I was looking at the B1G 2015 schedule and realized that we are down to five more of these potlucks. Somehow we have all survived me trying to write a whole bunch of nonsense questions getting answered by our 'writers' and me deciding on various food themes that no one seems to eat, which is a shame. You know, mainly because I want an inevitable email someday that's like, "DUDE YOUR RECIPE CHOOSING SUCKS!" I would enjoy that email very much.
Anyhow, today is a reminder that those crazy Minnesotans are still horrible people who have tried to convince people that a casserole is called a hot dish. Because of this ridiculous stance, I'm declaring the 2015 Minnesota Potluck the Casserole Potluck Part II: Tater Tots Strike Back. As always, the titles contain links to recipes. Let's get those casseroles in the oven and fly through questions on Minnesota's ceiling, their solid defense and abysmal offense, Jerry Kill and Company, and that guy who sorta looked like Jerry Kill eating a Dilly Bar. Ladies and Gentlemen, it's casserole time!
Appetizer Casserole: Cheesy Potato Casserole via Food Network
Coming off of a fairly successful 2014 campaign that saw eight wins, some solid quadrangle action, marquee wins, and positive press everywhere, you would think the Gophers would be an early pick for B1G West leaders. Interestingly enough, many are picking them behind both Nebraska and Wisconsin who both are breaking in new head coaches. With a schedule that sees Nebraska and Wisconsin come to TCF, crossovers against a rebuilding Michigan and a scary Ohio State, and a non-con nightmare in TCU, what do you think this season will bring? Can they match their win total from 2014, or does this year look like one of those years where things might not work out so well for the Gophers?
Mike Jones: Wow, Minnesota had their first back-to-back 8-win seasons since 2002-2003. They should start printing banners in Minneapolis and give Jerry Kill COY honors. Wait, they already did one of those things. Listen, if you want to crown Minnesota go ahead and crown them. But I don’t see how a team that lost arguably both of its best offensive weapons is going to be better than the year prior. I see 7-5.
insertname: I think that coach Kill has Minnesota I. A place where they go 6-6 at worst. I'm optimistic that the Gophers can get to 10-2 if everything breaks their way, Leidner can complete >57% of his passes and they don't have a dumb loss. They are likely going 8-4 again with losses to TCU and OSU. If they want to win the West, they can't afford more than 2 losses in conference.
DJ Carver: I think they go 7-5 or 8-4 depending on how they do with the quadrangle. They'll lose to TCU and Ohio State, but other than that Minnesota has a lot of toss up games. Can they finally take the Axe home? What does Nebraska look like with a new coach? What does Minnesota do without Cobb? Too many questions to give an accurate prediction here.
Andrew Kraszewski: Well, anyone who's been waiting for a disappointing year from this team since Kill rolled into town is still waiting. I don't think they score the big win against TCU or OSU, and I'll believe they shake the drunken, slovenly Wisco monkey from their back when I see it. But, I also think the West should be open enough to give them a title shot even with a couple of conference losses. Of course, that probably means getting housed in a rematch with the Buckeyes, or maybe a marginally more winnable game with MSU; still, something like the Citrus Bowl is plausible.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: Can Minnesota match their win total from last year? Sure! The only two games that most rational people see as losses are tOSU and TCU. The rest of the non-conf slate looks manageable, but there's something about that Colorado State game gives me the chills. And I feel pretty confident (for a Minnesota team) about Illinois-Purdue-justNorthwestern-Iowa. So that leaves the toss-ups of Wisconsin at TCF Bank Stadium, Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium, and Michigan (at TCF Bank Stadium at night on Halloween, where bad things happen to Michigan teams (right, Sparty?).
Even with some bad bounces, 7 wins should be the minimum expectation for this team. One caveat: If if IF Football Loki decides to throw a wrench in the narrative and have Minnesota stumble past TCU, hide. We're going to be drunkenly hugging everyone until the inevitable correction occurs.
[wait... what is that? Is that? bah gawd, that's GoAUpher's music]
GoAUpher: My default mode is always to temper expectations. It's an important coping tool as a Minnesota fan. With that in mind, I think 7 or 8 wins is the most likely outcome for the Gophers. Bad injury luck at the wrong position means 5-6 wins. Things breaking the right way probably means 9-10 wins. I'd feel ok with another 8 win season. 7 would feel less ok, but things would also set up well for 2016 so I'd cope somehow.
