B1G 2012 // OTE's Minnesota Potluck: Where the Gophers Win A Green Jacket . . . . in 2013

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"Wrecked 'em? Damn near Zooked 'em! HAHAHAHAHAH!" (via cdn0.sbnation.com)

If the Potluck has a spiritual home, it's Minnesota -- the land of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota Viking team outings on Lake Minnetonka, where Prince makes Charlie Murphy pancakes after kicking his ass in basketball, and most importantly the founding home of hotdish.

Since I don't want to be accused by Jerry Kill of being a "Minnesota Loafer," why don't we purify ourselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka and start this potluck, where we hand Jerry Kill his report card, place Marqueis Gray on the Bauserman-Wilson scale, discuss how scared we are of Minnesota football in 2013, and talk about our Bubba moments in sports.

3700 plus words on the Gophers? IN YOUR FACE CHARLIE MURPHY!

1) Stuffed mushrooms: Last season saw four new coaches begin the season in the B1G. One succeeded wildly (Hoke), one struggled and did not meet expectations (Fickell), one did the only thing he could do and blew everything up thereby failing miserably (Kevin Wilson).....and then there was Jerry Kill at Minnesota. The negatives: His unfortunate (and, we all hope, now under control) health problems certain cast a pallor over the season and understandably distracted the team early in the year, and the Gophers struggled to win 3 games (losing to an FCS North Dakota State team along the way). The positives: one of those 3 victories came against Iowa (giving Kill something Brewster never had -- a rivalry trophy), and the Gophers ended the season a MUCH stronger and more competitive team than when they started. What grade do you give Jerry Kill in Year One?

Graham Filler: I give him an A+ in PR, which is sometimes actually more important than on the field results. The recruiting wins, the return to positivity, the ability to not say stupid things...that's a good first year.

One thing I'd like to ask: Does a coach's health really impact a team that much? I know the media plays it up, but what do players think?

Ted Glover: D, but... At the end of the day the only thing that matters is your record. As Bill Parcells famously said, 'you are what your record says you are'. 3-9 is not a success, but when you consider that the program was heading off a cliff with Tim Brewster's foot mashed on the gas pedal, a D is okay. If I could continue the analogy, the bus was about 5 feet from the guardrail going 60 mph when Kill wrestled the wheel from Timmy. He blew out all the tires when he yanked the wheel hard to port, put the bus on it's side, it flipped once or twice, then skidded for about 125 yards before coming to a stop. We were all cut up and bruised, but we're not dead. Now that the bus has new tires, windows, some body work and a paint job, maybe we'll get back on it and see where it takes us. It might not be to Pasadena, but I don't think it will be a 1,000 foot plummet to my death, either.

KennardHusker: Solid B. Look, there really is no way you can't say that Kill made Minnesota compete. It's not that there were a ton of 'results' in the Wins column, but I do think that he made Minnesota interesting more often than not. I remember doing the Power Poll last year and mocking Minnesota openly before their Bye week, but after they had a little time to tinker with the schemes and give Gray a little more flexibility, they seemed to be a team that shouldn't be messed with. Throw in the Iowa win and the pelt of The Zooker and add in the beauty that is getting hometown kids to stay home, and you have a recipe for a winner. Great job considering everything that could've been terrible.

MSULaxer27: Kill gets a C+. This is Minnesota we're talking about. They've had 18 winning seasons in the past 50 years (in the same span they've had 23 seasons where they won 4 games or less). You'd have to go back to 1899 to find a first year Minnesota coach (or in this case coaches: Harrison & Leary) who took over a team with a losing record and had a winning season. Coach Kill might not have had to blow things up on the same level as Indiana (in all honesty IU and Minny are exhibits 1A and 1B in B1G football ineptitude), but a total re-boot was in order. He didn't do any worse than Brewster's last season, he got a rivalry scalp, and he left the impression that the team is moving in the right direction.

Jonathan Franz: Kill's debut is about as difficult to grade as any coach's I've every seen. On one hand, his rhetoric struck the right chord with his players and fans, and both have bought into his plan hook line and sinker. You'd be hard pressed to find an opposing fan who doesn't like Kill. He's modest, boasts a self-deprecating sense of humor, and has a tremendous outlook. He's a proven winner, and epitomizes hard work. Plus, his inaugural season was full of bright spots (the close loss to USC in the Coliseum, the victories over Iowa and Illinois) that suggest the program is moving in the right direction. On the other hand, Kill's multiple health scares overshadowed the team's progress on the field. There's no question, Minnesota deserves a pass for playing flat in losses to New Mexico State and (FCS) North Dakota State. But there's no excuse for losing to Michigan 58-0. A loss like that makes me wonder if Kill really has the players he needs to compete week in and week out in in B1G. At the end of the day, I'd say Kill met expectations on the field (C) and greatly exceeded them off of it (A). Averaging the two together, I'd say a solid B is just about right.

