6. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Big Ten Countdown - Legends Division - Sixth Place
By Tony Gerdeman
The Jerry Kill era begins with the most dynamic playmaker the Gophers have had at quarterback since Rickey Foggie. However, MarQueis Gray will still need quite a bit of help. The defense has some linebackers, but zero pass rush and questionable coverage. The special teams could provide some leverage with Troy Stoudermire back on returns.
Eight on offense, six on defense and the punter.
Sept. 3 at USC (L)
Sept. 10 New Mexico State (W)
Sept. 17 Miami (OH) (W)
Sept. 24 North Dakota State (W)
Oct. 1 at Michigan (L)
Oct. 8 at Purdue (L)
Oct. 22 Nebraska (L)
Oct. 29 Iowa (L)
Nov. 5 at Michigan State (L)
Nov. 12 Wisconsin (L)
Nov. 19 at Northwestern (L)
Nov. 26 Illinois (W)
“Kill, or be killed.” (This was also Minnesota's thought to themselves when deciding between hiring Jerry Kill or retaining Tim Brewster.)
Full implementation and borg-like adaptation to Jerry Kill's system. The results are secondary. Besides, they will come with Kill's ways and means. That being said, the Gophers wouldn't kick a bowl game out of bed.
Seven wins and a bowl game. The hope here is that MarQueis Gray can be to Minnesota what Kellen Lewis was to Indiana back in 2007. However, those seven wins would require a win at Michigan or Purdue, at home against Nebraska or Iowa, and closing out the season with the predicted win over the Illini.
The worst case would be a 2-10 season with wins only over New Mexico State and North Dakota, and a loss to Miami (Ohio). If Tim Brewster was still here, this might be titled “Likeliest Case”.
Five Questions Looking For Answers
1. Can MarQueis Gray be the quarterback that Jerry Kill needs after spending the vast majority of last year at receiver?
2. Are there any receivers around to help him?
3. Can this defense get a pass rush from the defensive line?
4. What kind of fight will this team put up against USC?
5. How long will it take for the Brewsterness to wash away?
Best Chance For a Big Loss
At USC. The Trojans have wide receivers like hoarders have 1970s newspapers—stacks on stacks. They also have a quarterback in Matt Barkley to deliver the ball. However, something keeps telling me that the Gophers will surprise some people in this game. Jerry Kill's kung fu is very strong.
Most Important Game
Nebraska. The Gophers and the Huskers used to play quite a bit. In fact, Minnesota holds a 29-20 edge all-time over Nebraska. Of course, the Cornhuskers have won the last 14 (they haven't played since 1990), and the Gophers haven't won a game in this series in over 50 years. But Minnesota gets Nebraska at home, and they'll have a bye week to prepare for a possibly already dinged up Taylor Martinez.
Best Road Game To Pack Up The Family Truckster And Travel To
At Michigan. Granted, you will need to wear your skinny jeans. It's the only way you're going to fit into the allotted seven inches they give you to sit in. Plus, it's not an intimidating environment for the kids—unless they suffer from keyjangleaphobia.
Game They Shouldn't Lose, But Could
Miami (Ohio). The Redhawks return a ton of starters, and it wouldn't be a season of Gopher football if there wasn't a close game against a MAC team.
Something To Look For
New running backs to emerge. The sudden loss of last season's leading rusher DeLeon Eskridge during the offseason created a bit of a stir, but everybody seems to be taking it in stride. Duane Bennett returns, as do his 2,270 career yards rushing and receiving. Redshirt freshman Lamonte Edwards is a bigger back (6'2" 210) who was the team's Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year last season. Fellow redshirt freshman Devon Wright and true freshman David Cobb will also figure in. Redshirt freshman Donnell Kirkwood is also back after playing in four games (27 carries and 107 yards rushing) last season before being lost to injury.
Wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight. McKnight accounted for 48 receptions for 750 yards and ten touchdowns last season, and while he had at least one 19-yard catch in every game last year, his long was just 40 yards. He has tremendous body control and is still learning the position, but if he really wants to be one of the best receivers in the conference, he's going to have to do something with the football after he catches it. He is coming off of a knee injury during the spring and is being worked back in slowly. He should be fine, but the lost time probably won't go unnoticed.
Linebacker Keanon Cooper. Cooper is probably the fastest linebacker on the team, and after playing with a back brace last season, is fully healthy this year. Jerry Kill's defense will ask its linebackers to attack the line of scrimmage, and Cooper is exactly the type of linebacker who excels at that sort of thing. He should at least double his four tackles for loss from last season.