Candystripes for Breakfast: I was under the impression that Minny benefited from a really soft schedule last year. Was that not accurate? Either way, 8 wins is probably not a reasonable expectation unless many, many things go right for the Gophers.
LincolnParkWildcat: The rise of the Vile Gopher Menace will continue under Kill. I think Minnesota have at least seven wins: KSU, Ohio, Nebraska, Iowa, Purdue, Colorado State and Illinois with guaranteed losses against Michigan and OSU and tossups against Northwestern, Wisconsin and TCU
Thomas Speth: I think Minnesota wins 6-8 games. As far as contending for the division, the West Division runs through a team that Minnesota hasn't beaten since before GWB started his reelection campaign. I'll believe Minnesota beats Wisconsin when I see it.
GoForThree: The rest of the "quadrangle of meh" has no reason to think they'll easily dispatch the Gophers. Sure, OSU is a loss. So is TCU. But I see plenty of reason to think the Gophers can match or best last year, retain their trophies, an perhaps even make a run at the CCG. Or they could collapse and lose to a real pile of feces, like Iowa. Because Gopher Football is not without its painful precedents.
Aaron Yorke: I don't see a big reason why this team can't win eight games again. Maybe they trip up in an early road trip to Colorado State (making an 0-2 start a realistic possibility this year), but I still see five Big Ten wins considering the manageable road schedule as well as home dates versus Michigan and Illinois.
MNWildcat: As I tried to just pick through the conference, I had the Gophers getting to 8-4 (5-3). Now, I don't know if I quite believe myself, but who knows, right? I think they take 1/2 from Nebraska/Wisconsin, drop both to OSU and TCU, and find a way to screw up somewhere along the line. That's the program Jerry Kill's building: insulate (by and large) against losing to the worst teams (yes, and I'm just chalking Illinois up as an aberration, but your mileage may very), getting the better of teams in/around the squishy middle of the B1G, but not getting a win beyond Nebraska here and there.
Salad Casserole: Taco Salad Casserole via Taste of Home
Despite calling last year a success, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly the Gophers excel at, especially on defense. They were seventh in the league in yards per game allowed (368.2 YPG) and ninth in yards per play allowed (5.43). Additionally, they were sixth in points per game allowed (24.2), eighth in rushing yards per game allowed (174.69), and were saved only by a pretty good pass defense that finished fourth in passing yards allowed (193.5). I mean, those numbers would figure into a really average defense and yet, Minnesota relied on that unit to get to 8 wins. Going into this year, this unit looks to take that average success and build on it with 7 returning starters including DB Briean Boddy-Calhoun who was third in the conference in PBUs last year, DE Theiran Cockran who was an all-conference honorable mention and notched 4.5 sacks, and LB De’Vondre Campbell who was a tackling machine. That said, the top two tacklers are gone, and this team will be facing some stellar offenses. Do you think that this group can be better than they were last year? How good do they need to be for Minnesota to win the West? What’s their ceiling?
MJ: You literally just named a bunch of people and I have no idea who they are. I think it’s clear that the secondary is very solid. If Minnesota wants to be better the defensive line needs to develop and they actually need to start getting pressure on the quarterback.
insertname: The Gophers have an excellent secondary. The defense didn't have enough depth to stick with TCU, anOSU, Wisconsin, and Mizzou last year. As Kill adds better players, the depth will improve. What really helped out the D was the offense playing keep away. The three keys are preventing home run plays, getting off the field on third down, and the offense keeping the ball for 35+ minutes. This can be a top 4 d in the conference next season.
AK: Yeah, they can be better; in addition to returning a ton of experienced talent in the secondary, Minny had to play a bunch of kids on the DL, and now those dudes are experienced. Good thing, too, because this offense might be dead weight once again, so the D may need to carry the team if they want to win the division.
