It's Minnesota week here at OTE, which means we're in a "Minnesota Nice" frame of mind....you know, the type of mood where you don't mind giving away Floyd for a year to Iowa (since they were available to hog-sit in December while the Gophers went bowling).
In that spirit, and given the devastation that we all witnessed this week in Moore, Oklahoma, we decided to replace this week's recipes with links to aid organizations that are on the ground, helping people pick up the pieces after this tragedy. Your presence here at OTE is always appreciated; your donation to any of these organizations in this time of need in Moore would just be further confirmation that our readers are the best on the Internet.
Alright, pledge drive over. Let's Potluck! Follow us below for discussion on whether the Golden Gophers are actually Yellow-Bellied Chickens, the attractive options available to offensive coordinators when facing the Gophers, Jerry Kill's belief in the power of 3, and new memes.....
With fans like this, no wonder Minnesota lost money selling beer at TCF Stadium.....
1. American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund: Let's start with the biggest off-season news for Minnesota -- their cancellation of a home-and-home 2013-2014 series with North Carolina, for which they paid $800,000. While they "replaced" the road game at Chapel Hill with a road game this season to New Mexico State (and subsequently added a 2014-15 series with TCU to the schedule), many critics (myself included) attacked Minnesota for watering down its non-conference schedule and running scared (from an ACC team, no less). Was the increased chance for an "easy" non-conference win and reaching bowl-eligibility a worthwhile trade-off for the Gophers when factoring in the "running scared" appearance? Shouldn't Minnesota have been upgrading their non-conference schedule given the Gophers' upward trajectory?
GoAUpher: I'm going to sound like a broken record to anyone who has been reading the comments. I'm sorry (I'm not sorry).
Let me open with a note that I was not a fan of the move as a fan/season ticket holder. I was planning on the UNC roadie and I like having BCS teams on the home schedule. While I think this would have been a tougher game than many try to say it would be (UNC is in a better place than MN, no question) it wasn't completely unwinnable either. That said, I understand Kill's thinking and think a lot of the outrage is just posturing.
Before we get to the questions it's worth noting that the cancellation of the UNC series isn't offseason news (the REAL off-season scheduling news was the TCU announcement). It happened back on October 16th in the midst of 2012 season and initial reports of the move leaked as early as June. Incidentally, I'd look into hiring a better breed of personal assistant who can read a calendar properly. I hear you have some up and coming prospects in the state of Iowa. Back on topic...Those dates create some logical problems with your framing on the "upward trajectory" question. When the U started to negotiate their exit, that upward trajectory was not a certain thing at all. Even if you use the date the move was finalized, Oct 16, the upward trajectory was still far from certain. At that point the Gophers were 4-2 and had watched a promising 4-0 non-con start turn into a sad performance at Iowa and a disappointing loss to Northwestern at home. While that clearly indicated improvement, a bowl game wasn't even a likely possibility until after the Purdue win 11 days later.
Putting the whole framing issue aside to answer that last part of the question...there is more than one way to build a program than just upward trajectory meets harder schedule. If you'd like to argue that this is the most successful way to do it you can, but plenty of other schools have shown (including previous MN squads) has shown that's not the only way. Given Kill's history with rebuilds, I think it's fair to say he might have some idea of what he needs to build this program. Bashing about "running scared" from the outside strikes me as rather disengenous given the fact that Kill's team getting better could easily come at the expense of the basher's team (especially for a divisional opponent with a more tenuous history of success like Northwestern).
To your other question on the trade-off between an easier win and having some folks say you're running scared...I think the answer depends on your priorities. For me, what matters is whether it works and helps the team win/the program get better. I won't say I don't care what others say (this long answer says otherwise), but my caring is more about what I think are arguments that set aside other logical option or gross generalizations, not with "oooh people think Minnesota is scared." That's because I admit that Kill is saying "we might lose to UNC and I want a team that's easier to beat." In fact, Kill's responses make very clear that this is what he's doing even though he doesn't come out and say it. And you know what? Kill doesn't care if you think he's scared. Kill's job is to win and build the program not make sportswriters and bloggers fawn over a harder non-con schedule (one that might prevent his team from making a bowl and getting more practices to improve).
In my mind, the best question to ponder about this whole situation was whether Kill would ever forgo this type of scheduling and make the slate harder. Getting a Mason-soft schedule after the team is much better and the program is solid would be pointless and a slap in the face to fans. And at the time the move happened last October, this was still an open question. Kill said he'd change it up, but those could be just words. The TCU agreement would seem to answer that question however.
Jesse Collins: Well, to answer the first part, yes. Minnesota should absolutely not care about the running scared appearance because if you win games and make bowls, you will get better recruits. Better recruits allow you to play better opponents and get even more wins which is a good thing. Nobody bemoans your terrible schedule when the goal is 7-9 wins per season. I know that's somewhat of a double standard, but Minnesota isn't exactly playing for National Titles right now. Can we make fun of how that went down? Absolutely. Will anyone care come January? Not one bit.