Player People Are Expecting Too Much From
Quarterback MarQueis Gray. Everybody wants him to be the best player on the team immediately, and to hear the Gopher coaches talking, he's a certainty to meet those desires. But what good is being the best horse in a race when everybody else gets a quarter-mile head start? It takes more than one player to get a middling team to a bowl game. It also takes a favorable schedule and a little bit of luck.
Player People Will Be Pleasantly Surprised By
Linebacker Brendan Beal. Incumbent middle linebacker Gary Tinsley was dinged up this spring, so Beal - a transfer from the University of Florida - took the majority of the snaps in the middle. By most accounts, Beal played well enough to possibly move Tinsley - who led the team last year in tackles with 90 - either to the strong side, or to the bench. The job isn't Beal's yet, but if he wins it, he is going to have a lot of opportunities to make plays in this new Gopher defense.
Receiver Marcus Jones. Jones enrolled early and participated in spring ball. At just 5'8" 168 pounds, he proved himself hard to defend and made plays in the slot. He was already labeled the fastest player on the team, and he has the east-west to go with his north-south. On a team looking for receivers, Jones made a name for himself early, and will look to continue doing so. Kill has talked about wanting the ball in his hands 8-10 times per game.
Best Reason They Won't Be Undefeated
It takes at least one calendar year to get over the “Brewflu”. Penicillin can only do so much.
Best Reason They Will Be Undefeated
MarQueis Gray really IS the next Vince Young.
Something They Do Well
Use the tight end. Last year tight end Eric Lair caught 39 passes for 526 yards and two touchdowns. This year he returns and MarQueis Gray will certainly be looking for a security blanket. Lair could manage that workload pretty well.
Something They Don't Do So Well
Get to the quarterback. Minnesota had all of nine sacks last season, which was tied for worst in the nation. They return nearly everybody from last year's front seven, which could either be a problem or a solution. Expect everybody to be a little bit better, but don't expect that to mean opposing quarterbacks are in trouble just quite yet.
Playmaking at quarterback. For a four-year starter at quarterback, Adam Weber just didn't make enough plays for the Gopher offense. That will certainly change with MarQueis Gray. He's put on 20 pounds from last season and is now up to 245 pounds in order to absorb quite a few more hits this season. Jerry Kill has raved about Gray's throwing ability, but clearly it will be his ability to make plays with his feet that will make this offense different than past years.
What's Gotten Worse?
Playmaking at receiver. You don't lose a talent like MarQueis Gray at receiver and get better for it. He caught 42 passes and five touchdowns last year. That will need to be replaced. And even though the yardage may be replaceable, the mismatch on the outside that a 6'4" 225-pound receiver provides is going to be hard to get over. This is where a guy like Brandon Green, who has been in the program for a few years now, needs to take that next step and become more than a complementary receiver.
Anything Else We Should Know About?
The secondary is a question mark. Cornerback Troy Stoudermire is back, and he's still a bit of a work in progress after switching from receiver last year. Both starting safeties from last season are gone, though Kim Royston returns after missing the entire season due to injury. He started 13 games in 2009, but the new defensive staff hasn't seen enough of him yet to think him anything special. Cornerback Michael Carter is listed as a returning starter, but he only started four of the eight games that he played in last year. There are still three jobs up for grabs here. James Manuel, who started three games as a true freshman last season, worked with the first team at safety in the spring and should land one of the four spots in the secondary. He has potential, but if there is no pass rush, there's not really much he or his fellow defensive backs can do.
The offensive line may only return two starters in guard Chris Bunders and tackle Ed Olson, but they return others who have starting experience. Both Ryan Wynn and Ryan Orton are seniors who have double-digit starts in their careers. Both of them should find themselves deep in the mix this season.
Make a Wish
A pass-rushing defensive end that can get to the quarterback. Right now, the Gophers don't have one, but Jerry Kill certainly wants one. He has stated in the past that he wants a pass rusher and two cornerbacks who can play man-to-man defense, which then allows a defense to do just about anything they want defensively.
The Gophers will beat at least one bowl team this season.
Scandal Most Likely To Rock the Program
Lutefiskgate. For excessive lye-ing.
If The Head Coach Was a Superhero, What Would His Super Power Be?
It's obvious. If Jerry Kill had a super power—and we're not saying he doesn't already have one—but if he did, it would be the mustache of truth. If you gaze into his mustache, you are compelled to tell the truth. He shaved it off this spring in what was, no doubt, a cry for help. Like when Superman got rid of his powers for stupid Lois Lane. Let's hope he comes to his senses soon. His city needs him.
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