers),” Hudson said. “They can come here and play as a freshman or redshirt freshman. Where as if they go to Nebraska, they’re going to sit for three years.”

Hudson’s idea is exactly what’s happened for several Gophers this season.

Offensively, true freshman Marion Barber III is second on the team in rushing with 679 yards. He also has six touchdowns.

On the other side of the ball is another true freshman, linebacker Bradley Vance, who is fourth on the team in tackles with 62. He’s also tied for first in tackles for a loss (six) and interceptions (two).

While there is no bowl for the Gophers this season, Mason and his recruiting efforts shouldn’t be affected by the team’s struggles.

John R. Carter welcomes comments at [email protected]