As for the second part, I think that's kind of a misnomer in and of itself. Upward trajectory means that you win more than two conference games. There sure does seem to be some excitement in the Twin Cities, but you're kidding yourself if you think that Minnesota is ready to declare they have arrived. Win what you can now, upgrade a little for the future (and for the record, a top quarter Big XII team is no slouch of a replacement to North Carolina). [sidenote: Northwestern has followed this mold quite well. As they've gotten better, the opponents have, but they definitely feasted on some mid-tier teams over the years to make sure their win totals increase. It's not a bad scheme and one that Minnesota shouldn't be ashamed of.]
MNWildcat: I personally think they shouldn't have done this. I don't consider it running scared, but I consider it a throwback to the Glen Mason days and a little slap in the face to a fanbase who's starting to come back to this program. Then again, as GoAUpher rightly pointed out, Jerry Kill has asked for faith in his methods in building a program in Minneapolis. I still don't like the move, but TCU was a good name to add for 2014-15, and I guess I'll give him a pass on this one.
Mike Jones: Running scared? Who cares. This isn't the NCAA Tournament...unless they're going to the BCS (they aren't) why wouldn't you just take the victories where they can? No one cares about strength of schedule when you're going to the Outback Bowl. Just get to 6-6, 7-5 or whatever and make your bowl game. Furthermore, just because Gophers are on the upswing doesn't mean they should scheduling series with Alabama or anything. If they start making bowls regularly and maintain consistency there's no reason not to improve the schedule. But if there's concern about making a bowl game I'd just take the easy way out. It's not their fault the system is broke and they're just taking advantage.
Graham Filler: Minnesota should be riding the fence between going to bowl games and placating the home base. So one could understand their resistance to a tough non-conf. The weird thing is...UNC isn't exactly playing their best football of late, and by of late, I mean, the program isn't very good. No conference titles for 33 years. Minnesota absolutely could win that game. Why take it off the schedule?
C.E. Bell: I think Graham gets my point the best -- why cancel UNC? It's not like the Tar Heels have been very/any good....frankly, they're just as beatable, even on the road, as Iowa or Indiana on Minny's schedule (the two games Gopher fans are circling as wins for bowl-eligibility purposes). Plus, they give you (and hence the conference) some semblance of a competitive non-conference schedule, solely because they carry that "ACC" affiliation (even though they're about as good as a mid-upper tier MAC team). I still don't understand why UNC was cancelled....PARTICULARLY if you're replacing them down the road, during a harder conference slate, with TCU (which is a MUCH better program). None of this makes much sense to me....
Like a true freak, Ra'Shede Hageman only comes out at night....(Photo courtesy Brace Hemmelgarn-US Presswire)
2. United Way of Central Oklahoma: As highlighted in GoAUpher's Cocktail party piece, Minnesota loses its two best cornerbacks (Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire) and most of their linebackers from a pretty decent Gopher defense against the pass. On the plus side, they return RaShede Hageman at DT (#2 on this list of "Freak" Athletes in college football behind Jadeveon Clowney), but their defense struggled against the run (I think Venric Mark just ran untouched through Minnesota's defense for another 50+ yards). Will teams continue to pound Minnesota on the ground in 2013? Or will they take to the air to pick apart an inexperienced secondary? Or will Minnesota rise up and improve their defense overall?
GoAUpher: Until Minnesota proves it can stop them, I would expect teams to run at the front seven as often as possible. The run defense will be an ongoing question well into the season I suspect. I'd like to say that it gets solved, but I'm honestly not sure. I'd expect some improvement (how could you not given how bad they were in that category) but I'm keeping expectations low. This weak spot will likely cost the Gophers the chance to be in or win some of their games and could be the difference between a 6 (or even 5) win season and a 7-8 win season.
I'm actually not terribly worried about the secondary. One of the "new" corners is actually a quality starter (Derrick Wells) who moved over from safety. Wells was a safety based on positional need, but that position is now deeper and his skills can easily be translated to corner. The linebackers were underwhelming overall, so that loss actually may not be a huge loss.
MNWildcat: True story: RaShede Hageman nearly killed me in a high school football game. Now, I was a punter and we really don't count, but still. Moving on -- yeah, Minnesota gave up 172 ypg on the ground in 2012, and the pass defense (which ranked 23rd in pass defense efficiency) loses two valuable CBs. But the pass defense could be bolstered by a veteran DL including Hageman
and possibly the B1G's best-kept secret, DE D.L. Wilhite, who clocked in at 3rd in the B1G in sacks with 8. (EDITOR'S NOTE: MNWildcat pretty much proved that OTE's writers don't watch football by saying a player who graduated was returning this season) A good pass rush would go miles in taking the pressure off new cornerbacks. Look for the Gophers to be tough off the edges. Oh, and Minnesota has to get better at flipping the field. Christian Eldred averaged about 38 yards per punt, and under 35 net. That has to improve, otherwise Eldred could be out of a job.
Mike Jones: No?
3. Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief: 1-10, 4-8, 10-2. 6-7, 7-6, 10-3. It's the Jerry Kill rule: in his third season as head coach (at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois), his teams jumped noticeably in the won-loss department. Can Kill pull off the "third times the charm" trick for the "third times the charm" time? Does Phillip Nelson's emergence late last season and Donnell Kirkwood's underrated talent at RB make jumping up to, say, 8-9 wins possible? And where do you see Minny pulling off some/any conference upsets?
GoAUpher: Can he pull it off? Yes. If Nelson and the offense click, the O-line stays healthy, and the run defense improves while all the other units maintain their previous performance then 8 wins is not out of the question (though 9 is probably a stretch). But I'm betting most of you see where the problems start...that's a whole lot of if's and unanswered questions that get answered positively for the Gophers. If only some of those things improve, I think it's much more likely that the Gophers win 6 or 7. And if the performance stays roughly the same as last year then I'm betting we'll see the same results: a 5 win team looking for a way to snag that 6th win and a bowl. My prediction is 6-7 wins.
As for upsets? As of now I'd peg the most likely options as @ Northwestern (who I'm not totally sold on and who has a way of playing down to Minnesota even when they are clearly better), Penn State at home (if the sanctions start to take effect), and Wisconsin at home (new coach in his first season blues). The other possible wins I see on the MN schedule (Iowa, @Indiana) wouldn't qualify as upsets right now.
Jesse Collins: I'm honestly not sure you can compare either of his previous situations to Minnesota where he will be facing seven teams with winning records from last year. That is not an indictment on his ability to improve his team greatly either. I just think that expecting eight or nine wins is a bit tough. Hell, looking for seven looks a lot rougher for Minnesota than it should in a conference season where the only two games they look to be favored in are against Iowa - rivalry game which can end poorly as proven last year - and Indiana - a team that's also improving mightily. This, of course, assumes they sweep the non-con which finishes on a trickier note against a San Jose State team that went 11-2 with both losses against ranked opponents. Of course, if Minnesota pulls off some upsets, it's probably at home against Nebraska or Penn State. Needless to say, it's a tall order.
MNWildcat: Should-win: @Indiana. Could-win: Iowa, @MSU. Might-win: @Northwestern. Show-up-and-hope-for-the-best: @Michigan, Nebraska, Penn St., Wisconsin. Look, Jerry Kill punted this season by taking North Carolina off the schedule. It is, to me, as honest an assessment of the Gophers as you can get. He knows that two wins on this B1G schedule will be difficult to come by, and he's punting away a tough game to get 4 non-con wins. I think that the three-year rebuild works at a program in the Missouri Valley or even the MAC. It's not as easy in the Big Ten. I would say the 4th year is the one in which Kill should have this team contending for a 7-8 win season. The Gophers should be happy to get to 6.
Mike Jones: It's Minnesota so I'm always prone to thinking a GOLDY NO moment is around every corner. On one hand, they should be optimistic because Jerry Kill is doing Jerry Kill things. If things go to plan they should start out 4-0, beat Iowa at home and win at Indiana. That alone should get them to 6-6. I could also see them beating Nebraska...for some reason. On the other hand, they could GOLDY NO and lose to the team no one is talking about: San Jose State. The Spartans won 11 games last season and return a boatload of starters. If Minnesota overlooks this team they will lose and the season will derail in true Glen Mason fashion. Kill is a competent guy so I see them getting bowl eligible and pulling off a conference upset somewhere.
Graham Filler: No way on the whole 8-9 wins. Just knock off Iowa and Indiana, win the non-conf games...and it's bowl time.
But - If I have to look for upsets, I enjoy that Northwestern pick because they always play the Goldman Sachs tough (that's my new nickname for the Wildcats). Maybe they knock off Sparty in one of those meaningless but incredibly meaningful games in the whole "win and go bowling" mold.
4. Save the Children: The "Kill It With Fire" gif is one of my favorite memes at the moment (and apparently one of your favorites too, if the comments section is any reflection). It's time to get creative -- come up with a similar meme using the name of your team's head coach (or, if that's impossible, pick an assistant coach on your team). Bonus points for Paintshop work.
GoAUpher: Sweet, you can just insert any Kill It With Fire for me and I can sit this one out....
Jesse Collins: I wanted to make a picture of Bo Pelini taking out Jerry Kill it with Fire, but that didn't seem all that meme-ish. Then I thought, "Wait, Bo Knows might be the scariest meme ever." Seriously, can you imagine the idea of Bo knowing who you are, what you said, and where you live. Also, it looks like he's always telling officials exactly what they did wrong... you know, because Bo knows how to do your job better than you. Lots of applications I think.
MNWildcat: I wish I could find a .jpg of the shirt that some frats at NU made a couple years ago... Frat Fitzgerald. Genius.
Mike Jones: Dammit Chad, I don't have time for this. Something something picture of Iowa players holding Floyd something Jerry Kill is a gross looking person something something he's a Gopher. That good enough?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, Mike, that's good enough.
Graham Filler: Brady Hoke has been memed out already.
The Adventures of Hoke Fin?
No Food Left Behind?
I'm not a meme guy.
C.E. Bell: My question, my answer: