Previously: Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Nebraska
Glory days. Once upon a time Minnesota was pretty good at football. During head coach Bennie Bierman's 18-year tenure in the WWII era, the Gophers claimed five national championships and seven conference titles. A decade later (1960) Minnesota claimed another national crown under Murray Warmath. They won a Rose Bowl a year later. And then the bottom fell out.
Since then, no Gophers coach has recorded a winning record (including Lou Holtz, who coached there in 1984 and 1985) until Glen Mason, who posted .535 and their first 10-win season since 1905. No coach has since recorded a winning record, either.
This is a circuitous way to say WHY WOULD YOU FIRE HIM???
The actual preview part
The Metrodome, which
unfortunately is not where this year's game will be played.
Last season sucked for the most part but ended with a ray of hope for the Minnesota football program. They stole a victory from Iowa and trounced Illinois, effectively ending GopherQuest, an unofficial pursuit to become the Worst Big Ten Team Ever.
So despite finishing 3-9, second year head coach Jerry Kill bought himself and his coaching staff time to rebuild the program. Whether Kill ever reaches the success of even the Mason era remains to be seen. He has a good track record as a coach, but taking a program like Minnesota from its previously moribund state into contention to even win the division will require a quantum leap. At the very least it will have to start with recruiting. For the Gophers, that currently isn't going so hot.
In the meantime Michigan fans can sit back and enjoy Minnesota's presence as the reputed "thorn in the side" of mid-major Big Ten teams -- the Iowas and the Illinoises, I suppose -- without Michigan itself being in any real danger of succumbing to the occasional upset.
Here's hoping for a Minnesota victory on November 24.
Aug. 30 (Thursday), @ UNLV
Sept. 8, New Hampshire
Sept. 15, Western Michigan
Sept. 22, Syracuse
Sept. 29, @ Iowa
Oct. 6, WIFEDAY
Oct. 13, Northwestern
Oct. 20, @ Wisconsin
Oct. 27, Purdue
Nov. 3, Michigan
Nov. 10, @ Illinois
Nov. 17, @ Nebraska
Nov. 24, Michigan State
Non-conference will be interesting only because Minnesota hosts Syracuse, who has a running backs coach by the name of Tyrone Wheatley. Other than that, there's not much reason to tune into any of their first four games unless you're so jonesing for B1G football by August you'll watch Gophers in Nevada on a Thursday night.
Not much is particularly notable about their B1G schedule. Having both Wisconsin and Nebraska on the road isn't ideal, but I don't really think anyone's expecting the Gophers to win either of those games regardless of location. Also, the last four games will be rough.
Matchups to watch: at Iowa and Michigan State at home. Minnesota played both of those teams competitively last season and even managed to eke out the Iowa game. It will be interesting to see whether there is something inherent in the Gophers' playing style that's favorable against those two teams, who share similar systems, or whether they just played two really flukey games last year.
Minnesota should be able to get three wins out of non-conference and pull out a B1G win over Illinois (most likely) or Purdue or Northwestern (less likely).
This schedule is as favorable as: a half hour "hill workout" on a stairmaster.
X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes
No. 5 QB Marqueis Gray
Style: Spready McSpreaderson
Key losses: RB Duane Bennett (639 yards, 3.8 ypc, 3 TD), WR Da'Jon McKnight (51 rec, 760 yards, 4 TD), TE Collin McGarry (16 rec, 120 yards, 2 TD), RT Chris Bunders, RG Ryan Orton, C Ryan Winn.
Top returners: QB MarQueis Gray (50.7%, 1495 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT), WR Devin Crawford-Tufts (8 rec, 156 yards), WR Brandon Green (15 rec, 190, 1 TD), LT Ed Olsen, LG Tommy Olsen.
Everything anyone needs to know about Minnesota's offense begins with MarQueis and ends with Gray. Gopher fans say Gray is their Denard Robinson (or better than Denard Robinson). Really he's more their version of Devin Gardner, i.e. a super athlete with a less than accurate arm who's probably better off playing receiver if not for the dire QB depth situation.
Last year he ran Minnesota's offense about as well as you could expect him to. He started 11 games, missing the entirety of the Michigan game due to a broken thumb, and otherwise got spelled by backup QB Max Shortell in a three-game stretch before wresting the starting job back completely. With the help of some decent skill players like Bennett and McKnight around him, Gray put on a few commendable performances against Iowa, Michigan State, and Illinois late in the season.
The loss of Bennett, McKnight, and the entire right side of the offensive line means Minnesota should probably brace for some "growing pains" -- as Al Borges would say -- this season. They might be okay at receiver. They have a couple fast guys (Crawford-Tufts, WR Marcus Jones) who should be effective in the spread. The running back competition seems to be murky at this point, however. The Gophers don't really have a whole lot in the way of reinforcements since their recruiting hauls have been understandably meager the last few years. They're going to have to make up with heart what they lack in stars.
Unless the Gophers can get their other receivers and a running back to step up, it will be the MarQueis Gray show until he gets injured, at which point the Gophers should just crawl into a hole and hope they don't see any shadows next spring.
This offense is as frightening as: A one-legged pirate who became a one-limbed pirate after a recent case of gangrene. Fear level = Yarrr! (3)
No. 11 CB Troy Stoudermire
Key losses: S Kim Royston (123 tackles (2nd in B1G), 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU, 1 INT), MLB Gary Tinsley (87 tackles, 9 TFL 4 sacks, 3 PBU), DT Anthony Jacobs (26 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack).
Top returners: CB Troy Stoudermire (24 tackles, 3 PBU, 2 INT, missed 8 games due to injury), WLB Keanon Cooper (77 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU)
One major reason Michigan blew Minnesota out of the water last season was the absence of MarQueis Gray. Another, perhaps more easily forgotten reason is the fact that Troy Stoudermire was missing from the game as well due to a fractured wrist. Stoudermire was a converted receiver playing corner in 2011, but through four games he proved to be a pretty competent one.
While the loss of Gray obviously had the bigger impact, having Stoudermire in the defensive backfield may have kept Denard in the game longer and given Borges a better opportunity to test Denard's passing issues against a decent corner instead of pulling him after an impeccable first half and calling it a day. Could have helped with the first half against Northwestern is all I'm sayin'. Dawg.
This season Minnesota should be getting Stoudermire back from injury. Good thing, because the Gophers lose a big chunk of their defensive impact players. Like the offense, this defense isn't going to get by on talent; other than Stoudermire, you wouldn't call anyone else on the unit a "solid B1G starter."
That's not to say they aren't any good at all. If you take away the massive skewing effects of their scores vs. Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin, their defensive stats weren't all that bad, especially toward the end of the season. That is a rough estimate.
Even without massaging the numbers, Minnesota ended up above average in things like pass defense, which is to say that with the right coaching they can at least milk their talent to allow them to hover around mediocre in other categories as well. They'll have to start with the front seven -- they were horrible against the run last season, and Ace identified this obvious weakness in his FFFF, back when North Dakota State was averaging 5.0 ypc against them. Not good.
This defense is as frightening as: A one-limbed pirate who contracted frostbite in his remaining foot due to his inability to put on socks. Fear level = Yarr? (2)
Record: 4-8 overall, 1-7 B1G.
Against Michigan: They might actually score a touchdown. Michigan will score fewer touchdowns. 31-7 Michigan.
Their chances of winning the B1G are as good as: A one-limbed pirate with frostbite completing a half hour hill workout on a stairmaster.