Battered Gophers could rely on backups

David McCoy

Minnesota football coach Glen Mason said he’s still unsure of the status of “a couple guys” for Saturday’s game against Wisconsin.

Safeties Brandon Owens and Terrance Campbell, linebacker Mike Sherels and tackle Joe Ainslie all missed Saturday’s game at Michigan. Quarterback Bryan Cupito was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury and a mild concussion.

“(Cupito) is all right,” Mason said. “Compared to whom? Not as good as (Tony) Mortensen. I don’t know. We’ll know later in the week. We have a couple guys that way.”

Running back Laurence Maroney was confident Minnesota will be OK with Mortensen if Cupito can’t go.

“He’s just as good as Cupito,” Maroney said. “He has a strong arm and knows the plays. He can take control of the team. We as the running backs, linemen and receivers just have to make sure that he feels comfortable to take the pressure off him as much as possible.”

When asked how he feels about Mortensen’s accuracy, Mason responded with one of his trademark analogies.

“That’s like saying, ‘Is your wife good-looking?’ ” Mason said. “Compared to whom? He’s an accurate passer. He’s a good thrower.”

Gophers a win away from a bowl game

With just one more win, No. 22 Minnesota (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) would qualify for its fourth-straight bowl game for the first time in school history.

It would be Minnesota’s fifth bowl game in six years.

The Gophers could clinch the bowl berth with a win over No. 23 Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Metrodome.

Though the Badgers have an identical record to the Gophers, Wisconsin’s 12-game schedule this season means it will have to win seven games instead of six to be bowl eligible.

Lions back to bowl

No. 8 Penn State (6-0, 3-0) became the Big Ten’s first bowl-eligible team this year after upsetting Ohio State 17-10 on Saturday.

The bowl game will be the Nittany Lions’ first since 2002.

Coach Joe Paterno is going for 350 wins Saturday at Michigan. Paterno currently ranks just behind Florida State’s Bobby Bowden (356 wins) for career victories. Saturday’s game against the Wolverines will also be

Penn State’s 100th in the Big Ten.

Fan attendance hits high

With 109,839 fans at Beaver Stadium, Penn State’s win over the Buckeyes on Saturday was the school’s second-highest draw in history, behind the record of 110,753 against Nebraska in 2002.

It isn’t only a local trend. After 39 Big Ten home games this season, the conference is on pace to break its single-season record for average attendance.

The Big Ten is averaging 72,775 fans per game this season, which would break the current high mark of 70,505 per game set in 2002.

Big Big Ten matchups

Saturday’s Big Ten schedule will feature four of the conference’s top five teams going head-to head.

Ohio State, No. 15, plays host to No. 16 Michigan State, while No. 23 Wisconsin, travels to No. 22 Minnesota.

Big Ten leader Penn State travels to Michigan, which dropped out of the poll this week after falling to Minnesota 23-20 Saturday.