WSR: The problem with the defense last year was that the DL got worn down. Losing Scott Ekpe in the first game of the year was a huge hit, and then it’s a matter of the numbers game with players being rotated in not being as talented or as ready as we expected. Not being able to stop the run or put as much pressure as we’d like on the QB led to even more problems. But it did mean that everyone else on the line got plenty of experience, which is good with the way we like to rotate. Now that everyone is healthy and ready to go on the line, that opens up things for everyone else, including the West’s best defensive backfield. If the offense can be semi-coherent and give the defense a rest from time to time, the unit will hold up and keep Minnesota in every game.
GoAUpher: My MN colleagues already covered a lot of this, but the thing to know about the MN defense is that it's not meant to be a "lock down" defense, at least not yet. It's meant to avoid giving up big plays and get off the field as quickly as possible. It's also a defense predicated on the concept that giving up yards is not the end of the world, so long as you hand your opponent a long field (and of course, get off the field). The problem for Minnesota was their depth got exposed, especially on the d-line. See all the other comments of why this could help this season. Meanwhile, the defensive backfield will be one of the best in the Big Ten. Book it. The "top two tackler" thing is less of a concern than it may seem, as there is talent and depth in the LB corp to replace Damien and the DL depth should be able to weather the loss of Botticelli with their additional experience.
C4B: Yeah, I'm standing by the "Minny must have had a soft schedule" point I made above. Can defenses get better? I wouldn't know, as I've never seen it happen.
LPW: think the Gophers will get better at defense this year.
TS: Well what I saw from Minnesota's defense is that they don't beat themselves. With the returning talent they have that defense should be better. As far as how good they need to be to contend? They need to have the best defense in the conference. That won't happen. Could be a top 4-5 unit in a conference full of good defenses though.
GF3: I want to pause for a moment so Jesse can painfully relive the look on my face when Boddy-Calhoun robbed Nebraska of the ball and their chance at the bits of broken chair. [what an incredibly dumb game to attend... why did I let you talk me into that nonsense? -jc] I doubt they'll be better this year, but I think what they lose in run-stopping ability they gain in pass coverage. Sadly, they're in the West where ballistic football movement through the air is but a tall tale hatched somewhere out East.
AY: To win the West? They need to be really good, because Wisconsin is going to run wild again. To win eight games again, they can afford to lay down against TCU and a couple of other teams. I don't see the Minnesota collapsing, but it's also hard to imagine the run defense improving enough to clinch a division title.
MNW: I think Minnesota's defense takes a step back, but I think it's because Minnesota's offense doesn't control the game quite like they did last year. What was an average defense will get less help from a ball-control offense struggling to replace players, and more average offenses will be able to force the Gophers to their tempo. This could be, in a vacuum, a very similar defense to last year -- the consistency of the program Kill and Tracy Claeys have created provides that. But they'll be spending more time on the field, and that could lead to these numbers taking a small but fatal step back.
Side Dish Casserole: Cornflake, Pecan, and Marshmallow-Topped Sweet Potato Casserole via Southern Living
Speaking of ceilings, the Gopher’s offense might actually be what holds this team back more than anything. Despite having two of the better offensive threats in the conference in David Cobb and Maxx Williams, Minnesota’s "hey, we’re going to hope that we can run right at you and that it doesn’t end in a bloody mess for us," offense was 106th in yards per game last year in the entire NCAA. Minnesota’s passing YPA wasn’t all that bad, but a conference worst 50% completion rate isn’t keeping a lot of Secondary coaches awake at night. Oh, and that rushing game? With an average of 4.68 YPR and a 215.46 YPG rushing, the Gophers were firmly in the middle there. So now we have QB Mitch Leidner without a safety blanket and no one proven to hand off to (in comparison to Cobb at least). Where are the yards going to come from? Rather, will this be the undoing for Minnesota this year? Is there something here I’m missing or is it possible this offense could regress this year?
MJ: I think this is going to be the undoing of Minnesota this year. Primarily because: I think Mitch Leidner is awful. David Cobb rushed for 1,600 yards last season because David Cobb had to rush for 1,600 yards last season. Leidner completed just over 50% of his passes and threw 11 TDs and 8 INTs (oh, he also took 20 sacks). He’s bad. And if there isn’t someone like Maxx Williams to bail him out it’s going to be bad news bears for Minnesota.
insertname: The Gophers' M.O. has been to slow the game down and grind out wins. Winning the West comes down to the rFr receivers breaking out, Jeff Jones having a breakout year (at we or HB), and Mitch Leidner developing into a passing threat. I'm not worried about the running backs as the online should be one of the better ones in conference and David Cobb didn't do much of anything prior to his junior year. I think the offense will continue to improve this year but a jump is still probably a year away.
