Minnesota Golden Gophers
2010 record: 3-9
2010 Bowl result: no game
2010 Against the Spread: 6-6
2010 over/under: 7-4-1
Returning Starters: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)
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Last season Minnesota finished 3-9 and coach Tim Brewster was fired midway through the season and replaced by Jeff Horton on an interim basis. Minnesota won their opener against Middle Tennessee St, then wen on a 9 game losing streak. They closed the season on a positive note with upsets over Illinois and Iowa, both of whom played in bowl games. This season, Horton was replaced by former Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill. The Golden Gophers bring back 14 starters and should be improved, but they still play in one of the toughest conferences in America, the Big Ten.
Here is a look at Minnesota’s offense, defense, special teams, and schedule.
It is no surprise that a team that finished 3-9 last year struggled on offense. The Gophers averaged only 346.6 total yards a game and 23.2 points a game. The passing game averaged 226.1 yards a game and 138.5 rushing yards a game. The offense returns 6 starters.
Junior MarQueis Gray takes over at quarterback for Adam Weber. Gray has waited patiently for his turn and even played wide receiver last year when Minnesota switched from the spread offense for which they recruited Gray to run. He is a dual threat quarterback and can do damage with both his arms and legs. He was the team’s second leading receiver last year with 42 catches, 587 yards, and 5 touchdowns. He had 23 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown last season and only threw 8 passes. Redshirt freshman Tom Parish and sophomore Moses Alipate will compete for the back-up job.
Last season Coach Jerry Kill led the Northern Illinois Huskies to a 34-23 upset over the same Minnesota Gophers that he now coaches. The Huskies ran up 297 yards in that win, and Kill will use the ground game to cure the Gophers offensive woes as well. The Gophers do have to replace leading rusher DeLeon Eskridge who left the team for personal reasons, but senior Duane Bennett should be up to the task along with the quarterback Gray. Bennett had 123 carries for 529 yards and 3 touchdowns last season, but might get double that many carries under Kill’s run first offense. He had 33 catches and 1 touchdown as well last season A pair of redshirt freshmen, Donnell Kirkwood and Lamonte Edwards will compete for the back-up position but both will get plenty of carries.
Senior receiver Da’Jon McKnight was the top receiver last year with 48 catches, 750 yards, and 10 touchdowns, and will get most of the targets this year as well. Junior Brandon Green missed most of last year with a knee injury but had 21 catches as a freshman. Green is expected to be the #2 receiver to replace the production of Gray. Junior Ge’Shaun Harris, freshman Marcus Jones, and J.D. Pride will also make some catches as well. Senior Tight End Eric Lair had 39 catches, 526 yards, and 2 touchdowns last season. He will be a dangerous receiver as well.
Two starters return to the line that was 29th in the country in sacks allowed but struggled to open up holes for the running game. Sophomore LT Ed Olson and Senior LG Chris Bunders return to anchor the line. they will have to get much better at run blocking under the new system.
Despite having the worst pass rush in the nation with only 9 sacks, Minnesota had the 33rd ranked pass defense in the country giving up only 200.8 yards a game. Overall, they gave up 393.2 total yards a game, and 192.4 rushing yards a game. Minnesota gave up 33 points a game, wich was ranked #98 in the country.
The Gophers return 8 starters on defense so some improvement is expected. Teh defense will receive a boost from safety Kim Royston who returns after missing all of last last season with a broken leg. The veteran defensive front needs to hit the quarterback more but they will be more aggressive. The linebackers are led by Florida transfer Brandon Beal.
North Carolina St transfer Chris Hawthorne takes over as the kicker from Eric Ellestad. Hawthorne is a former soccer player, and is still getting used to football.
Sophomore Dan Orseske returns as the punter but the unit ranked dead last in net punting average with only 30.94 yards per punt. He did force 16 fair catches and 15 punts inside the 20.
Brandon Green will handle the punts after averaging 9.2 yards a return last year, and cornerback Troy Stoudemire is one of the best kick returners in the country averaging 27.2 yards a return.
Minnesota opens the season with a trip to Los Angeles to take on USC in the Coliseum. Then they have 3 straight home games against New Mexico St, Miami-OH, and North Dakota St. The Gophers should be 3-1 by the time conference play starts but need to watch out for a dangerous Miami team. In conference, Minnesota has road games against Michigan Purdue, Michigan St, and Northwestern. They have home games against Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. The Gophers could shock a couple of conference foes but 6 wins would be a stretch. Five is more likely.
Minnesota was 6-6 against the spread last year including 2-5 at home and 4-1 on the road. The over/under was 7-4-1 last year including 5-1-1 at home and 2-3 on the road.
Game to play Minnesota
The easiest conference game might be on the road at a rebuilding Purdue team October 8. I think the Gophers have a chance to pull off the mild upset in that game. Purdue probably won’t be more than a touchdown favorite in that game, but I like the Gophers to cover.
Game to play against Minnesota
Take your pick. While Minnesota will be better this season, this team still has a lot of work to do. They will get blown out by such teams as USC, Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan St, and Wisconsin.
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