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2011 Preview – Minnesota Golden Gophers

MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS (Last Year = 3-9, T9 in Big 10)


It’s difficult to write an adequate summary about Minnesota football. I suppose it starts with Glen Mason who was fired after the 2006 season after the debacle in the Insight Bowl where Minnesota gave up a 38-7 lead to Texas Tech only to lose 44-41 in OT. Minnesota fired Mason after the season because, in my estimation, Mason took the Gophers as far as they could go. Keep in mind that in Mason’s last 4-years, Minnesota went 30-20 which seems like wild success given what’s happened since. The Gophers tabbed Tim Brewster as the guy to take Minnesota where Mason couldn’t. Having come up under the Mack Brown coaching tree at both North Carolina & Texas, Brewster definitely had good football bloodlines to potentially succeed at Minnesota as both a HC and as a prolific recruiter.

Unfortunately it didn’t really take. Minnesota went 1-11 in Brewster’s first season in 2007. Brewster got Minnesota to bowl games in 2008 & 2009, but Minnesota’s best record in those 2 seasons was the 7-6 mark in 2008. This led to 2010 where Minnesota wasn’t expected to do much. The Gophers opened the season with a win over Middle Tennessee St. which I thought was a solid victory, but then lost a HOME GAME to FCS member South Dakota by the score of 41-38. A game in which the Gophers were 28-point favorites. It went all downhill from there. The win over MTSU would be Brewster’s last as he lost 6 straight games and was fired. OC Jeff Horton would take over and go 2-3 over Minnesota’s final 5 games including close wins over Illinois & Iowa. Brewster’s career record at Minnesota finished 15-30 in 3+ years in Minneapolis.

After the season, Minnesota hired Northern Illinois HC Jerry Kill. Kill is a Midwest guy and Gopher fans should be excited as this hire reminds me a lot of hires by Notre Dame regarding Brian Kelly & Ohio St. regarding Jim Tressel. Both Kelly & Tressel had significant success at college football levels below the FBS. Kill has the same from his time as a HC at Saginaw Valley St. & Southern Illinois. Brian Kelly went on to have success at Central Michigan & Cincinnati before landing a huge gig at Notre Dame. Kill had big success at Northern Illinois before getting the Minnesota job. Remember too that this isn’t the first rebuilding job for Kill. He took over a Southern Illinois program that went 5-18 in his first two seasons. In the next 6 seasons under Kill, Southern Illinois would compile a 50-14 record! This is an exceptional hire.


The big loss here is QB Adam Weber. It’s actually a MONUMENTAL loss as Weber started all 50 games of his entire career and leaves Minnesota as probably the most storied QB in program history. He’s the school’s all-time leading passer by 3500 yards! This was no small feat as Minnesota essentially sucked the entire time Weber was under center. Minnesota doesn’t really lose anything else. They lose WR MarQueis Gray who was the 2nd leading receiver, but Gray doesn’t leave, he just moves to QB. The big losses were on the O-line where Minny loses RT Jeff Willis, OC DJ Burris and RG Matt Carufel. Burris was an honorable mention All-Big 10 player.


The Gophers have pretty much all their skill position players returning. QB MarQueis Gray will move back to QB from WR where he caught 42 passes for 587 yards & 5TD. This actually might be a pretty good move for Minnesota as Gray is more mobile than Weber and at 6’4/230lbs, he’s a load to bring down. RBs DeLeon Eskridge & Duane Bennett both return. The duo combined for 1,227 yards & 10TD. That seems like a lot, but both players combined for 3.9ypc which is pretty bad for solid college runners. WR Da’Jon McKnight was last year’s leading receiver with 48 catches for 750 yards & 10TD which was good enough for 3rd team All-Big 10. TE Eric Lair was Minny’s 3rd leading receiver with 39 catches for 526 yards a season ago. LG Chris Bunders & LT Ed Olson return on the offensive line.


More so than any other team in the Big 10, Minnesota provides a situation where freshman can make an impact. The team isn’t very good to begin with and new HC Jerry Kill begins a massive rebuilding project. Lamonte Edwards is a rFR that is projected to be the starting RB. Eskridge & Bennett didn’t blow anybody away last year and the 6’2/210lbs Edwards was a touted high school RB who was the scout team’s offensive player of the year in 2010. Jimmy Gjere is another rFR who could start at RT. The 6’7/300lbs lineman was a big time recruit out of high school. WR Marcus Jones could have an impact. Minnesota’s receivers are fairly big, but Jones at 5’8/170lbs provides a very speedy option in the slot if Kills chooses to use him as such. The Gophers also have quite a few freshman offensive linemen that could make a difference as well.