DJ: Wait really, Minnesota was 106th in the country in offense? I guess that's what happens when you try to emulate Wisconsin with a worse running back and somehow even worse pass offense. Yeah, this is their undoing.
AK: Cobb's absence should prove to be a relatively minor problem; his production was great, but tailbacks are by far the easiest players to replace on an offense. Whether it's Williams, Edwards, Jeff Jones or someone else (keep in mind Cobb was a total unknown before he became a 2-year workhorse), that should be the easy part.
What won't be easy is creating an entire group of pass-catchers from thin air. Macks is gone, Cobb was a good receiver too, Fruechte graduated, and Donovahn Jones got the boot- all from a passing offense that stunk to begin with. That leaves you Wolitarsky, who can't stay healthy, KJ Maye who's basically been a jet sweep artist to this point, and a rabble of redshirt and true freshmen. Scoring against the better defenses on the schedule could be an adventure.
WSR: Leidner just needs to pick the open receiver and hit him when he’s asked to, hand the ball off when he’s supposed to, and Moose somebody when he needs to. The magic number appears to be between 15 and 20. Throw 15-20 passes, hand off to Nugget 15-20 times, and give the ball to other RB/WR on Jet sweeps/keep it himself 15-20 times. If we get to around 20, that’s near the 67.8 plays we ran per game last year. As long as we can keep taking the air out of the football, everything will be just fine as long as the offense follows the rest of the script sponsored by Unisom.
GoAUpher: Running back will be plug and play. I'm not worried about the ability to sustain the running production with the returning offensive line pieces and the running backs who were behind Cobb. As much as Minnesota fans love Cobb, he wasn't a home run back and that means his skillset is much easier to replace with the current depth chart. I'll go broken record and note that if Leidner shows even marginal improvement the 9 win season becomes much more likely. I think stagnation is much more likely than regression with this offense, and the unknowns for who will catch the passes is the most concerning thing.
LPW: Minnesota might be able to bulldoze people via their Golden-I formation (which I hope they’re still using because it sounds good and was nicknamed on TDG and ESPN said it on air), but if their wide receivers and passing game stink it could be a long day of 3 and outs. Offenses need to be balanced.
TS: This offense could be terrible. Personally I hope it is because then there's a chance Wisconsin will literally run them off the field. Leidner is not a good passer and I'm kind of an authority on watching poor passing quarterbacks.
GF3: It's beyond possible. It's probable. Verging on likely. You can't lose playmakers like that and somehow survive on the sometimes-panicked decision-making of Leidner to take up the slack. I find myself thinking, overall, that he gets less credit than he deserves, though. It's a simple offense and when the time to throw comes, he's usually facing a long 3rd down and no one is expecting anything but a pass. If they want to be successful, they need to get a lot better at reaching 3rd and 3 instead of 3rd and more than 3.
AY: Safety blanket? Security blanket? Whatever, you midwestern people are nuts. Leidner will find someone to pass to! Besides, he averaged more than 7.5 yards per pass last year despite that ugly completion percentage. The high-risk, high-reward passing attack is a good way to keep defenses honest if you connect enough times. I think Minnesota can continue to do that as long as someone steps up and fills Maxx's shoes. Either that, or the Gophers won't be able to pass at all and they get suffocated by nine-man boxes. Usually situations like these aren't as bad as they seem, so I'm going to wait and see what the coaching staff comes up with.
MNW: Tempo-Free Gridiron had Minnesota as the 123rd fastest-paced offense in FBS in 2014. You read that right: the Gophers were the 6th-slowest team in all of college football. Luminaries slower than the Gophers included Army, South Florida, UTEP, Michigan (lawl), and BERT. That happened, in large part, because David Cobb and the big-ass OL the Gophers had trucked people, ground the game to a halt, and lulled eight teams into losses. I'm with Mike--I still am not buying Leidner stock, but that doesn't mean much, since the Gophers will try to avoid throwing with him more than 20 times a game. Then again, they found a running back EVEN BIGGER than noted human bowling ball David Cobb. If he can perform close to Cobb levels, the Gophers could repeat their slothlike 2014. If he can't, I don't know how much Moose-ing It (Caribou Coffee, anyone?) can save the Gophers.
