Team preview: Minnesota

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(All information as of July 1, 2006)


The drama for Minnesota got a head start in the offseason this year, as dark clouds circled the program during preparation for the Music City Bowl last December. Head coach Glen Mason's contract was up for renewal, and a strong case was made on both sides of the argument over whether to bring him back.

On the plus side, Mason's Gophers were about to play in their sixth bowl game in seven years, after a long dry spell for the traditionally dismal program, and put together an unprecedented streak of three straight seasons with two 1,000-yard rushers on the team.

However, under Mason the team had never finished higher than fourth place in the Big Ten, struggled to put together a significant winning streak even after big victories, and failed to reach what many people -- Mason included -- believed to be the team's lofty potential the last two seasons.

After much hand-wringing and sometimes contentious negotiations, Mason agreed to terms on a five-year contract reportedly worth $1.65 million annually. Just hours before the deadline to renew his assistant coaches' contracts, Mason went to bat for them asking for and receiving pay increases for key members of his staff. The coaches were relieved to let their recruits know that they'd be back in town for the foreseeable future.

With Mason and the assistants' futures secured, the focus shifted to the university's quest to secure funding for a new on-campus stadium. On May 20, the Minnesota legislature approved the facility, to the tune of $248 million. Construction on the 50,000-seat TCF Bank Stadium is set to begin during the summer, with plans for it to open in 2009.

"Bringing Gopher football back to campus will strengthen our university community and give Minnesotans even more pride in their flagship public research university," university president Robert Bruininks said.

"For years, we have been the only Big 10 school without an on-campus football stadium," Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi said. "This new facility will have a huge positive impact on our football program, recruiting and all of our athletic programs."

But the news hasn't been all rosy for Mason's program. One possible cause for concern is a report this spring that the Gophers have fallen short of meeting the NCAA's minimum graduation rate of 50 percent, meaning the program could face sanctions in the near future if circumstances don't change soon.