Overmatched Gophers still a work in progress

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The first eight games showed how far Minnesota has come from its 1-11 disaster in 2007.

The last five games showed how far the Golden Gophers still need to go.

Minnesota's 42-21 loss to Kansas in the Insight Bowl capped a five-game slide to close a season that began with so much promise. This looked like a mismatch heading in, and unfortunately for the Gophers, it was. A seasoned Kansas team led by do-it-all quarterback Todd Reesing overwhelmed Tim Brewster's squad.

To have any shot at an upset, Minnesota's defense had to force turnovers, something it did better than any Big Ten team this season. Either the defensive line or the secondary needed to disrupt Reesing's rhythm, and both units could not get it done. Jayhawks wideout Dezmon Briscoe torced the Gophers for 201 receiving yards and three touchdowns, and teammate Kerry Meier added 113 receiving yards and a touchdown. Meier also threw a touchdown to Briscoe.

First-year Gophers defensive coordinator Ted Roof did a nice job with a revamped unit for two-thirds of the season, but Minnesota (7-6) looked more like last year's defense down the stretch, allowing 97 points in the final two games. Though rush end Willie VanDeSteeg is a key loss, most of the defense returns for 2009 and should be improved.

As expected, Minnesota emphasized the power run game after bringing in new offensive line coach Tim Davis in late November. The Gophers had some early success and took a 14-7 lead on two touchdown plunges by new fullback Jon Hoese. Brewster clearly has the right idea in restoring Minnesota's traditional run game, but it will take more time for the system to fully take shape.

With Reesing and his receivers doing whatever they pleased, Minnesota was forced to pass to stay in the game. Gophers wideout Eric Decker had a big night (149 receiving yards), but Minnesota simply doesn't have enough weapons to win an offensive shootout right now.

Despite a very disappointing finish, Minnesota still has some positive momentum after a six-win improvement from 2007 and TCF Bank Stadium opening in September. Brewster is recruiting well and brings the enthusiasm and high expectations this program needs. Led by quarterback Adam Weber, he nucleus is back for 2009.

But make no mistake -- the Gophers aren't there yet. Late-season collapses are far too common for this program, and Brewster has to end the trend immediately.

As for the Big Ten, yuck. Aside from Northwestern's impressive effort Monday, the bowl season has been a disaster. The Big Ten is the only BCS conference without a win, while other leagues, particularly the Pac-10, have made major strides. Perhaps the new year will bring better outcomes for the league.