2014 Minnesota Golden Gophers Team Preview
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Head Coach: Jerry Kill
2013 record: 8-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten Legends
2013 Bowl result: Lost to Syracuse 21-17 in the Texas Bowl
2014 Returning Starters: 8 offense, 7 defense
Odds to Win 2015 College Football Championship Game: Field 30/1
Odds to Win 2014 Big Ten Championship Game: 66/1
Odds to Win 2014 Big Ten West Division: 12/1
Regular Season Wins: under 6.5 -125 / over 6.5 -105
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The Minnesota Golden Gophers began the season 8-2 and had an outside shot at winning the Big Ten Legends Division. However, they ended the season on a three game losing streak at home to Wisconsin, at Michigan State and to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl. They also lost to Iowa and Michigan earlier in the season. Minnesota did pull off upsets over Nebraska and Penn State.
It wasn’t hard to see what happened. In the five losses, Minnesota averaged 9 points a game. In the 8 wins they averaged 37 points a game. With 15 starters back, Gopher fans hope they can be more consistent on offense.
You really can’t talk about Minnesota without mentioning the health problems of head coach Jerry Kill. This is his fourth year at the helm and he has been hospitalized with epileptic seizures several times. He has missed numerous games while recovering from said seizures. Still, the university showed faith in him by giving him a new contract through 2018 doubling his salary.
Minnesota averaged 195 rushing yards per game last season, but the passing game was among the worst in the country averaging just 148 yards per game. The Gophers averaged 26 points per game. Eight starters return from that unit.
Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner split the snaps at quarterback last season. Nelson transferred to Rutgers in the off-season but was later kicked off that team for violating team rules. Nelson threw for 1,306 yards with 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions and also ran for 364 yards with 6 touchdowns. Leidner will be the full time starter in 2014. Leidner completed 55.1% of his passes for 619 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception, along with 102 carries for 407 yards with 7 touchdowns.
Running back David Cobb will again be the feature back after rushing for 1,202 yards on 237 yards with 7 touchdowns, along with 17 catches for 174 yards. Roderick Williams rushed for 332 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he will get some carries as well. Redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards has star potential and was impressive in spring practice.
Tight end Maxx Williams returns after making 25 catches for 417 yards and 5 touchdowns last year. Minnesota must replace leading receiver Derrick Engel who had 25 catches for 401 yards and 5 touchdowns before tearing his ACL. Drew Wolitarsky, Donovahn Jones and K.J. Maye will also get a lot of targets. Minnesota also recruited a strong group of freshmen receivers who will need to contribute immediately.
Most of the starters and key reserves return to the offensive line, so Minnesota should be in good shape there.
Minnesota gave up 373 yards and 22 points a game last season on defense. They were 43rd or better nationally in both categories. Seven starters return to the unit in 2014.
The Gophers must replace All-Big Ten tackle Ra’Shede Hageman on the defensive line. Thelren Cockran led Minnesota in sacks with 7.5 last season. He will anchor a line that could struggle with a lack of depth.
Cody Poock was supposed to start at outside linebacker but tore his ACL in the spring. He could return during the season. Jack Lynn moved to outside linebacker to replace Poock. Damien Wilson made 78 tackles last season in the middle. De’Vondre Campbell has star potential.
The secondary must replace All-Big Ten defensive back Brock Vereen. Still, many say the secondary will be the strongest part of the defense.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Santoso takes over at kicker for the now graduated Chris Hawthorne. Santoso was one of the most recruited kickers coming out of high school in 2012. Punter Peter Mortell averaged 43 yards per punt last year. Marcus Jones will handle both punt and kick returns, after scoring a touchdown on each last year.
Minnesota has home non-conference games against Eastern Illinois, Middle Tennessee, and San Jose State. They do face a tough trip to TCU though. In Big Ten play, Minnesota travels to Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa and Ohio State come to Minneapolis. With such a tough schedule anything more than 7 wins will be difficult to achieve.
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