Portrait of the Gophers at rock bottom: How low can Minnesota go?

Purdue 45, Minnesota 17.
There was never a chance that this game, at this point in the season, was going to be anything but depressing. Outside of the conference, the Gophers and Boilermakers had combined to lose games to New Mexico State, Rice and North Dakota State, and barely survived a fourth quarter scare from Middle Tennessee in the final minute. Last Saturday, they were collective outscored 96 to 10 in losses to Michigan and Notre Dame. Minnesota's first-year head coach, Jerry Kill, spent the week giving interview after interview to local outlets begging for patience and blaming the subpar talent left over from the Tim Brewster administration. Purdue fans didn't bother, leaving Ross-Ade Stadium half-full, at best.

They may as well have printed sad faces with the eyes X'd out right on the tickets. They may as well have had vendors offering Zoloft along with the peanuts. They may as well have scheduled the Harlem Globetrotters for the second half.

And still, somehow, Minnesota managed to take its ineptitude to an as-yet unexplored plane. Against a struggling defense that had forced just three turnovers all year, the Gophers went three-and-out on their first two offensive series of the game and quickly turned the ball over on each of their next three. Against a struggling offense missing its starting quarterback, the Gophers yielded three sustained touchdown drives covering at least 70 yards. After three quarters, they'd been outgained 355 yards to 87, crossed midfield once and trailed by five touchdowns. A late, meaningless touchdown drive in the final frame was the first by the offense in more than seven full quarters.

Last year, a lopsided mid-October loss at Purdue was a catalyst to fire head coach Tim Brewster after three-and-a-half uninspiring years, which a lot of Minnesota fans seemed to think was about two-and-a-half years too late. As of today, though, the fact is that Minnesota fired Tim Brewster and got worse. Purdue looked like the last chance to salvage the slightest thread of optimism or momentum: With Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois waiting over the second half of the season — all 2010 bowl teams currently sitting above .500 — there is no reason to think it's going to get better. The Gophers will wake up tomorrow sitting at dead last in the Big Ten in scoring, scoring defense and total defense. With two more losses, the Gophers will be mathematically eliminated from bowl contention, and it will just be a matter of playing out the string.

At one point this week, Kill referenced Barry Alvarez, who went 1-10 in his first season at Wisconsin before eventually taking the Badgers to three Rose Bowls over the next decade. Another guy who won a single game in his first season? Tim Brewster. If Kill's Gophers are ever going to resemble a program with a Big Ten title in its future — or with so much as a bowl game in its future — it's obviously not going to happen in 2011.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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