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2011 College Football Season Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers

2010 Record: (3-9, 2-6 in Big 10)

Head Coach: Jerry Kill (1st yr at Minnesota, 127-73 All-Time)

2010 Preview

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Returning Big Ten Offensive Firepower


9/3: at USC (2010 result: lost 32-21)

9/10: New Mexico State

9/17: Miami (OH)

9/24: North Dakota St

10/1: at Michigan

10/8: at Purdue (2010 result: lost 28-17)

10/22: Nebraska

10/29: Iowa (2010 result: won 27-24)

11/5: at Michigan State (2010 result: lost 31-8)

11/12: Wisconsin (2010 result: lost 41-23)

11/19: at Northwestern (2010 result: lost 29-28)

11/26: Illinois (2010 result: won 38-34)

2010 Offensive Statistics:

Scoring: 23.2 ppg (10th in Big Ten, 89th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 135.25 yds/game (10th in Big Ten, 86th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 226.1 yds/game (8th in Big Ten, 57th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 361.3 yds/game (10th in Big Ten, 77th in Nation) 

2010 Defensive Statistics:

Scoring: 33.0 ppg (9th in Big Ten, 98th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 191.42 yds/game (last in Big Ten, 98th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 200.8 yds/game (4th in Big Ten, 33th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 392.2 yds/game (8th in Big Ten, 76th in Nation)

2010 Misc Stats:

Turnover Margin: +0.17 per game (6th in Big Ten, 45th in Nation)

Penalties: 43.1 yds/game (5th in Big Ten, 28th in Nation)

Returning Starters:

Offense: 5

Defense: 9

Kicker/Punter: 1

Top Returning Statistical Leaders:

Passing: QB MarQueis Gray, Jr (2 of 8 for 24 yds)

Rushing: RB DeLeon Eskridge, Sr (193 for 698 yds, 7 TD)

Receiving: WR Da'Jon McKnight (48 rec for 750 yds, 10 TD)

Tackles: LB Gary Tinsley, Sr (90)

Sacks: LB Gary Tinsley, Sr (1.5)

Interceptions: LB Mike Rallis, Jr (3)

The Tim Brewster experience at Minnesota was cut short after three and a half years and 15 wins. After going 7-6 in 2008 and 6-7 in 2009 and truly being a "fringe bowl team" the Golden Gophers got out of the gate 1-6 last season including a loss to South Dakota and that was enough to cut bait with Brewster. Minnesota went 0-3 in the first three games after Brewster's dismisal but those were against Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State. In the final two games, Minnesota showed life and beat Illinois and upset Iowa to finish 3-9.

Minnesota didn't have to go far to find the guy they wanted to replace Brewster. They just went back to Sept 25th and watched the game film of Minnesota's  34-23 loss to Northern Illinois. Kill comes to Minnesota after three years at Northern Illinois including his final campaign where he went 10-3. In addition to himself Kill brought along his OC, DC and ST coaches to help him get settled in St Paul. We reached out to the Minnesota based blog Fringe Bowl Team to find out their thoughts on the 2011 version of the Golden Gophers. Make sure you follow them on Twitter @MVofDT to keep up with the Gophers and the Big Ten this season.

1. What is your take on moving MarQueis Gray to QB? Will he win the starting job and what can he add to the offense?

Gray only moved to receiver half-way through camp last fall at Tim Brewster's request: he's always been viewed as the Gophers' quarterback of the future since he committed in January of 2008. My issue -- one that I share with new head coach Jerry Kill -- is Gray has spent so little time at quarterback during his first two years that we're only now getting an idea of what he can do at the QB spot. Jedd Fisch didn't know how to incorporate Gray into the offense back in 2009 other than a Wildcat formation and he lost a whole year of quarterbacking tutelage last season at receiver. He essentially hasn't played quarterback full-time in four years due to an injury his senior year of high school and a flagged test score that forced him to sit out all of 2008.  

That said, he lapped his competition during spring practice and, barring injury, is a stone cold lock to start every game as the Gophers' QB this season; no one on the team - let alone the QB depth chart - has as much raw physical talent and athleticism. The biggest thing Gray will add to his offense is his rushing ability: he's already the most explosive and efficient rusher on the team and an offense designed to take advantage of an athletic quarterback with a lot of zone-read is a perfect fit for his skills. 

