Once high bowl hopes now contingent on win against Hawkeyes

MADISON, Wis. — With one game left on the 2000 Gophers football schedule, the 11-game season comes down this: beat Iowa or stay home.
After jumping out to a 5-2 record and a first place spot in the Big Ten standings, Minnesota smelled a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Three weeks later, after back-to-back-to-back loses, the Gophers sit at 5-5, and need a win over the Hawkeyes in two weeks to earn a bowl berth.
Minnesota coach Glen Mason called his team emotionally spent after Saturday’s 41-20 loss to Wisconsin.
The Gophers will need to rediscover the emotion, and soon, or they’ll be watching their Big Ten foes in the postseason from their living rooms.
“We have to be a little creative on how we approach this last game,” Mason said. “I have to get them back for the Iowa game.”
No one could have predicted a season like this. An upset win over Ohio State in the Horseshoe in mid-October appeared to be a breakout point.
But then came loses to Indiana, Northwestern and Wisconsin, and a free-fall was underway.
“It’s hard. It’s something you don’t want to imagine,” defensive end Karon Riley said. “But it happens. We’re a little down right now.”
Down is probably an understatement. A loss to Indiana on the road: not too hard to swallow.
A loss at home to Northwestern: could be worse, the Wildcats are the Big Ten’s surprise team.
But a loss to the Badgers, Minnesota’s arch-rival, for the sixth straight year had to sting.
The Gophers were forced to watch Wisconsin raise the axe in celebration yet again.
Impossible to stomach.
That is, if you were a Minnesota player who actually witnessed the Badgers parade around. Gophers wide receiver Ron Johnson was not.
“I didn’t even care about that,” Johnson said. “The big thing was that I wanted the sixth win, and we didn’t do that. That comes with the game.”
A chance for the sixth win will have to wait until Nov. 18 when Iowa makes its way to the Metrodome.
The Hawkeyes are a team many felt might not even win a game, but they have — two, to be exact.
First there was a win over Michigan State on homecoming Oct. 7. Then, last Saturday, Iowa went into Happy Valley and beat Penn State for the second consecutive time (the Hawkeyes beat the Lions on the road in 1996).
A win over Iowa, and Minnesota will likely end up in Miami for the MicronPC Bowl.
But the way the Gophers have fared the past three weeks, the focus is far from Miami
It’s strictly on Iowa.
“We just know we have to win,” Johnson said.

John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]mn.edu