Best and worst of 2012: Minnesota

We're borrowing an idea from the Big 12 blog and starting a new series today breaking down the best and worst moments of the season for each Big Ten team. Let's begin with the Minnesota Golden Gophers:

Best moment: Getting bowl eligible

The Gophers' 17-3 win at Illinois on Nov. 10 was neither their best victory nor top performance of the year. That honor probably goes to either the win over Syracuse or the unexpected rout of Purdue. But beating a bad Illini team still ranks as the top moment because of its significance. Minnesota clinched postseason eligibility that day and eventually played in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas for its first bowl appearance since the 2009 season. It was also the first Big Ten road victory under Jerry Kill. The game wasn't pretty to watch, especially after the first half ended in a 3-3 tie. But the Gophers came up with some key defensive stops and just enough offense, mostly by Donnell Kirkwood (152 rushing yards, two scores) to go bowling. "We had two long, hard years of struggling," defensive end D.L. Wilhite told the St. Paul Pioneer Press afterward. "So it means a lot for the program moving forward."

Worst moment: Losing the pig

Minnesota entered its Floyd of Rosedale rivalry game with Iowa on a roll, having gone 4-0 in the nonconference season. Hopes were high for a third straight win over the inconsistent Hawkeyes. Instead, the Gophers got turned into shredded pork. Iowa rolled up a 24-0 halftime lead as Mark Weisman ran all over Minnesota's defense for 177 yards, and the normally buttoned-down Kirk Ferentz offense even pulled off a flea flicker for a 47-yard touchdown. Max Shortell, filling in for the injured MarQueis Gray, threw three interceptions. The Hawkeyes went on to win 31-13 and would earn only one more victory the rest of the season. But they wrested the pig back away from the Gophers, whose nonconference buzz quickly evaporated.