The Gophers averaged 23.2ppg last season. Only Purdue had a worse offensive season than Minnesota within the Big 10. I think they might be even worse this season. Adam Weber was a great QB for the Gophers even if he wasn’t necessarily the best of QBs. I know Minnesota fans are pretty excited to see what Gray can do at QB, but the team is going through too many dramatic changes for there to be that much improvement in the field. However, Minnesota fans shouldn’t fret offensively. Look at what Kill did in his 3 years at Northern Illinois and how much the Huskies averaged on offense as measured in points per games:

2007 (Year Before Kill): 19.1ppg

2008 (Kill Year #1): 24.2ppg

2009 (Kill Year #2): 28.6ppg

2010 (Kill Year #3): 38.0ppg

That’s a 19ppg increase in Kill’s 3 years. That’s a helluva track record. In 2010, however, my guess is Minnesota regresses just a bit this year. Gray is just a junior so it’ll be interesting to see how Kill uses him. Kill did bring in QB Max Shortell and I think it’ll be interesting to watch to see if Gray comes in and dominates the QB situation setting himself up for a solid senior year or will he simply be a place holder in 2011 for Shortell in 2012 in which case Gray goes back to WR. Minnesota might not be great, but this season should be very intriguing to see how Kill does in a BCS conference.


DT Jewhan Edwards is the only defensive player lost in the front-7. The 6’2/333lbs monster led the Gophers last year in sacks (3) and tackles for loss (8), but his numbers weren’t incredibly dominating. They also lose SS Kyle Theret and CB Ryan Collado. Theret & Collado were Minnesota’s #2 and #4 tacklers respectively from a season ago. I think the Gophers can survive without them.


Minnesota brings back 8 starters on defense and should see big time improvement. In his annual, Phil Steele notes that Minnesota’s defense could be the most improved in the NATION after allowing 392ypg last year! No wonder they went 3-9! Minnesota brings back a veteran if not a bit undersized defensive line. DE DL Wilhite, DT Brandon Kirksey & DT Anthony Jacobs all return. Both Kirksey & Jacobs are under 300lbs while Wilhite is a bit small at 6’4/230lbs. The LB corps is pretty talented. SLB Gary Tinsley led the team in tackles last year with 90 and was an honorable mention All Big 10 player. MLB Brendan Beal was arguably the best LB in the Class of 2008 and is a transfer from Florida. WLB Keanon Cooper was Minnesota’s 3rd leading tackler last year. CB Troy Stoudamire led the team in passes broken up last year while FS Kim Royston returns at FS after having a medical redshirt last season. Royston was originally a Wisconsin Badger.


Minnesota actually has a veteran defense. 8 of the projected 11 starters are upperclassmen. There are no freshman that probably can make an impact right off the bat, but there are a couple of players who could see some playing time. Cameron Botticell is a 6’5/265lbs rFR DE that definitely gives Minnesota some size on the edge. Ben Perry is another big DE at 6’5/250lbs that could be an athletic option on the edge. We’ll see how it plays out.


The Gophers allowed 33.0ppg last year which ranked 9th in the Big 10 last season. Their 392 yards allowed per game ranked 8th in the conference. There really isn’t anywhere to go but up for Minnesota. The changes Kill made on defense at Northern Illinois was as dramatic as they were on offense and happened even faster. I’d expect Minnesota’s defense to be better this year. Not only because Kill is there, but also because the team should be better defensively with all that it has returning.


Kill doesn’t get an easy first game at Minnesota. The Gophers open up in the Coliseum as they travel to Los Angeles to take on USC! I don’t give Minnesota that much of a chance to win although I don’t think Kill will have them walk in and lie down. The Gophers next 3 games are at home against New Mexico St., Miami-OH & North Dakota St. Kill will match Minnesota’s win total from a year ago after 4 games as the Gophers start the year 3-1. They’ll go on back-to-back road games against Michigan & Purdue before their bye week. Unfortunately I think it’ll be the last game they win. I don’t think they’ll beat the Wolverines & Boilermakers on the road. Unfortunately for Minnesota, they’ll welcome in Nebraska the week after the bye. They won’t win that one. After Nebraska they take on Iowa at home where I think they’ll lose again if only because I can’t believe Iowa will completely tank and losing to Minny puts Iowa in the midst of a 6-game losing streak. After Iowa it’s on to East Lansing to play Michigan St. and then back home to play Wisconsin. That’s 2 more losses. After Wisconsin they head to Northwestern where I think the Wildcats win. Minnesota will end the season at home playing Illinois, but I’m expecting a big year from the Illini and I think at 3-8 Minnesota won’t have much to play for.


I have Minnesota repeating their 2010 season going 3-9. It’ll be a different 3-9 though. I think Jerry Kill was an excellent hire. If you look at what he did at Southern Illinois & Northern Illinois, you can’t help but be excited about the possibilities for the Gophers. The problem here is mostly the schedule. Kill isn’t taking over a FCS team or a team in the MAC. This is the Big 10 where taking a team from 3-9 to 9-3 in your first year is probably not likely if not impossible. Minnesota isn’t Ohio St. or Michigan or Penn St. or even Michigan St. However, they have the ability to be a quality program in the Big 10. Their days of being in the Big 10 basement, though short lived, should be even shorter given the pedigree of Kill. Things are about to get really interesting for Minnesota!


August 13, 2011 - Posted by | Minnesota, Predictions, Previews

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