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2) Potatoes au gratin: Marqueis Gray was pretty much the entire Gophers offense last year -- their leading passer (108-213, 1495 yards, 8 TDs, 8 INTs) and leading rusher (966 yards rushing, 6 TDs). Can Gray improve in 2012? (He will have a benefit that Adam Weber never had -- a 2nd year with the same offensive coordinator.) Or does Minnesota need some other playmakers on offense to take some of the burden off of Gray? Or do you see both happening (i.e. more players stepping up to help, thereby making Gray more effective at leading the Gopher offense)? Ultimately, what is the ceiling for Marqueis Gray in 2012, on a scale of Bauserman (1) to Russell Wilson (10)?

MSULaxer27: I'd say Gray's ceiling this year is a 7. Last year was his first full year under center, which enabled him to take some teams by surprise. He has talent to be sure (don't forget in 2010 he had 42 receptions for 500+ yards and 5 TDs) but I think having seen him, teams will be able to scheme against him. He's a bigger, bulkier shoelace. I'm not sure Kill has his talent in place to help Gray make a that big a leap in his second year as the main signal caller. If this was year four or five of Plan Kill, I would expect bigger things out of Gray.

BabaOReally: Gray can definitely improve. Only around 50% accuracy and an even TD-INT split is nothing to write home about. Gray will get better just by playing more in games. If he can stay healthy and in every game (not an easy thing to do for any QB, even harder for guys that run a lot) he will be a force next year. He will need some help from the skill positions, but it would be shocking to see him regress this year. I would put his ceiling at an 8, but he will probably end up at a 6.

3) Hot Dish (Minnesota is the capital of hot dish, after all): There's almost no argument that Minnesota improved as the season went along. And every team that Jerry Kill has ever coached has improved from year 1 to year 2 to year 3 -- Saginaw Valley State (6-4 to 7-3 to 7-3), Southern Illinois (1-10 to 4-8 to 10-2), and Northern Illinois (6-7 to 7-6 to 10-3). How much do you see Minnesota improving in 2012? How does Minnesota achieve that improvement (more playmakers on offense for Gray? A tougher defense? Both?)? And finally -- should the rest of the B1G be terrified of the Gophers making the leap in 2013?

Graham Filler: There are levels of losing and winning. It goes like:

- Lose big
- Lose close
- Win close
- Win big

Right now, Minnesota is somewhere between losing big and close on a consistent basis. They're not Indiana, but they're not Illinois. I assume Mini will move comfortably to losing close this year, probably through an improved defense.

Ted Glover: When you look at what they did towards the end of last season and throw in the USC and Iowa game, then look at their schedule this year...you can legitimately look at Minnesota as a 5 or 6 win team. 4-0 is a must in the non-conference schedule, and it's very doable. Iowa is a wildcard, as the last two years have shown that anything is possible, and Northwestern is winnable. 6-0? I'm sure they'll find a way to stub their toe, but they also have games against Purdue and Illinois farther down the schedule, and you can take the good stuff from last year and tell yourself that those are two more winnable games. So if they come out of that early stretch 4-2 or 5-1, they'll be going bowling.

I can't emphasize enough how refreshing it is to have stability at the coordinator positions, and that will go a long way in determining what kind of season Marqueis Gray has. It's no secret that the offense will go through him, but they will need to find a running back to help take the load off, and a couple receivers that Gray can rely on. The defense MUST get better, flat out. They couldn't stop anyone, and their offense can't win 42-35 shootouts like a Northwestern offense could last year. That said, they were appreciably better in 3 of their last four games, and it looked like it seemed to click for them at the end of the year. They have to find a way to put pressure on the opposing quarterback and find a way to create turnovers, as they have been terrible the last few seasons at doing both.

As for 2013, it just depends on what the definition of a 'leap' is. I look for the Gophers to be a very tough out starting in 2012 as Kill's tough, no-nonsense philosophy takes hold. They're still short on talent at too many positions to seriously contend for the Legends division year in and year out, but can I see them getting to be a consistent 8 or even 9 win team? Yeah, I can.

