Minnesota Golden Gophers
Head Coach: Tracy Claeys
2015 Record: 6-7
2015 Bowl: 21-14 Win over Central Michigan at Quick Lane Bowl
2016 Returning Starters: 6 Offense, 5 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +200000
Odds to win 2016 Big Ten Championship: +6000
Regular Season over/under: over 7 (+120), under 7 (-150)
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The Minnesota Golden Gophers finished 6-7 last season, despite QB Mitch Leidner playing with damage to his left foot at the end of last season. He raised his accuracy from 51 percent as a sophomore to 59 percent last season.
Leidner will focus heavily this season on TE Brandon Lingen. He caught 33 passes for 428 yards and three TDs last season. At WR, the Gophers have Drew Wolitarsky, Rashad Still and Eric Carter. Carter is a smaller slot receiver, and Still had an impressive freshman season.
The OL will have a new coach in Brad Miller who will return starters Connor Mayes, Jonah Pirsig and C Tyler Moore. RB Shannon Brooks rushed for six yards per carry lats season as a true freshman and Rodney Smith is capable of making big plays.
The backfield averaged 144.1 rushing yards per game last season, ranking tied for No. 100 in the nation. The Gophers offense averaged 22.5 points per game and 358.9 yards per game, ranking No. 106 and No. 103 in the nation. Improvement must come this year, and Leidner’s health is absolutely imperative. There is enough talent at WR to really move the chains this year if he can raise his accuracy over 60 percent.
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The defense has a new DC in Jay Sawvel, who was the coach of the secondary. His biggest task may be in the secondary, too, where he will have to replace CBs Brian Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray. S Damarius Travis is another NFL prospect who will be the best of the unit, and he had 10 tackles in the Gophers 23-17 win over TCU in the season opener last season.
At CB, senior Jalen Myrick and sophomore KiAnte Hardin bring adequate experience and will be strong in man coverage. Myrick had three INTs in 10 games last season. At LB, the Gophersr have Cody Poock and Jack Lynn in the middle.
Poock had 99 tackles last season and Lynn had 11 tackles for loss. The Gophers are particularly deep on the line and should be able to improve pass rushing this season. Last year, the Gophers only had 22 sacks. DT is a source of depth for the Gophers with Steven Richardson and Scott Ekpe. JUCO transfer Merrick Jackson and redshirt Gary Moore will also be in the mix.
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Peter Mortell graduated at kicker and Ryan Santoso may take over both the kicking and punting roles. The Gophers were not good with returns last season, but Myrick is a solid kick returner.
Schedule and Outlook
Minnesota opens the season Sept. 1 at home against Oregon State and hosts Indiana State and Colorado State in Weeks 2 and 3. They travel to face Penn State in Week 4 to open Big Ten play. Iowa is a home game in Week 5, but the Gophers schedule is on the easier side this season with no matchups against the three powerhouses in the East. It is a departure from last season’s rigor, and it will make a small difference in the ‘W’ column for the Gophers this season.
Prediction: 7 wins
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