B1G 2013 // Minnesota Cocktail Party Preview

Scott Halleran

Time to lean more about the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

About Last Season

The good news...

Bowl game.

The Big Ten season wasn't always pretty, but the Gophers took care of business in the non-con, sealed Danny Hope's fate at home against REDACTED, made sure Tim Beckman went down with an 0-8 B1G record, and gave TTech everything they could handle in a game that probably should have been a win for the B1G.

Philip Nelson and the Gopher offense showed plenty of growth over their 15 bowl practices, enough to have folks excited that maybe they are ready to stop turning out bottom of the B1G stats in offensive categories. The pass defense and pass rush improved IMMENSELY, and essentially earned the Gophers their bowl game by shutting down Ryan Nassib and Syracuse in the Week 4 victory.

And did I mention the team made a bowl game?

The bad news...

The rush defense was...underwhelming. The team's best wide receiver decided to quit the team in a manner befitting a 4 year old right as senior week was about to start. The offensive line was walking MASH unit with the coaching staff forced to play 3 different guys at center and use about 207 different line combinations by the end of the season. Unsurprisingly, the running game suffered and the Gophers went without a 1000 yard back for the 6th straight season.

MarQueis Gray was hurt in the 3rd week of the season, lost his spot at QB as a result, and spent the rest of the year working hard to make a difference at wide receiver. Seriously, I really feel for that guy...seemed like a fantastic person, great team leader but despite being an amazing athlete he just never caught a break with the Brew mess, coaching change, and injuries all standing in the way of his QB development.

The kicking game was hit or miss. Iowa kidnapped Floyd in a game that was over after the 2nd quarter, the team went home from Madison Axe-less again, and a perfect opportunity to give Michigan a real game was squandered by poor execution and missed opportunities. The team went to a bowl but still finished with a 2-6 B1G record. And in the end they did lose the bowl game (horseshoes, hand grenades, and all that).

On The Offensive Side Of The Ball

The good news...

Mankato Jesus is back and is the outright starter as of the completion of spring ball (showing greatly improved accuracy and decision making in the Spring Game). His backup, Mitch Leidner, also showed off his tools during the Spring Game and it thankfully looks like we won't need to pull the RS off another freshman QB this season (knock on wood). The offensive line looks like it will start the season completely intact and boasts the most depth and experience (thank you injuries I guess?) that it's had in many years. The running game looks poised to improve as Donnell Kirkwood (aka: Bowling Ball) and Rodrick Williams return while speedy freshman Berkley Edwards joins the team ready to show Michigan why they should have recruited him. The team looks deep in terms of pass catching tight ends. And perhaps most importantly, the bowl game and spring have shown that this team has a much better understanding of OC Matt Limegrover's system and they should be able to implement a more complete gameplan in the coming year (I for one cannot wait for MOAR MARYLAND-I).

The bad news...

The wide receiver position has potential, but a complete lack of proven in game production. The Gophers will be looking for talented players like Devin Crawford Tufts and KJ Maye to step up and fulfill their potential while Derrick Engel looks ready to take over the surehanded WSR role vacated by the AJ Barker (hopefully Derrick's mom has no best friends who feel compelled to tell him how super special and awesome he is).

The offensive line and running backs have the potential to be much better, but until they prove it on the field prove they can remain healthy, we're still talking about potential. Phil Nelson looks and sounds ready to lead team team, but he's still a true sophomore QB with things to learn and room to grow. Without a decent running game to take a little bit of the pressure off (or a healthy line to protect him) it could still be a long season.

The Defensive Side Of The Ball

The good news...

Two of the team's best defenders (DT monster RaShede Hageman and CB Derrick Wells) return as do a number of young talents on the defensive line and in the secondary. If anything, I'd expect the pass rush to be improved from last year. It's pretty much impossible for the linebackers to due much worse in run support than they did last season.

The bad news...

The Gophers graduated their two best cornerbacks (Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire) and most of the linebackers who contributed last season. RaShede Hageman and young d-linemen like Theiren Cockran and Michale Amaefula clearly have the tools to get to the QB but still need to show that they can plug up the line in the running game. The linebacker position has a number of question marks. Essentially this unit looks like very similar to the one that finished out the season last year...stronger against the pass and weaker against the run. The potential (there's that word again) is there for the D to improve against the run and become even tougher but that's all just wishful thinking until it shows up on the field in games that matter.

On The Special Teams

The good news...

There is a freshman kicker/punter with a huge leg coming in who is built like a linebacker. The return defense for both punting and kickoffs was decent in 2012 and there is no reason to expect major changes in those units in 2013. The return game looks to be in an ok spot with speedy returners like Marcus Jones and KJ Maye.

The bad news...

Troy Stoudermire (the NCAA's all time leader in KR yards) has graduated. All the question marks remain. The punter position is still unsettled. The upperclassman front-runner for the placekicking job (Chris Hawthorne) has been inconsistent on FG's in his time at Minnesota and previously lost the job to a walk-on (who has since graduated). Essentially, FG/punting situations (as far as who kicks) are probably going to be question marks right up to, if not into, the season.

On The Schedule

The good news...

The non-conference schedule is not horrible with San Jose State (they of the potential 1st round QB but brand new head coach) looming as the toughest test in Week 4. The Gophers being 4-0 coming into their B1G opener against Iowa should not be considered an unrealistic expectation. The Gophers get their biggest rivals (Iowa/Wisconsin) as well as Nebraska at home. A second bowl game certainly looks like it is doable, even likely.

The bad news...

The seemingly easiest B1G opponent (Indiana) will get played on the road and Bloomington has been no friend to the Gophers in the past. Their game against a potential breakout Northwestern team is on the road as is the Jug game against Michigan. The home slate is not the easiest, as 3 of the 4 games look like like potential losses when you look at them on preseason paper and the 4th (Iowa) is still a tossup until proven otherwise (c'mon Greg Davis!). If I had to pick I'd prefer to see Wisconsin on the schedule early (with the expectation that the new HC's systems might take a while to gel) and Iowa late (after the inevitable Greg Davis meltdown has hit). It's quite possible the team will continue to improve but not see a change in their overall record.

If You're Talking To An Gopher Fan, Don't Mention:

Michigan 2003 or any of the Mason collapses, The Block, Northwestern's Hail Mary, the number of years since the Axe has stayed in Minnesota over the offseason, the last Iowa game (particularly the 2nd quarter), anything related to Tim Brewster, former AD Joel Maturi

Do Mention:

Seven national championships, how Floyd will be coming back home, Bronco Nagurski, Sandy Stephens, Murray Warmath, TCF Bank Stadium's niceness (did you hear it has the biggest lockeroom in football?), coaching staff continuity, Mankato Jesus, the Gophers going to another bowl in 2013.

MONDAY | Cocktail Party Preview

TUESDAY | Smartest Guys in the Room

WEDNESDAY | Hoosier Potluck

THURSDAY | Wildcard

FRIDAY | Keeping the Enemy Close

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