The defense gave up 33 points per game and was last in the conference at stopping the run. What has been done to address the defense this off-season?

Nothing out of the ordinary. New defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has been a part of Kill's staff for over ten years and he's brought a change in defensive line philosophy compared to his predecessor, one that focuses on unleashing the defensive line up-field through the gaps versus a gap control scheme employed by former DC Kevin Cosgrove. Cosgrove had better results in 2009 when he had defensive linemen who clogged the gaps and allowed a good crop of linebackers to clean everything up. When Cosgrove had to replace the entire front 7, the personnel up front were better suited for attacking rather maintaining gap control, while the linebackers frequently took themselves out of plays and very often badly out of position. 

The hope in Minnesota is a more disciplined, fundamental approach combined with a scheme better suited for the players on campus and more experience across the board (all 11 opening day 2010 starters were new, 9 return) will produce a more aggressive defense capable of producing stops every now and then, as opposed to a sieve against the run and pass. The expectations aren't too high though, as the team lacks pass rushers at defensive end and proven playmakers in the secondary.

For those that don't follow the Golden Gophers, who are some under-the-radar guys that might make some noise this year?

Eric Lair was the most targeted tight end in the Big Ten last season and returns the most receptions and yards at the position in the conference for 2011; with a lack of depth at receiver other than Da'Jon McKnight, expect Gray to focus on connecting with the only other proven receiving target on the roster quite often. 

He only played half the season at cornerback last fall, but Troy Stoudermire looked more comfortable at the position this spring and produced a big play (interception, forced fumble, PBU or bone jarring hit) every day in practice. The former wide receiver is the most physical and aggressive player in a secondary that could use an attitude adjustment after a miserable 2010 season.  

Ed Olson, Jr. won the job at LT as a redshirt freshman last fall and started 8 games despite a nagging ankle injury he suffered against Northern Illinois. Fully healthy and with a year of starting experience behind him, Olson is poised to take the next step and become an anchor at LT for the next three years.

What are the biggest reasons to be optimistic about Minnesota football this year?

Gray - or as he's known in Minnesota: Q. The sports scene in Minneapolis has been so historically dreadful this winter/spring that the media is already talking about Gray as potentially the most interesting sports figure in town come fall. Gray's playmaking ability and superior athleticism may not be enough to propel a team with holes all over the place to a bowl game, but he's certainly capable of making the games enjoyable -- something that's not lost on Gopher fans after the mundane bookended terrible Brewster era. 

Looking at the schedule, what are the most important games for Minnesota this year?

The home dates against Iowa and Wisconsin. When an interim coach (Jeff Horton) wins more trophy games (1) in half a season than the dispatched coach (Brewster) did over a 3.5 year career, the immediate successor would be well served to perform better against the school's biggest rivals. An upset over either opponent would continue to build on one of the lone bright spots of the 2010 season and restore balance to the recently lopsided battles for Floyd of Rosedale and Paul Bunyan's Axe. Since the Gophers aren't expected to do much in 2011, the year boils down to a two-game season against the border rivals. 

What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?

Right now, my gut tells me 4 or 5 wins is most probable. Kill gets a one-year installation mulligan, so absent a complete dumpster fire, all most fans want to see is a team that plays disciplined, hard-nosed, fundamental football and shows signs of improvement as the season progresses. A trophy game win would make the season an immediate success, much in the same way the season-ending victory over Iowa erased a lot of the negativity surrounding the program after Brewster's dismissal. Kill will ultimately be judged on the multi-year direction of the program and whether he can successfully rebuild another program rather than the win-loss record of an inaugural, low expectations campaign.

Coming In August: CFBZ Big Ten Preview

Next Preview: Clemson 

2011 Team Previews

C-USA- East Carolina, Houston, SMU, Southern Mississippi

Independent- Army

MAC- Ball St, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Temple, Toledo

MWC- New Mexico, UNLV, Wyoming

Sun Belt- FAU, FIU, Louisiana, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Troy, ULM, Western Kentucky

WAC- Idaho, San Jose St


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