MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Gophers were unpredictable right up to the very end, losing 38-30 to North Carolina State in Thursday's Micronpc.com Bowl after building a 24-0 lead.
"Our performance was indicative of our season," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. "It was a roller coaster. At points, things couldn't be better. And at other points, things couldn't have been worse."
Why should anything change next season?
An already suspect defense will take a heavy hit, but they could have an even more high-powered offense. There's no telling next season whether the Gophers (6-6) will be more like the team that beat Ohio State or the one that lost to Ohio University.
The Gophers should lose only two starters on offense, though one is two-time All-America center Ben Hamilton. Record-setting wide receiver Ron Johnson could become their third departure if he skips his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
Johnson, who caught 59 passes for 1,067 yards, was upset after catching only two passes at the Micronpc.com Bowl and hinted afterward that he might be in the mood to leave. He also acknowledged that an early exit probably is not in his best interest, if projections that he would be a second-round draft pick proved to be true. He indicated that he probably will make a decision near Jan. 15.
If Johnson comes back, the Gophers would be the nation's only team returning a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard running back.
Sophomore Tellis Redmon was a pleasant surprise, rushing for 1,122 yards during the regular season and for 246 in the Micronpc.com Bowl. He was expected to be an understudy for redshirt freshman Thomas Tapeh, a former high-school star from St. Paul whose career has been derailed by surgery to both feet.
Travis Cole took over at quarterback at midseason to lead the Gophers to three consecutive victories -- and then three consecutive losses. He could get a push from Asad Abdul-Khaliq, who opened the season as the starter.
When the offense isn't clicking, the Gophers can turn to the nation's top-ranked punter. Preston Gruening, a sophomore, averaged 45.2 yards per punt.
The defense's future seems less promising. The group, which struggled with spread or unconventional offenses, will be losing six or seven starters, depending on the future of free safety Delvin Jones, a junior who was suspended from school for undisclosed reasons. Jones was the Gophers' leading tackler. Minnesota is certain to lose defensive end Karon Riley, who set a school record with 29 career sacks, and an all-senior linebacking career.
"It's going to be a challenge to our players and coaches," Riley said. "It's nothing that can't be overcome. I think there's progress to the point where we're recruiting guys who won't fall off from year to year. I don't think people will miss me too much at the rush-end spot, because Greg White will move right in there."
White has seven sacks in two seasons, four more than Riley had in his first two seasons at Southern Methodist. Speedy cornerback Willie Middlebrooks also will return after missing the final four games because of a broken leg. Newcomers who could make an impact include linebacker Astein Osei, a medical redshirt, and free safety Dominique Sims, who was redshirted as a freshman after being named AP's high-school player of the year in 1999.
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