Sunday, July 8, 2012

Previewing Big Ten Football: Minnesota

 So far, I've written about Illinois and Indiana football, and today I'm going to touch upon the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Minnesotoans haven't had a whole lot to cheer about in recent seasons, but don't disregard their rich history. Many people are unaware that Fritz Crisler coached at Minnesota for two seasons in the early 30s, compiling a 10-7-1 record. Bronco Nagurski--the NFL Hall of Fame halfback? Yep, played at Minnesota. Possible Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy? He played there as well.

Jerry Kill is now the head coach at Minnesota. Last season was his first in which he compiled a 3-9 record. Before assuming this position with the Golden Gophers in December 2010,[2] Kill served as the head coach at Saginaw Valley State University (1994–1998), Emporia State University (1999–2000), Southern Illinois University Carbondale (2001–2007), and Northern Illinois University (2008–2010). The sad part is what most fans will remember about Kill, and about Minnesota, is that he suffered a series of seizures on the sidelines last season. It wasn't the first time he's had to deal with that; being diagnosed with kidney cancer back in 2005. Let's all pray he has better health fortunes this upcoming season. Also keep in mind that in his head coaching career, he's amassed a record of 130-82, so he is a worthy coach of a Big Ten program.
I know this sounds familiar to Michigan fans, but when it comes to Jerry Kill...that 3rd year usually means a step up. This season is only the second, so they will still have growing pains. Now, coaching in the MAC and Division II (It will always be Division II to me) is a lot different than the Big Ten. Minnesota had a string of 7 and 8 win seasons under Glen Mason but that was never enough. Tim Brewster was a failed experiment. Last season, Minnesota ranked 109th in passing yds, 56th in rushing, and 93rd in overall defense. All that adds up to the 3-9 season that they had. Add in the fact they're in the Legends division with Michigan, MSU, Iowa, Nebraska, and Northwestern and that spells out a losing record this year, along with returning 13 starters.  One thing that helps going to their games this year--they're the only Big Ten team that serves beer at the game.

MarQueis Gray should hopefully be the full-time starter at quarterback in 2012. Last season, he had some injuries to overcome, letting freshman Max Shortell seeing quite a bit of playing time. Gray threw for 1,495 yards and ran for 966 more, which makes Gray more of a double threat than Shortell.

To take some of the running pressure off of Gray, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover will look to junior college running back James Gillum Jr., who carried the ball 227 times for 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College last fall. Even with Gillum in the lineup, Gray will more than likely remain the primary ball-carrier. Even with a young offensive line, and injuries abound among them, they still averaged nearly 160 rushing yds per game with Gray starting.

Minnesota's receiver core is very widely inexperienced. The only returning starter that has caught a touchdown is Brandon Green, who only recorded one TD last season. Malcolm Mouton and Darius Crawford-Tufts are also expected to contribute heavily to the passing game.

The defense returns 6 starters from last season, most of which were and will still be underclassmen. They gave up an average of 400 yds per game last year. Most of the fault can be placed squarely at the feet of the secondary, which had 3 freshman start. The strength of the defense lies upon the linebacking unit. Led by seniors Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper, they combined for 160 tackles in 2011 and could top 200 this year. The interior of the line is suspect with needing new starters there.

The schedule does not do them any favors. As I said earlier, they play in a brutal division where every team looks to be better than Minnesota. Non-conference foes New Hampshire, UNLV, and WMU should be wins, along with a Syracuse loss but their downfall will come fast in Big Ten conference play.

Minnesota Predictions:
Record: 4-8
Big Ten Finish: 10th
Ability To Compete With Top Teams: Extremely Small
Upset Status: Small
Bowl Status: None

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