This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
Second in six-part series leading up to EA's release of NCAA Football 2011.
I struggled with this post theme. In my lifetime there really are not any Gopher teams that stand out and deserve this notion of being an unquestionable fan favorite. The 1999 club was the first winning team in nearly a decade and included a huge upset over Penn State and we took home Floyde of Rosedale for the second straight season. 2004 was the final season of the Marion Barber / Laurence Maroney era. 2006 saw an epic upset over Michigan. But I'm going to go with the winningest team since 1967.
The 2003 Gophers were dangerously and surprisingly close to actually earning a trip to the Rose Bowl. In fact we were actually a three touchdown, fourth quarter lead away from likely making it happen. This was the most offensively dangerous team we've seen and arguably the stoutest defense the Gophers have fielded in years.
The Big Ten's #1 offense was lead by Marion Barber and freshman, Laurence Maroney. Both finished in the top five among Big Ten rushers and each had over 1,100 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Asad Abdul-Kaliq was fourth in total yards in the league and the senior QB lead this Gopher to offense to be one of the most feared in the country.
Defensively these Gophers finished fifth in the league in yards allowed. Not exactly amazing stats for the defense but this star-less squad usually did it's job to keep the opponent from scoring as much as our offense.
2003 saw nine regular season wins, Paul Bunyan's Ax returned to Minnesota and knocked off an 8-4 Oregon team in the Sun Bowl to get their 10th win on the season.
But what Gopher fans remember about the 2003 season is the infamous Michigan game. Minnesota entered the home game 6-0 and they were ready to face a typically strong Michigan squad lead by Chris Perry, John Navarre and Braylon Edwards. How does a team lose when they rack up 424 yards rushing, a 14-0 halftime lead and extended that to a 21 point lead heading into the fourth quarter. One would think that with a dominating rushing attack and a 21 point lead, you could take the air out of the ball and grind your way to a win over Michigan for the first time since 1986.
But Michigan outscored us 31-7 in that fateful fourth quarter and Minnesota's dreams of a Rose Bowl were crushed. As it turns out had the Gophers won that game we would have finished tied with Michigan and Ohio State for the Big Ten title and likely would have been the team heading to Pasadena.
But let's forget that game and focus on the 10-3 record, two 1,000 yard rushers, a Wisconsin victory, up to a #17 rank and a Sun Bowl win over a good Oregon team. This team was the closest we have seen in many of our lifetimes to a Rose Bowl team. With Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney were so much fun to watch as they dominated nearly every defense we faced.
This team was good and it was fun to watch but I think we are all waiting for that team we will all look to as our favorite team. That one team that exceeds expectations beats a couple teams we weren't supposed to AND they beat the teams they should. That team that takes us to a January bowl game or better will immediately be this generation's favorite.
What teams am I missing? How about some older Gopher fans, can you point us to some fun teams in prior decades? What am I missing?