Gophers ready for Big Ten season

MINNEAPOLIS -- The extent of Glen Mason's expertise on Big Ten Conference football in 2003 is this: reading scores and watching slightly less than one half of one game of Penn State film.

His crystal ball, then, is more like a cloudy snow globe. The University of Minnesota football coach knows the league schedule starts Saturday against the Nittany Lions, he knows his team is one of three unbeatens left in the conference and he knows that eight weekends stand between his Gophers and their Rose Bowl aspirations.

Other than that, your guess is as good as his.

"A week ago, everyone was saying Michigan was the best team in the country, bar none,'' Mason said Sunday. "Now they lose to Oregon, so I don't know what people are saying. The only team I've seen on film is Penn State, and so far I've seen very little, so it's hard for me to really comment on that.

"I know there are good teams in this league, any way you look at it.''


But things definitely have shaken out differently than many predicted. Michigan lost its lease on the penthouse with a loss at Oregon on Saturday. Ohio State remains unscathed, barely, but doesn't have the firepower many expected with the loss of Maurice Clarett.

Purdue is ranked but has one bad loss, Wisconsin and Penn State look shaky and Illinois has lost three of four. Iowa once again has served a buffet of crow to prognosticators. The Hawkeyes have surged to four victories and a No. 13 ranking, thanks to a defense that is third in the nation with just 8.3 points allowed a game.

The Gophers enter the fray at 4-0, newly ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll and wondering whether the change of scenery will affect them.

"I'm real excited to get to the Big Ten and see what we can do,'' receiver Jared Ellerson said. "I feel we'll perform the same as long as we keep our head on straight and practice the way we have been. It shouldn't be a big change.''

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