KennardHusker: I think I'll start with that last question. Kill's MO is not just building programs, but it's making that Year 3 jump. I think that it would not surprise anyone to see Minnesota in the thick of bowl contention (maybe even division contention for a while) in 2013. However, as has been discussed, what is the ceiling here? I think Minnesota should be aiming for the occasional Rose Bowl berth, but more often than not taking a trophy home and finishing with a winning record. Should B1G teams be scared? Well, sure, I guess... Then again, I am pretty sure there haven't been a lot of 'off' weeks in this conference for a while and Minnesota is doing their part to keep up that trend. As for where I think they end up this year? I think a best case scenario is 7 wins and a worst case is 4 with a trophy win due to better understanding of both playbooks.

MSULaxer27: It has been mentioned before: Minnesota was 109th in passing, 111th in points scored and 93rd in points against. And they got drubbed by a I-AA team at home (albeit the I-AA National Champs). Not to be Captain Obvious, but they'll have to improve those numbers if they are to have any hope of improvement in 2012. College Football Poll.com listed Minny's Strength of Schedule as 25th in the Nation. I believe that was due to a schedule including ranked USC, NU-L, UM, UW, and MSU. USC rotates off their schedule but the other four will remain on their schedule as long as the B1G stays as presently constituted.

When I look at their 2012 schedule: I see 4 should win games (UNH, WMU, SU, UNLV) and two must win games (PU, Illinois) if they are to have any hope of going to a Bowl. You could replace Iowa or MSU or NU should they drop one of the aforementioned 6.

They real question is: At whose expense will this "great leap" in 2013 occur? If Minny improves its recruiting prowess, what other team suffers? It seems primarily Wisconsin and they aren't in the same division as Minnesota. Before the gophers think about B1G success, shouldn't they focus on success in their division? College football is cyclical, yet it does not occur in a vacuum, who do you see ahead of them (NU-L, UM, MSU, NU, Iowa) stumbling in the long-term. You always have a chance at a upset or two in any given year, but coaching schemes can only take you so far. What is Minnesota going to do to prolong success and pass these teams that seem to have such a head start on them.

BabaOReally: I see Minnesota winning five games next year. An unexpected loss in the non-conference and two conference wins. The Gophers have a pretty tough conference schedule this year (i.e. no Indiana). Their best bets are probably against Purdue or Northwestern at home and Illinois on the road. What will probably happen is that they will only win one of these games and pull an upset over Nebraska or Iowa (again).

I don't really think that the rest of the conference should be terrified about 2013. I could see Minnesota going from the basement to the middle of the pack, which would put them in the Purdue, Illinois and Northwestern range. So I guess a few teams should be worried, but I wouldn't be sweating the Gophers if I were a Wisconsin fan. I would be sweating as a hypothetical Badger fan, but it would be due to my cheese-based diet, not Minnesota.

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In an unsurprising move, Augusta admitted ANOTHER white man. In a surprise, his name was Bubba. (via cdn0.sbnation.com)

4) Chocolate Icebox Pudding: Louis Oosthuizen's albatross on No. 2 and Bubba Watson's insane hook shot from the pine straw on the second playoff hole (No. 10) will be two shots that no one will ever forget from the 2012 Masters. Quite frankly, they both had me jumping to my feet to cheer in my living room -- and I really had no rooting interest in either player. So two questions: what one play from your own college football team's fandom made you shout/scream/cheer the loudest because of how amazing it was? And what college football play by a team you had ZERO rooting interest gave you a similar jump/shout/scream reaction?

Graham Filler: BUBBA BABY BUBBA...The Denard Robinson 4th quarter comeback against the Irish, culminating in a TD pass with a few seconds left, left me screaming and gasping and hugging everyone...And although it wasn't similar, when RG3 threw that touchdown to beat Oklahoma off his back foot, I just felt like it was the perfect combination of clutch play and sheer athletic genius...

Ted Glover: My Team: 2003 Fiesta Bowl, Miami 4th and goal from the OSU 1, second overtime. A stop here OSU wins their first national title in 34 years. Miami QB Ken Dorsey takes the snap, Cie Grant blitzes from the outside, grabs Dorsey, who heaves the ball towards the end zone...and it harmlessly falls to earth. Incomplete. Holy crap, the Buckeyes just won the National Championship. Greatest sports feeling ever. EVER.

