24 and Single: The Gophers' epic loss to the Michigan Wolverines in 2003

Sports producer Declan Goff reveals his latest 24 and Single column.

After watching the Twins' epic win in Game 163 and Timberwolves' Game 7 win over the Kings, I was bound to eventually watch something disappointing. 

Enter, Gopher football. 

And because my love life is a disappointment, I decided to revisit the Gophers' epic loss to the Michigan Wolverines from 2003, a game in which they could've used to vault themselves into Rose Bowl consideration had they won it. 

It wasn't to be. Instead, they let a 21-point fourth-quarter lead slip away.

1. What the hell happened?

The Gophers were rolling. They had a 28-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Minnesota was well on its way to their first win over Michigan since 1986, but what happened over the final 15 minutes was the epitome of Minnesota sports. 

Michigan started the quarter with the ball and marched down the field in 10 plays for a touchdown. It's 28-14 now, whatever, I'm still feeling good. 

Next drive: Gophers quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq channeled his inner Blake Bortles and threw a pick-six. Now I'm panicking with the lead cut to one touchdown.

Luckily, Khaliq somewhat redeemed himself with a 52-yard touchdown run on the next drive. Phew, "we're going to be okay," I thought to myself. 

Sixty seconds later Michigan struck again, this time on a 52-yard touchdown to Cleveland Browns legend Braylon Edwards. 

After the Gophers' powerful offense went quiet, Michigan would get a rushing touchdown from Chris Perry, followed by Garret Rivas field goal with under a minute to go. For the first time all game, Michigan had the lead, 38-35.

All of that out of nowhere. 

On the U of M's final drive, Khaliq ripped off a big run which would've put the Gophers at midfield with 30 seconds to go ("Okay, they can still do this!"), except the run was negated by a boneheaded clipping penalty. Two-plays later, Khaliq heaves one, it's intercepted, game over. 

It wasn't as bad as the Atlanta Falcons in last season's Super Bowl, but man, it's certainly up there. 

2. Best Gophers offense ever

The 2003 Gophers offense was probably the best unit I've ever seen. They had a three-headed monster at running back, led by Marion Barber III, Laurence Maroney and Thomas Tapeh. They averaged 297 rushing yards per game that season – third best in the country – and they put up 309 yards (not to forget about the 100-yard rushing game Khaliq had as well) in this loss. 

All three backs went on to have decent NFL careers. 

At tight end it was Ben Utecht, who looked to have a promising NFL career before concussions forced him into early retirement. Khaliq never made it to the NFL, but he went on to play in the Arena Football league, which is obviously really cool. Seven players from the 2003 team went on to be drafted and ten played in the NFL.

The Gophers haven't scared anyone on offense in years. For God sakes, they started Mitch Leidner 41 times at quarterback. Woof. I'm only 24, so I haven't seen a ton of Gophers football, but as far I'm concerned, the 2003 Gophers had the best offense they've ever had.

3. They (probably) would have went to Rose Bowl

After appearing in back-to-back Rose Bowls in the 1960s, the Gophers have yet to return to Pasadena. Not only was their loss to Michigan painful to watch, they basically blew their chance at going to Rose Bowl.

“If we would have won that game, it would have given us the momentum to beat Michigan State,” head coach Glen Mason said to the Pioneer Press. “And then, heck, you might not only have ended up in a Jan. 1 bowl game, you might have ended up in the big one. The Rose Bowl.”

The Gophers were ranked 13th in the country entering that game. Fast forward 14 years and Minnesota has yet to reach such a lofty ranking. 

Rose Bowl... that would've been awesome. But hey, they made the Insight Bowl three times! And don't forget the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas or the Quick Lane Bowl. Those were cool, right?

Why you should watch?

To be honest, this game was tough to get through. If people think baseball takes forever, go watch a college football game. The clock stops all the freaking time. And even though I love sports, college football is the least appealing to me. If you're a fan of epic Gopher football meltdowns – and boy there's been a lot of them – then this game is for you.

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