Main Dish Casserole: The Hotdish Casserole via Cooking Channel
Jerry Kill is a program builder and you have to hand it to him on this job at Minnesota. It’s been nothing but good vibes with the fans, and the increase in wins has been really impressive. Still, we’re talking a lot about ceilings today and you have to wonder if he might be close to the peak of what he can accomplish at Minnesota. What are reasonable expectations for him season to season? Should Gopher fans be content with 8-9 wins? Do you think Jerry Kill wins a conference championship before the new guys in the West (Mike Riley and Paul Chryst)?
MJ: I don’t think any of those people are going to win the conference.
insertname: Thanks to back-to-back 8-5 seasons, recruiting I'd finally jumping up a level. I think 8-9 wins is doable in the west and should become the expectation. 6-6 and 7-5 seasons will happen, but when the schedule breaks right (next year) the Gophers can jump up to 10 wins and a slot in the CCG. This is still OSU's (and to a lesser extent, MSU's) conference so I don't think any of the West teams should expect a conference title. The crossover games will go a long way towards determining who represents the West in Indy. I think the Gophers do that in 2016 after trading OSU and MI for Maryland and Rutgers.
DJ: I said this about Pelini but he kept doing other things to make Nebraska fans hate him. Fans should be happy if a coach is delivering them 8 wins a year, especially 9. If you are continually raking in 9 wins a year you end up in very good company. That being said, I do not know if Kill is going to push them over the top either and it definitely isn't going to be this year with so many questions on offense. I don't think he beats Chryst or Riley, but really can we just guess how long it takes for the B1G West to win the championship again with OSU and MSU in the east with PSU/Michigan having a decent chance of emerging again?
AK: Oh cool we get to have the Glen Mason discussion again. Look, Minnesota's a flagship state school with a decent tradition, albeit mostly a really old tradition. How are they different, on paper, from Wisconsin? It's way too early to say, but if Kill has hit his ceiling, it's fair to argue it isn't high enough. Of course, there's a much stronger case to be made for him than there was for Mason that if this guy can't raise the ceiling, it's hard to imagine who would.
WSR: Ceiling? 12 wins, with the bowl game. With the current divisions and everyone’s insistence of scheduling at least 3 shit nonconference games a year, 6-7 wins should be the floor. When we get rid of tOSU on the inter-divisional slate and replace them with ANYONE ELSE, that’s another potential win. Axe a certain monkey on our back this fall, and it’s another one to look forward to every year. The fact of the matter is that if Kill and Co. keep doing what they’re doing, the ceiling is getting thumped by tOSU in the championship game. And if you want to know the order of who wins the West between Kill, Chryst, and Riley, it’s whoever wins this year between Kill and Chryst, then whoever doesn’t win this year between Kill and Chryst. That’s it. I’m not leaving anyone out, because they’re not a good enough coach to win the B1G West.
GoAUpher: I don't think this is the ceiling. I fully believe Kill can win a division title and even the Big Ten (if the season/team is right...the later will always be MUCH harder than the former). That said, expecting 9 wins a year would be asking too much. If we're being rational, Minnesota fans should get comfortable in the Mason zone. The important difference to whether this remains palatable comes down to 1) whether the team ever sniffs it's true ceiling and 2) the team keeps winning it's fair share of the trophy games. Mason never did the former and always failed in the same dumb ways and he actively derided the latter as something that wasn't worth caring about (trinkets). As for the last question, I could see Kill winning a division crown before the other two because I could see him doing that this year. But the full B1G? I couldn't tell you who I think would win that first.
C4B: I refuse to answer this question, on the grounds that it might cause me to ragequit the internet if I try.
LPW: I think Chryst wins a division title first, then Kill, then Riley. If I’m a Gopher fan I’d be very happy with 8 or 9 wins.
