Thursday, December 31, 2009

Final Challenge for Brewster to Prove His Worth

The Gophers make their third appearance in the Insight Bowl on Thursday to take on Iowa State in a battle of 6-6 teams. The game will mark coach Tim Brewster's second bowl game in as many seasons, something which may have seemed inconceivable after the team's 1-11 disaster in 2007.

Despite reports by Kent Youngblood in the Star Tribune that Brewster and Athletic Director Joel Maturi are in negotiations for an extension, a loss to the Cyclones in Tempe could indeed spell the end of Brewster's tenure in Minnesota.

Look, much analysis has been performed about Brewster's tenure with the Gophers, and a 14-23 overall mark (6-18 in conference play, including the first winless season since 1983) may or may not warrant an extension. I have gone on record saying that the Gophers should wait until next season to decide if there is progress in the program before discussing an extension (Brewster has two years left on his contract at $1M per season), and I think that is still the case.

However, if the Gophers lay an egg in Tempe on Thursday, Brewster could still get the ax now, and there is precedent for this.

The Gophers played Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl and blew a huge lead in the second half before losing in overtime to a talented team. Despite the fact the Gophers were 6-6 going into that game and were coming off four consecutive winning seasons, Maturi bowed to public pressure and canned coach Glen Mason upon the team's return the next day. Brewster was hired a month later.

Iowa State provides this season's opposition. The Cyclones had a string of three consecutive losing seasons coming into this season, and are on their third coach in four seasons. Dan McCarney was fired after a 4-8 finish in 2006, and Gene Chizik somehow got the Auburn head coaching position despite a 5-19 mark during his two seasons in Ames. New coach Paul Rhodes has managed much more success in his rookie campaign.

Iowa State finished the regular season with a 6-6 mark (3-5 in Big XII play). The season's highlight was a 9-7 victory over Nebraska in Lincoln, the first for ISU since 1977. In that game, the Cyclones forced eight Nebraska turnovers.

Still, it's not like ISU rolled through Big XII play. The other conference victories came against bottom-feeders Baylor and Colorado. Non-conference victories over North Dakota State (hold the jokes), Army, and Kent State don't exactly make one mention ISU among the nation's elite. Still, 6-6 coming off four losing seasons is something upon which to build.

Former De La Salle High School player Alexander Robinson is Iowa State's most prolific offensive weapon. Robinson rushed for 1,058 yards on 210 carries (5.0 yard average) and six TDs during 2009. QB Austen Arnaud completed 57% of his passes and rushed for 485 yards and seven TDs, but was somewhat erratic (11 TDs vs. 13 INT). The Cyclones prefer to spread the ball around to different receivers, and seven of them picked up at least 100 yards this season.

In a way, Iowa State is very similar to the Gophers. They are two programs struggling for respect in tough conferences and hungry for stability. The major difference is that ISU has its coaching situation solid for 2010 and beyond while the Gophers are in flux.

Whether or not progress is evident in the Gopher program is debatable (I believe there has been progress, for the record). However, a victory over a Big XII team in Tempe will get some of Brewster's critics off his back for the time-being. I mean, the Gophers HAVE to beat Iowa State, no?

Prediction: Gophers 34, Iowa State 28

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