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Big Ten

2010 NCAA Football Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 6-7, 3-5
Bowl Game: Insight Bowl (L 14-13 vs. Iowa State)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: 8th Big Ten Conference
Offensive rank: 109
Defensive rank: 63

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Duane Bennett, 376 yards, 6 TD; Kevin Whaley, 367 yards, 2 TD
Passing: Adam Weber, 2,582 yards, 13 TD, 15 INT
Receiving: Eric Decker, 758 yards, 5 TD
Tackles: Lee Campbell, 119 total tackles; Nathan Triplett, 105 total tackles
Sacks: D.L. Wilhite, 3 sacks (3 solo); Eric Small, 3 sacks (3 solo)
Interceptions: Kyle Theret, 3 interceptions

2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

September 2 @ Middle Tennessee State: The Blue Raiders are by no means a pushover. Dwight Dasher, whose name leads me to believe he's off fighting crime at halftime, will be a senior this season and you can bet he and his teammates would love to start the season with a win over a team from the Big Ten. For a team already expected to struggle to get to bowl eligibility, the Gophers need to be on their toes for this one to avoid an early setback.

September 18 vs. Southern California: The Gophers probably won't stand much of a chance against the Trojans, but wouldn't it be nice if they at least held their own, much in the same way they put up a fight against Cal last season?

November 27 vs. Iowa: The Gophers haven't scored a point against the Hawkeyes since 2007 and haven't beaten them since 2006. The Gophers may hold the series lead in the annual battle for the Floyd of Rosedale, but with Iowa expected to be a major player in the Big Ten race, it's hard to think they'll return to trophy to Minneapolis this season.

AP: N/A

Coaches': Not Ranked

Key Losses

Eric Decker, WR

Key Returning Players

Adam Weber, QB

Offensive Overview

Despite the presence of one of the most underrated, or at least underappreciated, wide receivers in the nation, the Golden Gophers still managed no better than the 109th ranked offense in the country. With Eric Decker now plying his trade with Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas in Denver, Minnesota must look elsewhere for their playmaker on offense. One play I'll always remember is this one in which Decker is nailed on a touchdown grab, knocked unconscious momentarily and still returns to the game to haul in another score and even toss one himself.

Troy Stoudermire may be the Gophers' best bet to fill the playmaker role on offense. His 275 all-purpose yards in the spring game make him a leading candidate to fill Decker's shoes as the heart of the passing game. Don't forget about Da'Jon McKnight, though. McKnight recorded all 17 of his receptions over the final five games of the season following Decker's season-ending injury and is widely expected to emerge as the team's number one receiver. (Fun fact: McKnight and Stoudermire were teammates at Skyline High School in Dallas, Texas.) Brandon Green will also work into the passing game in the upcoming season.

Throwing the passes will again be Adam Weber, a senior who, like Decker, is a bit underrated. Part of that may be due to not having enough time to throw the ball with the nation's 113th ranked offensive line in terms of sacks allowed. Without Decker to throw to, Weber will have to spread the ball around more and must cut down on the interceptions. All five members of the offensive line are back, so here's hoping Weber will find the time to go through his progressions to hit the open man this season. MarQuies Gray, a dual-threat under center, should also see playing time this season, although it's unlikely he takes the starting gig unless Weber struggles mightily.

While the passing game seems to be in decent shape with a more experienced line hopefully providing their talented quarterback enough time to throw the ball to his promising group of receivers, the Gophers are nonetheless expected to place more of an emphasis on the ground game in 2010. They'll have all five starters back on the line, but projected starter Duane Bennett was limited in the spring due to injury and DeLeon Eskridge has battled injuries himself. Devon Wright, Lamonte Edwards and Donnell Kirkwood, all of whom are true freshmen, may get the chance to emerge as the featured back in somewhat of a murky backfield as we inch closer and closer to the season.

