Bowl outlook slowly becoming bleak

DFL  Victory Celebration

Stephen Maturen

DFL Victory Celebration

Two weeks ago, the Gophers were 7-1 and ranked No. 20 in the country . Their remarkable one-season turnaround was the talk of the college football world and whispers of Rose Bowl or, at least, a bowl on New YearâÄôs Day were floating around. Then, they suffered a 24-17 loss to Northwestern; next, a letdown against Michigan. MinnesotaâÄôs bowl projection is slipping as fast as its offensive production. As of Sunday, predicts that the Gophers will be in San Antonio to face Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 , but that projection is hardly set in stone. Minnesota is one of four Big Ten teams with a 3-3 record in conference; the Gophers and Northwestern have the best overall record of the four at 7-3 . Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State, all sitting on one Big Ten loss, are battling for the conference championship and a spot in the Rose Bowl . Penn State and Ohio State are projected to play in a Bowl Championship Series game. The Gophers actually still have a shot at playing on New YearâÄôs Day. They will try to reverse their fortunes in the final two weeks and edge out the Wildcats, Iowa and Illinois for a spot in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, assuming two Big Ten teams make a BCS game. Gophers leave Dome winless against Mich. When it comes to Minnesota versus Michigan, the Wolverines have away-field advantage. Better yet, they have Metrodome advantage. With the Gophers moving into TCF Bank Stadium next year, Saturday was the last meeting of Minnesota and Michigan under the Dome. And with a 29-6 win, the Wolverines will forever be 12-0 under the big white cloth. Talking about MichiganâÄôs dominance in downtown Minneapolis, senior defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg offered up the understatement of the week. âÄúThey left a pretty good statement here in the Metrodome,âÄù he said. The Wolverines have left a pretty good statement on Minnesota in general for the last 30 years. Since 1978, the Gophers have won the Little Brown Jug only twice . âÄúItâÄôs not much of a rivalry when youâÄôve won two out of the last 30 games,âÄù VanDeSteeg said after the game. Decker sidelined Junior wide receiver Eric Decker tried to go. He was on the field for the first quarter and a few minutes of the second. But as soon as he caught his first pass, a bubble screen, and was popped behind the line, it was clear that he shouldnâÄôt be in the game. Decker came limping off the field, still feeling the effects of a high ankle sprain he suffered a week ago against Northwestern, and didnâÄôt return. Even before the hit, he just wasnâÄôt himself. âÄúEighty percent Eric Decker is better than no Eric Decker but you could just tell he wasnâÄôt comfortable running routes,âÄù senior tight end Jack Simmons said. With his crisp route running and physicality limited, Decker couldnâÄôt do much to spark an offense that looked disjointed from the first drive to the last. âÄúYes, heâÄôs an extremely talented football player and when heâÄôs not on the field we miss him,âÄù head coach Tim Brewster said . âÄúBut you know what? The other 10 guys gotta do a better job. WeâÄôve gotta do a better job up front, weâÄôve gotta do a better job getting Adam Weber a chance.âÄù