No time for filler here, we've got important members of aurea geomyidae to discuss. So let's get right to the top of the list.
Head Coach Jerry Kill
Let's start with the man at the top responsible for molding this program to what he knows will work. The reigning B1G Coach of the Year. No, not the Head Coach of the defending National Champions Urban Meyer. Jerry Kill. The man has turned things from Tim Brewster's "football program" to a legitimate B1G Divisional Championship contender through force of will and the belief that he and his staff know how to get the job done. Additionally, the transition has occurred in under 5 years. Only the most delusional Gopher fans thought that was possible. I honestly believed he was two years away, and was quite happy to be wrong because here we are coming off a season where we were in every game (except TCU). Things aren't perfect, and there are still a number of things that are either requiring improvement or just need to be accepted. The much-needed (and oft-delayed) practice facility still isn't under construction. Recruiting, while making strides, still hasn't provided the raw talent to regularly beat the top tier teams. And the staff, despite it's continuity and overall strength, has some flaws. It should also be noted that Coach Kill's health issues, which some absolutely pathetic Twin Cities sports columnists wanted to make career-threatening, appear to be under control. So Jerry Kill, the cornerstone of the program that he wants built Brick by Brick, is here foreseeable future. And that's a very good thing for Minnesota fans, and a very bad thing for everyone else in the B1G.
Mitch Leidner, RS Jr. Quarterback
In an offense full of question marks, the biggest one and the possible solution is the same: Mitch Leidner. For the Gophers to repeat what they did a year ago or improve on it, Moose needs to take the next step in the evolutionary process of a Jerry Kill QB: make smarter decisions, hit the open targets, and complete around 65% of your passes. For Leidner to hit that mark, he needs to make a jump from his 51.5% from 2014. Fortunately, the difference is only 22 completions. The fact of the matter is that Leidner is one of the only skill players to have played significantly over the past 2 years, and he needs to be the one to lead the way while the players we're all expecting to step up (Nugget Williams and Berk Edwards at RB, Duke Anyanwu and 6'10" Nate Wozniak at TE, Drew Wolitarsky, K.J. Maye, and hopefully Melvin Holland at WR, and Jeff Joness everywhere he lines up) either get up to speed or back up to speed. If Leidner can become more consistent in his passing game, he'll be the calming influence the offense needs to take the next step forward. A 6'4" 245 lbs. battering ram/calming influence.
The Entire Damn Defense
This is the part where I should pick out one person on the defense and talk about how they're going to be the key to the team. But I can't do it. I also can't just pick out one coach. It's just not possible with this defense. Jeff Phelps' DL gets cycled in and out like they were line changes at the Mooch across the street, and guys like Cockran, Richardson, Epke & Epke, LLC, Elmore, and Moore will all get plenty of reps. Linebackers? The group led by Minnesota's best recruiter and former heart of the defense Mike Sherels should be more than capable of walloping the snot out of opponents. Campbell and Lynn should be cornerstones of the corps, and I've been waiting to see what a healthy Cody Poock is capable of doing. And then there's the secondary. Give me a minute to clean up the drool, please. First of all, it's stunning to me that Jay Sawvel has been with Jerry Kill since 2001 because he should be somewhere as a DC, not the DB/Special Teams Vishnu at Minnesota. And the players he's developed and has at his disposal this year...mein gott. Travis, Johnson, Murray, and Boddy-Calhoun is a legitimately impressive collection that I have never seen in a Gopher backfield. We've come so far from Kyle Theret and Ryan Collado that I can't believe this is the same program. The potential is there for Tracy Claeys to assemble the best defense in Dinkytown in a half-century, and the best in the B1G West. I can't help but to be excited about this entire unit.
So there you have it. Outside of Goldy the Gopher and me, that's everyone you need to know for this year's Gopher Football Team. Who knows, maybe I'll fill in those two gaps later in the week.