Can Jerry Kill Win At Minnesota In Year Three?

Jesse Johnson- USA TODAY Sports

Year three is historically the year that a college football coach breaks through and finds success with his program.  For Jerry Kill and Minnesota, they better hope that they fit the trend.

Kill has had a horrid time so far at Minnesota.  Through two seasons, Minnesota has won just four conference games (and two of them were against Illinois) and has a combined record of 9-16.

Beyond the poor record, Kill has also had a poor record of health at the school, having had three seizures during games over the last two seasons.  Finally, there was also a good deal of scandal at Kill’s program.  Last season, former wide receiver AJ Barker quit the team and claimed that Kill was mentally abusive, treated players poorly and manipulated the medical staff against the best interests of the players, in a long letter.

Kill denied the allegations, but Barker’s claims still brought a distraction to the program and bad publicity for the already struggling coach.

Still, Kill could make fans forget about how awful these past two seasons have been with a winning year in 2013.  After winning six games, to sneak into a bowl game, Minnesota lost to Texas Tech in the famous Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, leaving Minnesota still without a winning record since 2008.  In 2013, can Kill finally breakthrough to a winning season?

Much of the blame for Minnesota’s poor play last year has to fall on the offense, not the defense.  While the defense was pretty average, ranking fifth in the Big Ten in total defense, the offense was one of the worst in the conference, ranking ninth in scoring and 10th in total offense.  Much of Kill’s defensive talent returns, so can the offense catch up?

It’s tough to say.  A good offense obviously needs a good quarterback, and it is questionable if Minnesota has that in sophomore Phillip Nelson.  Nelson, who started the final seven games for Minnesota, was a mixed bag.  Nelson lacked both firepower (he passed for over 150 yards just once) and efficiency (a 49.3 completion percentage).  To be fair, Nelson was a freshman and had little talent around him to work with.  But still, it is hard to project Nelson as a good starting quarterback given his prior performance.

A factor that will help Nelson out is junior running back Donnell Kirkwood.  Kirkwood was Minnesota’s top offensive player last season, rushing for 926 yards and six TDs.  Kirkwood was a huge part of the offense, ranking sixth in the Big Ten in plays from scrimmage.  That will likely repeat and if Kirkwood can stay healthy, he could be one of the best backs in the conference, as all five starting offensive linemen from 2012 will return to block for him.

If we can assume the defense can stay at the worst serviceable and maybe even in the top third of the Big Ten, then all of the pressure will be on the offense.  And all of the pressure on the offense more or less falls on Nelson’s shoulders.  He will have an experienced offensive line, a very good running back and four of the top six receiving targets from last year will return.  If Nelson can be more efficient and create the occasional big play, Minnesota can have a good season.  But that’s a big enough “if”,  Jerry Kill’s third season should be an interesting one.

You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter @alexdaleCFB.

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