MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Looking for proof of how wacky this Big Ten football season has been? Try this on for size - Minnesota is setting a standard Michigan hopes to follow.
The Wolverines (2-7, 1-4) limp into the Metrodome on Saturday in the throes of one of the most difficult seasons in the proud program's history. Michigan has struggled mightily to acquaint itself with first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez's system, and the maize and blue faithful have been none too pleased about it.
If anyone knows what Rodriguez and the Wolverines are going through, it's Minnesota coach Tim Brewster and his Gophers (7-2, 3-2). In Brewster's first season on the job last year, the Gophers went 1-11, their most losses in 100-plus years on the gridiron.
ster said.
Throughout last season, quarterback Adam Weber heard all the jokes, all the questions, all the doubts about whether Brewster was the right fit for this team, and whether there could ever be a winning program in the Twin Cities.
``It's exactly what we went through last year. It's very, very tough for that whole squad,'' Weber said. ``You come in there with a lot of expectations. To come out and have a season where everyone's disappointed, especially the fans, it's very hard, and it's frustrating to go through.''
The Gophers are used to hearing all the negativity. Mediocrity has surrounded this campus since the glory days of the 1950s and '60s.
Not so at Michigan, which has more victories than any other school in Division I.
Rodriguez's arrival after building West Virginia into a top-10 program was hailed as the first step in a return to glory for the mighty Wolverines, who had fallen behind archrival Ohio State since Jim Tressel was hired to coach the Buckeyes in 2001.
But to say there have been growing pains in Rodriguez's first season on the job would be a gross understatement.
Michigan ranks dead last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, scoring defense, passing offense, passing defense and total offense. It has lost five games in a row and won't play in a bowl game for the first time in 35 years.
z said during a sometimes testy press conference this week. ``Everybody can have their opinion, but I've been here 10 months. I feel as good as I have as far as I know we can build this program to be one of the best in the country. It's not showing that right now, but we can do that. It may take us longer than what I thought.''
The losing is wearing on Michigan's seniors. Defensive end Tim Jamison said the class met after the loss to Purdue on Saturday and ``said we're going to finish the season strong.''
To do that, the Wolverines will first look to retain the Little Brown Jug, the oldest rivalry trophy in college football. They have lost it just twice to the Gophers in the last 30 years, and not once has Minnesota captured it in 11 previous games in the Metrodome.
``We'd like to be able to compete on a level with Michigan year-in and year-out where we're winning some football games against them so it truly is a rivalry,'' Brewster said bluntly. ``We've won two times in 30 years. We're 0-11 in the Metrodome. I have a hard time calling that a major rivalry.''
It may not provide much solace to Jamison and the rest of Michigan's seniors, but the Wolverines who will return next season can look to the Gophers for inspiration.
nation of Weber to receiver Eric Decker, the Gophers are making people forget about just how bad things were last year.
``I think you can see the results that can happen from year one to year two in a system like that,'' Minnesota tight end Jack Simmons said. ``They have some great players. We're not going to sympathize for them on Saturday, but I understand what they're going through. You kind of have seen the same growing pains in us last year.''

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