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COACH TIM BREWSTER HAS HEARD THE CACOPHONY OF PESSIMISTS. "I like that. I like the doomsday sayers saying, 'The schedule is too hard' or 'They're too young,' " says Brewster, whose team went 6-7 in 2009 and is 14-24 over his three seasons in charge. "When you look at the tradition and history of Minnesota football, we said we wanted to reconnect with that. I think our motivation is extremely high because of the schedule we're playing."
The Gophers have been to bowl games in nine of the past 11 years—including playing in the Insight Bowl last year for a total of three times in the past four seasons. However, they haven't won a Big Ten championship in more than four decades.
Getting the program to that next level will not be easy, especially in 2010. There's the rising pressure to win—and win now—in the school's sparkling, one-year-old TCF Bank Stadium. And just look at the gantlet facing it there: USC. Penn State. Ohio State. Iowa. All ranked teams with plenty of size and speed. And that's just at home.
"Those are great opportunities for us," says Adam Weber, who returns for his fourth season as Minnesota's starting quarterback. "We can look at it in two ways. Either, Man, it's tough; how are we going to do it? Or we can look at it as an opportunity to become a very special team that Minnesota hasn't seen in a long time."
To do that the most radical part of the transformation will have to occur on defense, where the team must replace almost all of its starters, including the entire front seven. The good news is that the departed unit allowed an average of 151.7 rushing yards in 2009, and there is reason to believe the 2010 cast will be better. Solid recruiting classes have been Brewster's strength, and it's time for those players to prove their value. These young Gophers—particularly sophomore end D.L. Wilhite, redshirt freshman end Ra'Shede Hageman and sophomore linebacker Keanon Cooper—will be asked to grow up quickly.
"I anticipate us being a better football team, a better defensive football team," Brewster says. "I like our athleticism. I like the edge that this group is going to play with. We're young, but you know what? It's talented youth. I couldn't be more excited."
COACH Tim Brewster (4th year)
14-24 (6-18 in Big Ten)