Jerry Kill took over the Minnesota football program in 2011 and in the past couple of years, has helped turn the Gophers into a contender in the Big Ten. Few would argue that they’re on the same level as the defending national champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes, though they’re certainly not far from a division title.
The Golden Gophers play in the Big Ten’s west division, which most would agree is the weaker of the two. There’s no dominant team that you look at and think will run away with the division. Just a season ago, the Gophers were very close to playing in the Big Ten championship game. Kill’s squad jumped out to a 17-3 advantage and held a lead over Wisconsin at the half. The Badgers rallied thanks to Melvin Gordon‘s 151 rushing yards and two Joel Stave touchdown passes, but what remained was the feeling that this team is heading in the right direction.
Minnesota will have to replace a few offensive starters, the most important of which is running back David Cobb. Replacing a back who rushed for over 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns is never easy. They’ll also be losing their top two pass catchers, tight end Maxx Williams and receiver Isaac Fruechte, though Minnesota wasn’t an elite passing team which makes replacing Cobb’s ground production even more concerning. They will have experience at quarterback with Mitch Leidner returning for his junior year. He won’t light up the stat columns, but he also won’t make too many big-time mistakes.
Seven starters will return to the defense this year, led by corner Briean Boddy-Calhoun who tallied five interceptions a year ago. They’ll also be returning two more from the secondary, two linebackers and two lineman. This should keep the unit pretty well-rounded which will keep them in a lot of games.
Prediction: Minnesota should go into their October 17 game with Nebraska with just one loss. They then enter a stretch in which they play Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State. If they can win two of those three games, then they’ll probably go into their regular season finale with Wisconsin with a shot at the Big Ten championship game. I’m still taking the Badgers again this year, but the Gophers should once again win eight or more games.
Jason Shawley is a Featured Writer for RantSports.com covering Big Ten Football. Follow him on Twitter @jshawls.