Excitement builds for new Gophers stadium

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

TCF Bank Stadium features all the bells and whistles: A football-shaped locker room that measures 60 yards by 25 yards; the third-largest scoreboard in college football, 37 private suites, 350 LCD televisions, a 20,000-square foot club room.

But for Minnesota senior wide receiver Eric Decker, some of the stadium's most basic features mean the most.

"It’s nice to finally see Minnesota lettering on the field and also in the stands," Decker said. "It’s a place we can finally call home."

Beginning Saturday night against Air Force (Big Ten Network, 7 p.m. ET), Minnesota will no longer be a tenant in a multipurpose stadium occupied by a pro baseball and a pro football team. TCF Bank Stadium belongs to the Gophers.

Football is back on campus and back outdoors for the first time since 1981.

It's the first new stadium in the Big Ten since 1960 and just the second on-campus facility built by a BCS school since 1998 (Stanford is the other). The stadium has increased enthusiasm for Gophers football, which fell short of expectations for most of its run in the Metrodome.

"You can tell now with school starting that the student body is getting excited about football and Saturday game days," said Decker, a native of Cold Spring, Minn., who will have 15 to 20 family members and friends at the game. "People come up and ask for tickets and it’s like, ‘It’s already sold out. I can’t help you out there.'

"It seems like a lot more people are getting involved and want to be there."

Decker and his teammates expect to feed off the crowd Saturday night, but they've been challenged to maintain their focus until kickoff. Air Force is hardly a pushover, and Minnesota has many more distractions this week than most.

Head coach Tim Brewster limited media access to players and showed them plenty of Air Force tape -- the Falcons won their opener 72-0 -- to keep the focus where it needs to be. The team has practiced and scrimmaged in the stadium throughout the preseason and will hold one more workout there this week to get comfortable.

"We know that this is a special occasion for everybody, and we’ve got to make this game extra special," Decker said. "With the preparation, we’ll be able to see that excitement on game day and kind of use that 12th man for us. Hopefully, we get things going the right way and keep that excitement all game long."