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m5157 BC-FBC-Minnesota-NoBowl 10-21 0636

Gophers eliminated from bowl contention for first time since 2001

AP Photos of Oct. 20: MNPB101-108, MNPAU101

By JON KRAWCZYNSKI

AP Sports Writer

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota’s recent bowl history may not include a New Year’s Day game, or even one of the many upper-tier games that come with a respectable finish in the Big Ten.

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But the Gophers haven’t hesitated to proudly say that they have qualified for five straight postseason games, even if they are three Music City Bowls, a Sun Bowl and an Insight Bowl.

After an embarrassing loss to North Dakota State on Saturday, the reeling Gopher football program won’t even have that to brag about anymore.

The Bison, from the division formerly known as I-AA, made the three-hour drive from sleepy Fargo, N.D., to the Twin Cities and officially eliminated Minnesota from bowl season contention with a 27-21 victory that was nowhere near that close.

The last time the Gophers missed a bowl game was in 2001, when they went 4-7 under former coach Glen Mason.

"That really hurts, seniors especially," senior safety Dominique Barber said.

When Tim Brewster was hired in the offseason, he immediately started bombastically spouting about "taking Gopher Nation to Pasadena."

It was an eyebrow-raising proclamation for a coach coming to a program that has known only mediocrity — at best — for the better part of 30 years.

Now sitting at 1-7 in his first year on the job, all the talk Brewster did in the offseason about turning around the Gophers instantly seems even sillier than ever.

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To his credit, the coach has been reluctant to use simply making a bowl game as a barometer of success. He knows that any team with a .500 record can get into one of the dizzying number of postseason charades these days.

"It’s not about the number of wins we have, it’s about winning a championship," Brewster said last week. "So that’s where I’m kind of stuck on — winning a championship.

"I’m not trying to win games so we’re bowl eligible. I’ve been to 16 bowl games as a player and as a coach. Going to a bowl game does not excite me. Playing in a championship bowl game excites the heck out of me."

From the looks of things now, Brewster is a long way from getting excited.

The Bison outgained Minnesota 585-307, including rushing for an astounding 394 yards on the ground.

After watching his players get manhandled and run over for 3 1/2 hours, Brewster acknowledged what has been known all along — that he has some big-time work to do in recruiting.

"We have to get better, without question, and we’ll do that," Brewster said. "We’re recruiting very hard."

Brewster has a reputation as a recruiting guru from his days under Mack Brown at Texas, but that isn’t helping the seniors on this team.

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"The younger guys, you can learn from the season," redshirt freshman quarterback Adam Weber said. "But you feel for the older guys. This is their last season. It’s tough to say that hey, these last four games you have to learn from."

More hard lessons could be right around the corner. The Gophers are at Michigan this week, then host Illinois before finishing up the season with games at Iowa and home against Wisconsin, with a 1-11 season looking increasingly possible.

"It’s frustrating," downtrodden linebacker Steve Davis said after the game. "Most of us have never been involved in a losing team. So this year has come as a huge surprise. It’s disappointing, but hey, we’ve got four more games. We have to try to do something with this season and get something positive out of it."

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Jon Krawczynski can be reached at jkrawczynski(at)ap.org.

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