Trophy hunting: Minnesota out to end skid vs. Iowa
Adam Weber and Jon Hoese have become close friends over their careers at Minnesota, marked more by frustration and heartbreak than big wins and bowl games.
These seniors, though, won't let all those losses cloud their feelings about the college football experience. Time in the locker room with their teammates. Playing in storied stadiums in front of thousands of fans. Singing the school fight song, the Minnesota Rouser, after a victory.
''I'll leave here with a smile on my face,'' said Weber, who has started all 49 games of his career and is the all-time Minnesota leader in several statistical categories for quarterbacks.
Weber's roommate, Hoese, is going out with the same attitude, despite a season that went sour after an inspired opening win on the road at Middle Tennessee in which Hoese honored the sudden death of his father by scoring three touchdowns.
''Adversity will hit you at any time, and the minute you think you have things figured out you have a curveball thrown at you,'' Hoese said. ''You've just got to take a step back, realize what's going on and try to keep moving forward with it.''
Hoese added: ''It's unfortunate that we didn't have a better season, but being optimistic about it you have to make the most of every opportunity. That goes farther than football too.''
The Gophers (2-9, 1-6 Big Ten), after rallying to beat Illinois two weeks for their first November conference win since 2006, can finish this rough season strong with a win over 24th-ranked Iowa (7-4, 4-3) at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday.
The rival Hawkeyes have owned the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy, a bronze pig played for between these border-state schools since 1935, for eight of the last nine years.
''To make it a rivalry, we need to win more,'' Gophers interim head coach Jeff Horton said.
Minnesota has fierce rivalries with Iowa and Wisconsin, and also plays for trophies with Michigan and Penn State. This outgoing group of seniors hasn't beaten any of those teams. The win at the Metrodome over Iowa in 2006 was the last time the Gophers won one.
The Gophers, in fact, haven't even scored against the Hawkeyes in three years. They lost 55-0 in 2008 and 12-0 in 2009.
Iowa won't take this lightly, though. At least not if the head coach, Kirk Ferentz, can help it.
''They played a very good game down there against a team that's been playing well,'' Ferentz said, referring to Minnesota's win over Illinois. ''So that's a real credit to them, the staff, the players. We expect their best shot this week.''
Horton, who took over last month when Tim Brewster was fired, is preparing for the end. The new coach will almost certainly bring in an entirely new staff. Horton was relaxed as ever at his news conference this week, firing off all kinds of gallows-humor one-liners as he talked about the finality of what has been a tumultuous 2010 season for the maroon and gold.
Particularly the players.
''We'll be here each and every day for 'em, until the one day when you come in and you put the key in and that baby won't turn,'' Horton said.
He added: ''Let's build it for the next guy and have the players going into the right direction so everybody goes into the recruiting in the offseason in a positive way.''
The Hawkeyes have fallen out of the Big Ten title and BCS chases after three losses - to Wisconsin, at Northwestern and to Ohio State - by four points or fewer. But there's still a chance to play in a New Year's Day bowl game, and Ferentz won't settle for easing out of the season.
He shrugged off any concern about his team's mental state following consecutive close defeats.
''If we were coming off two big euphoric-type wins, I'd be concerned probably the other direction,'' Ferentz said. ''So it's like in any game: You always have challenges going into a game and things you're concerned about.''
Starting running back Adam Robinson won't play because of a mild concussion suffered last month and aggravated again last week. Freshman Marcus Coker will get another opportunity to build off the 129-yard, 22-carry performance he posted three weeks ago against Indiana.
There's a full slate of Big Ten games this weekend, a rarity for perhaps the most traditional of the major conferences that comprise the BCS. Ferentz, for one, isn't a fan of post-Thanksgiving play.
''I think being with family is still an American value,'' he said. ''Kind of makes it a little bit tougher for a lot of guys.''
The holiday weekend will certainly be more fulfilling for the side that gets to keep the old pig.
''We've got too many empty trophy cases around here,'' Horton said. ''That's our last chance.''