BY SHAWN ZOBEL
CFI BIG TEN WRITER
The last time the Minnesota Golden Gophers won the Rose Bowl was in 1962, 45 years ago. This is why, when new Gophers head coach Tim Brewster stated that his immediate goals for the program were to "win the Big Ten championship" and to "take the Gopher Nation to Pasadena", many fans chuckled and rolled their eyes, with good reason.
With a team that lost starters at quarterback (Bryan Cupito), wide receiver (Logan Payne), and tight end (Mackey Award winner Matt Spaeth), there doesn't seem to be much hope. Offensively, there still is not an established starting quarterback for the 2007 season. Leading the running back position, without Marion Barber, Laurence Maroney, or Gary Russell, will be Amir Pinnix. Along the offensive line, the Gophers feature one of the top centers in college football in Tony Brinkhaus and an underrated left tackle in Steve Shidell. At tight end, they will attempt to replace Spaeth with junior Jack Simmons. With seven catches for 134 yards in the 2006 Insight Bowl, Simmons has given the Gophers coaching staff some optimism. Outside of sophomore Eric Decker and inconsistent but talented senior Ernie Wheelwright, Minnesota’s receiving corps doesn’t have much to offer.
Things became bleaker when on Sunday, July 15, strong safety Dominic Jones was arrested and charged with felony third-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly raping an 18-year-old woman in April. This came after three other players, defensive end Alex Daniels, cornerback Keith Massey, and running back E.J. Jones were arrested on Friday, April 6th, accused of sexual assault. By July 18, Brewster had kicked all four players off the team for their involvement in the incident.
On the field, this was a huge hit. Jones was the heart and soul of the Gophers defense. He was one of the hardest hitting players on the team and one of the best kick returners in the country. As for the other three players, the coaching staff moved Daniels from linebacker last season to running back, then to defensive end. His presence will be missed. Massey was expected to be one of the team’s top cornerbacks, while E.J. Jones was a backup running back.
Considering their losses, the scouting report for the defensive side of the ball is not too promising. Their top player, Jones, is gone, and their defensive backfield is expected to be one of the worst in the Big Ten. Along the defensive line, the Gophers feature All-Big Ten defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg, who recorded 10 sacks in 2006. It will be hard to replace Daniels, who was expected to start opposite of VanDeSteeg. You could argue that the Gophers most experienced position is linebacker where seniors Mike Sherels and John Shevlin will line up alongside junior Steve Davis. Junior backup linebacker Deon Hightower is also a solid player. After finishing 113th nationally in total defense in 2006, this season could actually be worse defensively.
Glenn Mason’s tenure as headman at the University ended on December 29, 2006, when the Gophers became the laughing stock of college football. After the Gophers took a 38-7 with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter, everyone wearing the Maroon and gold were giddy, that is until Texas Tech rallied to score 31 unanswered points to send the game to overtime. The Gophers scored a field goal to open up the extra period, but the Red Raiders responded with a touchdown to win the Insight Bowl.
The Gophers had allowed the Red Raiders to make the largest comeback in NCAA bowl history. Two days later, the University officially fired Mason.
This is the same Gophers team that coach Brewster feels will, "win the Big Ten championship" and "take the Gopher Nation to Pasadena."
On the bright side, the Gophers have a new stadium opening in 2009, which should bring new opportunities to recruiting and Gopher fans should be happy that it appears Brewster won’t stop working until his team succeeds. He has begun to set a solid base in trying to recruit Minnesota’s best high school players and not let them leave the state.
For the 2007 season, I would not expect a whole lot. The Gophers bring in a brand new coach, different systems to learn, and lose several players. They could very well take last place in the Big Ten, and a bowl game seems out of the question. However, with Brewster at the helm, the future appears to be brighter for the Gopher Nation.