After winning only one game last season, Minnesota returns to bowl play after a one-year hiatus by earning a berth in the Insight Bowl for the second time in three seasons. Of course, the last time Minnesota played in this game, their head coach got fired.
The 2006 Insight Bowl saw Texas Tech rally from a 31-point second-half deficit midway through the third quarter to stun Minnesota 44-41 in overtime. Alex Trlica's 52-yard field goal as time expired in regulation completed the Red Raiders' improbable comeback. In overtime, Minnesota had to settle for a field goal and a 41-38 lead. But Texas Tech scored the game-winner on Shannon Wood's 3-yard run. The 31-point deficit is the largest margin any team has ever overcome in a 1-A bowl game. It broke the record set by Marshall in the 1991 GMAC Bowl when the Thundering Herd came back from a 38-8 halftime deficit to beat East Carolina in double overtime 64-61.
Glen Mason was canned two days later.
This season's strong start and weak finish is reminiscent of many of Mason's seasons. The 2000 squad started 5-2 before losing 3 straight games. In 2002, the Gophers began 7-1 before dropping four straight. In 2004, they started 5-0 but finished the regular season 6-5. In 2005, a 5-1 start became a 7-5 finish.
In Tim Brewster's second year as the head coach, the 2008 squad started 7-1 before closing with four straight losses to finish 7-5. Their bowl send-off was a 55-0 pasting at the hands of Iowa in front of the Golden Gopher faithful in the Metrodome.
Still, the Minnesota season was better than expected after last year's 1-11 debacle. The preseason forecast at collegefootballpoll.com, based on the Congrove Computer Rankings, projected a 2-10 season. Virtually every major preseason publication pegged the Gophers as the last-place team in the conference.
The Gophers are 5-7 overall in postseason play, including triumphs in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Minnesota will battle Kansas for the first time since 1973, and the seventh time in school history. The two schools have split their previous six matchups, but this will mark their first postseason meeting.
The Jayhawks are 5-6 in bowl games with victories in four of their last five appearances. Kansas beat Virginia Tech 24-21 in last year's Orange Bowl.
This season was a bit of a disappointment as Kansas was forecasted by the computer to go 11-1 and win the Big 12 North. The conference's preseason media poll had Kansas 2nd in the division.
After a 5-1 start, Kansas won just two of its last six games. The Jawhawks saved their best outing for the season finale when they upset Missouri 40-37 in Kansas City. Other than Louisiana Tech, that was the only win all year over a team with a .500 record.
Minnesota ranks 91st in total offense, and 75th in total defense.
Kansas ranks 23rd offensively, but 95th on defense. A year ago, Kansas boasted the No. 8 offense and No. 12 defense.
Jayhawk QB Todd Reesing led a one-dimensional offense that generated 3,620 yards passing to just 1,547 yards rushing. Reesing threw 28 TD passes to just 12 INT's while averaging 297.3 yards per game.
Minnesota also relied on the passing attack with 2,597 yards coming via the aerial assault, and only 1,270 yards generated on the ground. But QB Adam Weber had just 14 TD passes and 8 INT's while averaging 215.4 yards per game.