Insight Bowl Preview
These programs feel they have plenty to play for in their first meeting in 35 years in the Insight Bowl on New Year's Eve at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made Kansas –10 point spread favorites for the Insight Bowl against Minnesota. Current College Fooball Public Betting Information shows that 51% of more than 2,682 bets for this game have been placed on the Kansas -10.
A year ago, both were in very different situations than they are now while preparing to play for the first time since Kansas won 34-19 at Lawrence in 1973.
Last December, the Jayhawks were on the verge of beating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl to cap a remarkable 12-1 season. Minnesota, meanwhile, was wondering how to rebound from a disastrous 1-11 season under first-year coach Tim Brewster.
Now, both hope to end once-promising seasons on a positive note.
Despite losing four of its final six contests, Kansas (7-5) is not satisfied with recording consecutive bowl berths for the first time in school history.
"To have the chance to win back-to-back bowls is something that we want to go out with. It is really important for us to get this win," Kansas offensive lineman Adrian Mayes said.
Minnesota's turnaround, however, is one of the best stories of 2008.
"Minnesota has made huge strides," said Kansas coach Mark Mangino of the Gophers, who allowed 23.3 points per game this season after their opponents averaged 36.7 in 2007. "They are making outstanding progress."
The Gophers (7-5) opened with four straight victories before falling 34-21 at then-No. 14 Ohio State on Sept. 27. Minnesota was 7-1 and ranked in the Top 25 before hitting a skid it will try to stop in this contest.
Minnesota was outscored 143-55 while dropping its final four games to finish 3-5 in the Big Ten. Despite the losing streak, Brewster is not disappointed and expects his team to be ready to end the season on a positive note.
"I could not be more proud of what our team has accomplished this season and I am thrilled that all their hard work is being rewarded," he said. "It's really clear in my mind what we need to do to improve as a football team and to compete at the highest level."
While the Gophers' defense led by All-Big Ten lineman Willie VanDeSteeg (9 1/2 sacks) hopes to be up to task against Kansas' 27th-ranked offense averaging 32.7 points, Minnesota's own offense must get going again.
Sophomore quarterback Adam Weber and junior receiver Eric Decker were among the top players in the Big Ten, but did little down the stretch.
Decker, first in the conference with a school-record 76 receptions, caught three passes for 30 yards and no touchdowns in his last two games while missing a 35-32 loss at Wisconsin on Nov. 15 due to an ankle injury.
Healthy, the 6-foot-2 Decker will pose a serious challenge for a vulnerable Kansas defense that allows 29.5 points per game.
Weber completed a league-best 62.8 percent of his passes for 2,585 yards - second in the Big Ten - with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Weber, though, threw for 434 yards and three TDs with four interceptions in his last three games, including two in a 55-0 loss to Iowa to conclude the regular season.
"Their quarterback is a good player," Kansas cornerback Justin Thornton said. "He kind of reminds me of (Kansas quarterback) Todd (Reesing). It'll be a great test for us."
Reesing could be the best player on the field after practically rewriting parts of the school's record book.
The junior broke four single-season records - completions (302), attempts (460), total yards (3,683) and yards passing (3,575) - in 2008, and helped the Jayhawks end the regular season with a 40-37 upset of then-No. 12 Missouri on Nov. 29.
Reesing was 37-for-51 for 375 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winner to Kerry Meier with 27 seconds left in the game.
"His play was phenomenal,'' Mangino said. "I get this feeling when I watch him that you can almost see this competitive spirit radiate from him.''
Meier had a school-record 14 of his team-leading 87 receptions against Missouri. He finished third in the Big 12 behind the Tigers' Jeremy Maclin (95) and Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree (93).
Though Kansas won't be playing in a BCS bowl this season, Mangino is happy with the progress of his team that was battered by injuries and went 4-4 to finish third in Big 12's North Division.
"We played one of the toughest schedules in the country," said Mangino, whose team's league losses came to Nebraska, and Top 10 teams Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas. "The way (the regular season) ended is much better."
While the teams have split six all-time meetings, Kansas is 5-6 in bowl games and making its fourth appearance in seven seasons under Mangino.
Minnesota is 5-7 in bowl games and playing in its first since losing 44-41 in overtime to Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl.
Insight Bowl Key Player Injuries:
No significant injuries.
[RB] Carmon Boyd-Anderson has decided to transfer. - Personal - 08/16/08
[PK] Stephen Hoge has left the team. - Personal - 08/19/08
[LB] Justin Springer expected to miss rest of the season. - Undisclosed -
[P] Kyle Davis has quit the team. - Personal - 08/16/08
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Posted: 12/16/08 4:16PM ET