Defensive Overview

It's been quite the offseason for the Gophers defense. Linebacker Sam Maresh has left the program due to academic issues, linebacker Gary Tinsley is facing legal problems stemming from a moped incident, safety Kim Royston broke his leg and safety Kyle Theret was nailed for DUI. Unfortunately, these are not scout teamers we're talking about here. Maresh and Tinsley were expected to compete for the middle linebacker job (Tinsley is expected to see the field) and Royston and Theret were the returning starters at safety. Both are expected to be ready by the time the season starts, however.

If Royston is healthy and Theret is allowed to play, they'll likely take the starting spots with JUCO transfer Herschel Thornton pushing for playing time. Either way, he'll be a part of the rotation. Some combination of Michael Carter, Ryan Collado and JUCO transfers Christyn Lewis and Dwight Tillman will make up the starting, nickel and dime corners. If the secondary is healthy and keeps its nose clean, this unit could end up being very good with the influx of JUCO transfers and two returning starters at safety.

As for the linebackers, with Maresh out, Tinsley has the inside track for the middle linebacker spot. Mike Rallis takes over on the strongside and Keanon Cooper will take over on the weakside. Rallis was a walk-on a few years back and is expected to put together a breakthrough performance in the starting role. Cooper recorded 43 tackles as a backup last season. D.J. Wilhite saw only limited action, but still managed to tie for the team lead with three sacks. As a speed rusher, he should figure to improve last year's total with Anthony Jacobs occupying the other end spot. Ra'Shede Hageman will see plenty of time as a pass rusher as well. Jewhan Edwards, at 6'2 and 333 pounds, provides a massive presence up front as a run stuffer, and could even get in the backfield to disrupt the pass. Brandon Kirksey will team with Edwards on the interior.

Special Teams Overview

Eric Ellestad hit all 31 of his extra point attempts last season, but was inconsistent from deep. He missed all three of his attempts from beyond 40 yards, but was 12 for 13 from inside the 40. Dan Orseske takes over the punting duties upon the departure of Blake Hauden, who averaged 42.6 yards per punt. Orseske did start the year last season as the starter, averaging 44.6 yards per punt, but missed the majority of the season due to mono.

Troy Stoudermire averaged 24.6 yards per kick return a season ago and was the fourth ranked kick returner in the conference. Bryant Allen is gone after averaging over 12 yards per punt return last season. Brandon Green will get a shot at taking over this season.

Head Coach: Tim Brewster

Tim Brewster took over head coaching duties at Minnesota in 2007 after spending five seasons as an assistant in the NFL. His first season finished 1-11 and did not win a game in conference, but he took the Gophers to a bowl game the past two seasons with 7-6 and 6-7 records, respectively. Both bowl appearances were Insight Bowl losses, first to Kansas and then to Iowa State. He's done a fine job of bringing in talent, but has yet to turn that talent into consistent success in the Big Ten. Hovering around .500 isn't the end of the world, but it's hard to believe the Gophers will have patience enough to endure years of mediocrity.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Adam Weber, QB

Season Prediction

11th Big Ten Conference

While offensive game plans are bound to change in some form or another throughout the season, and they very well may with a talented passer in Adam Weber under center, the Gophers appear to be embracing the power running model heading into the season. That's not to say that Weber won't be able to spread the ball around and even improve on last year's passing numbers, but when you finish dead last in rushing in your conference the previous season, you tend to want to place emphasis on getting the ground game working to, if nothing else, free up the passing game a little bit.

The defense enters the season with tons of questions. Will the safeties be ready to go? Will the JUCO transfers contribute in the defensive backfield right away? Will Gary Tinsley be available to start at middle linebacker? Only the defensive line seems steady heading into the season with a solid, albeit inexperienced, starting bunch and a few freshmen who could work their way into the rotation. Whatever ends up happening with this defense, they'll have to find a way to put a halt to the rough and tumble offenses in the Big Ten.

There's reason to be optimistic for the future of Minnesota football with a bunch of talented freshmen joining the team on both sides of the ball and a couple of fairly highly ranked recruiting classes from 2008 and 2009 (17, 39) taking over starting spots, but as far as 2010 goes, the Golden Gophers may be relegated to the bottom of the conference with another tough conference schedule in the second half of the season. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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