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Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 10/7/2004

History shows Gophers tough to take seriously

ANN ARBOR - Last year's Michigan-Minnesota game has been shown this week on ESPN Classic.

It is still hard to believe the Wolverines' stirring fourth-quarter comeback, even after watching it the second time around.

The Golden Gophers had what appeared to be a commanding 28-7 lead after three quarters, and looked to be on their way to a 7-0 start.

The talented-laden

Wolverines were just 15 minutes away from staggering to 4-3 and spiraling into a season of discontent.

But then came Minnesota's epic meltdown in the Metrodome.

Garrett Rivas' 33-yard field with 51 seconds left capped an incredible 31-point fourth-quarter rally, and the Wolverines escaped with a 38-35 victory, and their Big Ten lives.

It was a classic win for Michigan, indeed. Not only did it save the Wolverines' season - they went on to win the Big Ten title outright - it sealed the biggest comeback in school history.

"There's no question about it, it's No. 1 on my list," Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards was saying earlier this week. "What happened in the course of that game, especially in the second half, and more importantly, the fourth quarter, makes that game so much more special than the others.

"It's definitely the most thrilling game I've ever been part of at any level - little league, high school, and definitely college."

For Minnesota, it was a catastrophic collapse. And it is something the Golden Gophers have had to hash and rehash for a year now.

The rematch for college football's oldest trophy, the Little Brown Jug, is here Saturday at the Big House.

"I don't view this as a revenge game for us," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. "They didn't do anything to us last year that would allow us to call it that. They simply did what they were supposed to do, and that was to score points to win the game at the end.

"We were supposed to stop them and we didn't do that, so we should be the ones that are mad going into the game."

Again this season, Minnesota is unbeaten in the conference at 2-0, along with Michigan and Wisconsin. The Gophers are looking to start 6-0 overall in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1940 and '41.

Some of the Minnesota players are already smelling roses, but the aroma smells more like road-kill to me.

Michigan has won the last 15 meetings in this lopsided series, 32 of the last 34, and owns a commanding 66-23-3 all-time edge. Besides, the Gophers have not won many important games period since claiming a share of their last Big Ten title in 1967, going a combined 4-66 against Big Ten bullies Michigan and Ohio State.

Consider this as well - Minnesota has not been to the Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 1962, although all 10 other Big Ten teams have found the path to Pasadena. That is why it is tough to take the Gophers seriously.

Despite its favorable conference schedule this season, Minnesota has beaten just one team with a winning record, and that was Toledo, which just climbed above .500 for the first time last week.

"I think it's pretty obvious if you don't play Purdue and Ohio State, it's helpful," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "But they still have some good teams to play. They still have to play Wisconsin. They still got to play Iowa."

The Gophers also must overcome the psychological baggage associated with last year's collapse - along with their historical inability to win big games.

Heading into the 1968 season Minnesota had captured or shared 18 Big Ten championships and six national titles. At the same point in time, Michigan had won 21 Big Ten crowns and 10 national championships; Ohio State 12 and four.

Since the 1968 season, Minnesota has not won a championship of any kind, and the Gophers - although they did knock off then No. 1 Michigan 16-0 at home in 1977 and then No. 2 Michigan 20-17 in Michigan Stadium in 1986 - have appeared in just seven minor bowl games.

Four of those postseason berths have come in the last five years under Mason, the former Ohio State player and Buckeyes assistant under Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce.

During the same 36-year period, Michigan has gone to 31 bowl games, won 20 Big Ten titles, and earned a share of one national championship. Meanwhile, Ohio State has made 31 bowl appearances, won 17 conference crowns, and three more national titles.

Enough said.

There is a whole lot of history working against Minnesota Saturday. The Gophers have dug themselves a big hole. They have not been anything close to a major contender for a long time, but only a pretender. There is no reason to believe that is going to change.



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