MINNEAPOLIS — Remember when the University of Minnesota football team was 4-0? It seems long ago, now that the Gophers have suffered three straight losses to open their Big Ten schedule.
Saturday’s defeat against Wisconsin dropped Minnesota to 0-3 in conference play as the Gophers prepare to host Purdue at TCF Bank Stadium. After Minnesota’s surprising 4-0 start, a bowl game appeared to be not only a real possibility but almost a certainty. At that point, the Gophers needed just two wins in eight Big Ten games to become bowl eligible.
Now, things are a bit tougher as Minnesota needs two wins in five games that include two more road contests. One of the Gophers’ three remaining home games will be against the 22nd-ranked Michigan Wolverines.
Still, at 4-3, the goal is no different for Minnesota than it was before the season began or after the 4-0 start.
“Believe me, I wish I could fix everything in a year and a half and be 10-0 or 12-1 or whatever, but it just doesn’t work that way,” Kill said. “Our first year, we’ve done a lot of good things to get it where it’s at. I think we’re moving the program forward. I think the kids understand that and feel good about it.”
Minnesota has not been to a bowl game since playing in the Insight Bowl at the end of the 2009 season, which means most of the young Gophers roster has not played in one. Two more wins in 2012, however, and Minnesota will be able to gain valuable postseason experience — and send the seniors off on a high note.
“We’ve got some seniors that have been tremendous through this process, that have been through tremendous amount of coaching change and different philosophies,” Kill said. “I’m proud of the way they’ve handled themselves. Our goal is to try to get them to a bowl game. That’s what we need to do.”
Slowly getting healthy: Minnesota was without many players on Saturday against Wisconsin, including several offensive linemen. Kill said Tuesday that left tackle Ed Olson will not be back for this weekend’s game against Purdue as he is still out with a right ankle injury.
Meanwhile, wide receivers Isaac Fruechte and Devin Crawford-Tufts, who each missed the game in Madison with concussions, have been cleared to practice and should be back on the field against the Boilermakers. Kill said Fruechte also had a bout with the flu on Friday.
“He had a rough week,” Kill said of Fruechte.
Fruechte and Crawford-Tufts are tied with tight end Drew Goodger for the second-most receptions on the team with 11. Fruechte has caught 11 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns, and Crawford-Tufts’ 11 catches have gone for 137 yards.
Meanwhile, safety Derrick Wells is a “question mark,” Kill said. Wells suffered a laceration on his knee prior to the game against Wisconsin but still played Saturday.
“He’s a tough kid, what he played with,” Kill said of Wells. “He had some work done on his leg done yesterday. Hopefully he’ll have a chance to play, but it’ll be later on in the week.”
During Minnesota’s three-game losing streak, health has been an issue. The problems began when quarterback MarQueis Gray sprained his ankle in Week 3 against Western Michigan, and Gray is still not 100 percent after reinjuring the ankle against Northwestern. Because of injuries to Gray and backup quarterback Max Shortell, Minnesota started true freshman Philip Nelson at quarterback against Wisconsin — his first college action.
Now, the Gophers are starting to get healthy on some fronts, but injuries have prevented Minnesota from developing any type of rhythm on offense.
“Staying healthy equals success,” Kill said. “When kids get hurt, whether it’s season-ending or it’s where they can’t perform to where they want to, you just really feel bad for the kids. You really do.”
Buzz cuts for a good cause: Inspired by an ailing teammate, many members of the Gophers football team will shave their heads next Monday in an effort to raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer research.
Walk-on wide receiver Connor Cosgrove was diagnosed with leukemia back in 2010 but has remained on the roster despite battling the disease. As he continues to fight, Cosgrove decided to enlist the help of his teammates to raise money and awareness for cancer, in partnership with St. Baldrick’s Foundation.
Among the list of more than 60 football players who have volunteered is senior linebacker Mike Rallis, who has not cut his hair in four years. During his time with the Gophers, Rallis’ long brown hair — which extends well below the bottom of his helmet — has become somewhat of a trademark.
On Monday, it will all be gone.
“I think I’ve been in a position where my hair has gained some attention through the media and through some articles,” Rallis said. “People recognize me from it. I think it’s gained enough attention that I can do some good with it, so that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Cosgrove, who addressed the media Tuesday immediately after finishing up a chemotherapy session, said Rallis’ decision to participate created a chain reaction among the rest of the team.
“Mike’s been doing this since Day 1. He’s kind of been telling me he wanted to donate,” Cosgrove said. “The fact that he’s willing to do this, I had a list of probably like 20, 25 people going. And when Mike Rallis signed up, everyone’s kind of like, ‘Oh, if Mike’s in, I’m in.’ … Mike has been huge and has been incredible in the fact that he’s willing to get rid of that beautiful hair for this.”