Zero Rooting Interest Play: 2007 Old Oaken Bucket Game. Indiana and Purdue have played a great football game, and Indiana is trying to win the Bucket for the first time since 2001. A win gets them a bowl game, and will fulfill the late coach Terry Hoeppner's mantra of 'play 13'. Purdue has rallied furiously to tie the game, but Indiana gets the ball back and they have one last shot--kicker Austin Starr is staring at a 49 yard FG for the win. He's made exactly one other field goal that long in his career. Boom, close...close...GOOD! Terry's widow Jane Hoeppner looks skyward and gives thanks, a sellout crowd in Bloomington erupts, and Indiana goes bowling.

When people ask me why I love college football, I point to that play right there. I'm not a Hoosier football fan, but watching that replay chokes me up, every time. Just the pure emotion of that moment is college football, boiled down to it's purest essence, on both sides of the ball. there's nothing better than beating your archrival with a lot riding on the outcome, and there's no worse feeling in the world than losing to them in heartbreaking fashion.

Oh, and Hoosier fan, if Austin Starr ever buys his own beer in Bloomington, you've all failed.

KennardHusker: This is just not even a contest. Frazier's 'Good Luck Stopping Me Gators' run in the Fiesta Bowl is iconic and just the most amazing run I have watched. He just had that moment of dedication, and I was going crazy. 75 yards, 7 broken tackles, and a trail of "eff you, I'm awesome" in the wake. As for someone else? As much as it pains me to say it, I gotta give it up to Vince Young in the BCS Title Game vs. USC. It's 4th and 5, all the pressure in the world. You've been a world beater for the past quarter and it still comes down to this. You're up against a team that people thought was the best ever and you do what everyone thought you would - you scramble into the end zone for the game winner. I hate Texas and USC equally, but that was hard not to love. Talk about a guy who could make you jump out of your chair (note: I was pacing nervously when Bubba hit that recovery shot out of the pine needles and I also jumped up and down when he hit the green).

MSULaxer27: I like to play golf but you would have to pay me about $50 to watch it either in person or on TV, so I really have no idea what you're talking about...I know some cat named Bubba won but that's about it.
This one's pretty easy for me: Nichol's catch in the end zone against UW in East Lansing. I honestly don't watch many games that do not involve the Spartans, but Denard's throw (and the subsequent catch) against ND with about two minutes left in the third quarter when he was nearly wrapped up and just about to get leveled stands out to me.

Jonathan Franz: This is a fun question. Part A is easy. The best and literally one of the lone bright spots in the last year of my college football fandom came on the evening of October 30th when the Wisconsin Badgers came to Ohio Stadium fresh off a shocking last second defeat in East Lansing to square off against a struggling Buckeye squad. I looked forward to the game -- and the opportunity to exact revenge on Wisky for its defeat of No. 1 Ohio State in 2010 (a game I was in attendance for) -- for months, only to find out that the law firm I work for was hosting an event the same night and had gotten us all tickets to see UCLA play Cal in the Rose Bowl.

I thought long and hard about faking an illness and cancelling at the last minute, but ultimately, I resigned myself to programming my DVR box to record the game I really wanted to see, and spent three and a half hours watching Cal throw interceptions and refusing to look at the stadium scoreboard for fear of seeing a national score update. After the game (and completely ignorant of the result) my wife and I rushed home to watch the Buckeyes play on delay. After Ohio State scored to go ahead 26-14 on a 44 yard Braxton Miller scramble with a little over 4:00 minutes to play I jumped out of my seat, picked up our pet golden retriever, and danced around the house like an idiot. "We got 'em! We got 'em!" I shouted.

Less than a minute later Wisconsin scored to cut the lead to five. "No big deal," I shrugged. We just need a couple of first downs. Three uninspiring plays later, Ohio State punted, and my nerves officially returned. It took Wisconsin just four plays and one magnificently blown coverage to cover the 68 yards. A successful 2-point conversion attempt added insult to injury and gave the Badgers what seemed like an air tight three point lead.

What followed was perhaps the best game-winning drive I've seen since the 1997 Rose Bowl. On 1st and 10 at the Wisconsin 40 Braxton Miller darted out of a collapsing pocket, narrowly avoided the hands of a would be tackler, galloped to the far sideline, and then launched a bomb across his body that hung in the air for what felt like an epoch before landing gracefully in the outstretched arms of Devin Smith. After the initial shock wore off, my eyes welled up with tears. After seeing a beloved icon ripped to shreds in the national press, and with certain NCAA sanctions on the horizon, it just felt great to have something, anything to celebrate.

As for Part B, I have to go with Kirk Cousin's Hail Mary, and the ensuing tug of war at the goalline to beat Wisconsin, although frankly, that entire game belongs here.

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