The Minnesota Golden Gophers were able to get bowl eligible in head coach Jerry Kill‘s second season at the helm, so expectations are going to be raised a bit heading into year three. While they weren’t the most impressive team to go bowling, finishing just 2-6 in Big Ten play losing seven of their final nine games, including a three-point loss in the Meineke Car Care Bowl to the Texas Tech Red Raiders. So what should Gophers’ fans expect in 2013?
On the bright side, they should easily become bowl eligible again. Much like last season, Minnesota plays an extremely soft non-conference schedule that should help them get two-thirds of the way to bowl eligibility in the first month of the season. Last year, the Gophers went 4-0 against the UNLV Rebels, New Hampshire Wildcats, Western Michigan Broncos and Syracuse Orange. This year, they get a similarly soft slate of UNLV (again) along with the New Mexico State Aggies, Western Illinois Leathernecks and San Jose State Spartans.
While Minnesota still has plenty of question marks to answer on offense and defense, they should have enough coming back to take care of three terrible teams (no offense) and a San Jose State team going through a transition with a new head coach. That will leave Minnesota needing just two wins in conference play (which they squeaked out in 2012) to go bowling next postseason.
There will be some games that they won’t be able to count on for those W’s, however, as Minnesota is still not ready to contend with the best of the Big Ten. Road trips against the Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans will be difficult games to predict as wins for Minnesota, and a road game against a much-improved Northwestern Wildcats will be an uphill challenge.
However, there are aspects of the schedule the paint a promising picture for the Gophers’ postseason plans in 2013. Minnesota misses on an Ohio State Buckeyes team with BCS National Championship aspirations and get the Iowa Hawkeyes at home (though they couldn’t beat them last year) and face off with an Indiana Hoosiers team that they missed in 2012.
The two teams that Minnesota beat in conference play last season, the Purdue Boilermakers and Illinois Fighting Illini, are not on the Gophers’ schedule this year, so they’re going to have to find some new wins in 2013. Can they handle business against Iowa? Will they steal a home win from the Wisconsin Badgers as they transition to a new coaching staff? Or maybe the can shock the world with home wins over the Nebraska Cornhuskers or Penn State Nittany Lions?
Or will 2013 be a step back for Jerry Kill and the Minnesota program? With a soft non-conference schedule and at least a couple of winnable games on the schedule, Minnesota should be able to keep pace at the very least with their 2012 success (however meager that may have been).