Gophers look to romp past lowly Hawks

by David La

Since 1987, the Minnesota football team has known one thing about its season finale:
It’s Over Without A bowl bid.
Minnesota and the Hawkeyes have played one another in the last conference game of the year since 1983, and 1987 marks the last time the Gophers’ season went beyond that game.
This season, No. 17 Minnesota (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) finally sees life after Iowa (1-9, 0-7) again. Though bowl-bound, the Gophers want to avoid heading south without a send-off squeal from a pig called Floyd.
“They know about the pig,” Mason said of his players. “Did you see them go get it last year? Oh man, they sprinted across the field and got it. They know a lot more about it than you think.”
The bronze statue called Floyd of Rosedale goes to the victor of the Minnesota-Iowa game.
For reasons beyond Floyd, Minnesota both wants and needs a win this season over the rival Hawkeyes.
It’s a win that might actually be somewhat hard to come by. The team’s record is poor, but the crowd still roars.
“Subdued?,” asked Gophers coach Glen Mason incredulously. “You ever been to Iowa? Iowa’s got great fan support. When they had 18 losing seasons in a row they still almost packed the house.”
The house is called Kinnick Stadium, but Mason knows it by a different moniker from his playing days at Ohio State.
“Coaches used to say, ‘We’re going to the snake pit,'” Mason said. “Its just a tough place to play.”
While the stadium may be imposing, this year’s Iowa team is not.
The majority of the Big Ten team statistics show the Hawkeyes have the last word. Iowa is last in rushing offense, total defense, rushing defense and pass defense efficiency. They are 10th in three categories, but only in gymnastics is a “10” worth mentioning.
“Even though their record doesn’t show it, they’ve continued to improve every game,” defensive coordinator David Gibbs said. “This game is not going to be a gimme like everybody thinks it is.”
Either way, Minnesota coaches and players are aware of the importance of beating Iowa.
The Big Ten could end with four teams featuring 4-4 records, and a loss to the Hawkeyes would make the Gophers one of those teams.
The bowl-game selection committee is free to choose teams for bowls on national appeal rather than final records. Therefore, it’s imperative that a relatively unknown Minnesota team further distance itself from the pack with a win.
Three away games have equaled as many wins for the Gophers this year. In the face of the hard-luck Hawkeyes, Mason — a likely candidate for numerous coach of the year awards — had to flip his players’ switches like never before this week.
But as Gibbs said, “I think Iowa is a rivalry game, a lot like Wisconsin. The kids around here will step up to the challenge. They always have. They don’t want to lose to a neighboring state.”
Especially not to a neighbor in the sorry state Iowa is in.

ù In this week’s Sports Illustrated, Gophers kicker Dan Nystrom was named one of college football’s top 10 true freshman for the 1999 season.

David La Vaque covers football and basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected].