Minnesota discovering passing game

Consecutive home losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State leave Minnesota scrambling to attain bowl eligibility for the fifth time in six seasons as it heads for a road game at Indiana. The Hoosiers seem a welcome arrival on the schedule, given IU's three consecutive defeats, but the Gophers haven't won in Bloomington since 1985. … If there were a bright spot in the 45-31 loss to Ohio State, it was the emergence of the passing game. Minnesota's offense might not rely so heavily on the run next season after quarterback Bryan Cupito's 396 passing yards against OSU. That's the highest passing total at Minnesota in nine seasons. Cupito found six different receivers at least three times apiece and had a 25-yard connection or longer with five of those players. … What's Minnesota president Robert Bruininks thinking? Oh, that's right, he's not thinking at all. If he were, Bruininks wouldn't have told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "We have one of the great universities in the country, and we should have an equally good football program. I'm not happy with the football program now." Bruininks tried removing the shoe from his mouth by saying, "I'm sure Glen Mason wants a better program too." Note to the prez: What Mason would really like is a football budget that's not an embarrassment at $7 million annually, plus an on-campus venue for home games. Don't be surprised if Minnesota, which has foolishly let Mason go deep into the next-to-last year on his contract, loses him to some school in a BCS conference where they recognize that Mason's five -- and soon to be six -- bowl bids in nine seasons is nothing short of a minor miracle at Minnesota, which had made five bowl trips in history before his arrival.

Wisconsin heads for a first-place showdown at Penn State experiencing a case of deja vu, and with good reason. The Badgers went into their regular-season finale last year at Iowa needing a victory to clinch a share of the Big Ten title. That 30-7 loss will be a major motivator next week when Iowa comes to Madison, if Wisconsin gets out of Beaver Stadium with a victory and a one-game lead in the standings. … Saturday's showdown matches Wisconsin's offense, which leads the conference in scoring (39.7 ppg), against a Penn State defense rated No. 1 in the Big Ten in points allowed (16.1 ppg) and passing (192.9 ypg). … While Wisconsin tailback Brian Calhoun gets most of the headlines, Penn State's pass defense will definitely get tested. Badgers quarterback John Stocco has surpassed 200 passing yards in each of his last five games. … The concern for Wisconsin's defense is stopping the Lions' mobile QB, Michael Robinson. Illinois QB Tim Brasic scrambled for first downs when needing 15, 5 and 7 yards to sustain drives en route to 116 rushing yards in the Illini's 41-24 loss to Wisconsin. … Defensive tackle Jason Chapman should be healthier than he has been in weeks for the game against Penn State.

Ohio State
Illinois poses no threat, other than injury to a headliner, for OSU this weekend. Instead, the Buckeyes hope the matchup affords them the chance to look at backup tailback Maurice Wells. The freshman's carries have been limited this season, but he's going to be needed down the stretch now that former No. 2 tailback Brandon Schnittker is out for the rest of the regular season due to back surgery. … OSU appears set for a starting tailback given Antonio Pittman's 187 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 45-31 win over Minnesota. Pittman scored the first touchdowns of his career after going scoreless on more than 200 career carries. "I got the monkey off my back,'' Pittman said. … Kicker Josh Huston still hasn't connected on a field goal of 50 yards or more, but OSU hasn't missed Groza Award-winner Mike Nugent all that much. Huston put all eight kickoffs at Minnesota out of the end zone to pin the Gophers in horrible field position all day. Thirty-two of his 48 kickoffs have been touchbacks, and Huston has made 14 of 17 field-goal attempts.