TS: Jerry Kill annoys the hell out of me. He seems like a great guy, but he coaches the vile gopher menace. I can't hate the guy but that might change if he ever beats Wisconsin. You better be content with 8-9 wins Gopher fans because that's all you're getting. NOPE. Chryst will win the Big Ten at some (if Bert can do it three times in a row Chryst definitely can win it at least once) point and I don't think either of those guys ever win the conference
GF3: That assumes any of them will ever win a CCG. Which seems unlikely. So, sure. Why not go for Jerry?
AY: We've got to see more "skill" position talent and/or a dominant defense before we start talking about conference titles in Minnesota. Kill has a good thing going, and maybe if he strings together a few eight-win seasons, he can start to raise the bar even higher. That's going to take time, though. I think both Chryst and Riley win the title before Kill does, unless Ohio State and Michigan stonewall them in the title game.
MNW: They should, and as long as he doesn't turn into Glen Mason, I can see this being a happy partnership for a long time. Then again, Minnesotans love chewing up and spitting out anyone and anything across all sports, so we'll see if Kill can build up enough equity. I'm happy to see GoAUpher is being reasonable and asking for the Mason Zone, and, truth be told, I basically agree with his point on winning the B1G too.
Dessert Casserole: Casserole Chocolate Cake via Taste of Home
There may be no more iconic image for the Gophers from last year than a guy who looked just like Coach Jerry Kill eating a Dilly Bar like a boss on the sidelines in a blizzard. [ed note, I totally thought it was Jerry Kill when I wrote this question initially. It wasn't. It was this guy. I apparently know nothing... Anyhow, the 'writers' answered the question accordingly after telling me I was an idiot -jc]. It fit Minnesota on so many levels. If you could imagine a situation where your favorite coach was eating something on the sideline next fall, what would it be and why?
MJ: I imagine it would be rice for Ferentz because it’s incredibly plain, conservative and old-fashioned (humans have been eating rice for over 10,000 years).
insertname: Dilly Bar Dan is the man.
DJ: If someone brings Randy a crab pretzel to binge on somehow on the sideline he'd be an even bigger laughing stock of the internet. This question would be so much more fun if Ralph was still at Maryland.
AK: I don't think that guy was actually Kill, was it? [ed note: no, no it was not... and then I changed the question to make Andrew look like he can't read. I'm amazing like that... -jc] Irregardless, greatest .gif of the season, no question. I'm not convinced Mark Dantonio eats, actually. I think it's more of a hate feeds the Mark kind of thing, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him patrolling the sidelines with a grilled wolverine pup on a stick.
WSR: You know what coach-food combination I’d like to see? A reanimated Jim Wacker consuming Pop Rocks and soda. You think Ol’ Jim’s heart was a pumpin’ and corpuscles were a jumpin’ after a 49-42 loss to a bad mid-90’s Iowa? Watch this.
GoAUpher: Dilly Bar Dan is the bestest, all hail Dilly Bar Dan. No coaches with food are needed when you have Dilly Bar Dan.
C4B: Does drinking count? (Who am I kidding, this is OTE; of course it does.) Kevin Wilson drinking the tears of Purdue fans out of the Old Oaken Bucket is the only situation I'm ever going to imagine, because it would be so perfect, and thus can never happen. But I can still dream.
LPW: Pat Fitzgerald eating a slice of stuffed Giordano’s pizza on the sideline.
TS: Well there's this... He's totally not a Wisconsinite who happens to be the perfect fit to coach Wisconsin or anything...
GF3: That wasn't Jerry Kill, but I was at that game and it was unbelievably cold. And do I really need to make a comment about an OSU coach eating on the sideline?
AY: Franklin eating a Whatchamacallit Bar, because I still don't know what he's trying to do with the offense.
MNW: I love eating ice cream in the winter and freaking people out. Jesus, you wimps, it's not that bad. Suck it up and get some Rocky Road.
I don't know...I can probably imagine Pat Fitzgerald eating humble pie, because fuck all if I'm sure something else isn't going to go wrong for Northwestern this year.
Jesse Collins: I GET THE LAST WORD SO DEAL WITH IT! Also, I think Mike Riley eating an In-n-Out Burger Animal Style would probably be just about perfect.