The last few years have been a struggle for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Over the past two seasons under head coach Jerry Kill, the Gophers are just 9-16. However, things are looking up, as a regular season record of 6-6 last year did land them in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, their first bowl appearance since 2009. With 16 returning starters this season and Kill’s system full in place, Minnesota will once again win enough games to be bowl eligible.
The offense will once again be led under center by quarterback Phillip Nelson, who started the final seven games of 2012. He finished with 873 passing yards and eight touchdowns while adding 252 yards on the ground.
Nelson is a dual-threat quarterback who should put up decent number this season as the clear starter.
Helping to make the offense effective this year is returning running back Donnell Kirkwood. He led the team in rushing last year, racking up 926 yards and six touchdowns. Teaming up with Kirkwood in the backfield will be Rodrick Williams. He ran for 261 yards and two touchdowns last season as a quicker, change-of-pace from Kirkwood.
Minnesota ranked seventh in the Big Ten Conference in rushing last season, but should finish better than that in 2013. Aside from experienced running backs, the Gophers also return a solid offensive line.
Also returning to the offense will be three of the four top receivers from a season ago. Derrick Engel, Isaac Fruechte and Devin Crawford-Tufts should all play key roles in the passing game.
Aside from the offense being experienced, the Minnesota defense returns several starters from a season ago. Last year, the Gophers ranked fifth in the conference in total defense.
The strength of the unit will be the defensive line, with seven of the top eight players on last year’s depth chart returning. The line will be led by tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, who bypassed the NFL and opted to return to college this season. He’s a dangerous pass rusher who was second on the team with six sacks.
The Gophers will also have the services of cornerback Derrick Wells and linebacker Aaron Hill, who both made 74 tackles in 2012 and will also be key contributors this season.
Minnesota has an experienced team returning on both sides of the ball. Couple that with the fact that the transition period of a new coach is now over, and Minnesota has a great chance to match or even surpass its win total from last year and become bowl eligible once again.