Little Brown Jug on the line for Minnesota, Michigan

Updated: October 10, 2003, 3:44 AM ET

MINNEAPOLIS -- The current Minnesota Gophers have heard plenty about the "LittleBrown Jug," the oldest rivalry trophy in college football.

They've just never seen it.

Michigan has beaten the Gophers 14 straight times, and the jug has remained safely tucked away in Ann Arbor since 1987.

"I've seen it in pictures," Gophers tight end Ben Utecht said. "I've heard about it. I've heard they keep it locked up, keep it real safe."

But when the 20th-ranked Wolverines (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) travel to the Metrodome for the 100th anniversary of the series, the 17th-ranked Gophers are looking at their best chance in a long time to end the losing streak.

It will be the biggest game the Gophers (6-0, 2-0) have played in years.

"It's definitely the biggest in my career," defensive tackle Darrell Reid said.

Mason refuses to acknowledge that, saying no single game is more important than any other. But there's no denying that a victory over Michigan would mean more for the Gophers than, say, their victory over Troy State last month.

"This is a big game in the history of this team. I'm really excited to see what we can do," Utecht said.

The Gophers have taken a lot of criticism for their soft non-conference schedule, which included teams like Troy State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulsa. Many still doubted them even after conference wins against Penn State and Northwestern.

Even though Michigan doesn't look as strong as the team that shut out Notre Dame last month, a victory over the Wolverines would convert many skeptics and legitimize the Gophers' national ranking.

"We're playing the Yankees," Mason declared earlier this week.

"You look at the their press guide, it's history, after history, after history."

This game was moved to Friday night to avoid a potential conflict with a Minnesota Twins' playoff game.

Minnesota is trying to win its first Big Ten title since 1967. The Wolverines, who had aspired to play for the national championship earlier this season, are having to settle for the goal of the conference title after last Saturday's disappointing loss to Iowa.

"There is still a chance for the Big Ten and hopefully to go to the Rose Bowl," Wolverines linebacker Carl Diggs said. "We can't let up now."

Said coach Lloyd Carr: "Those guys have been through the ups and downs and are not going to let anybody give in. You can't give in and feel sorry for yourself."

Most of the questions posed to Mason and his players this week have been about how to slow Chris Perry, the nation's fifth-leading rusher who averages 129 yards per game.

"I think it's a big mistake to say, 'Hey we've got to shut down Chris Perry.' Michigan's got a lot of weapons," Mason said.

But Minnesota has some weapons of its own. Quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency while running back Marion Barber III leads the conference with 13 rushing touchdowns. And receiver Jared Ellerson was named the Big Ten's co-Offensive Player of the Week after catching four balls for 189 yards and two TDs against Northwestern.

"This is what you live for, you live to play against teams like Michigan," Abdul-Khaliq said.

"It's going to be even bigger to show that Minnesota's for real."

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Andres Ybarra can be reached at aybarra(at)ap.org.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index