Note – This is the 2012 information. Please check the 2013 Minnesota page for a look at this season.
Gophers Goal for 2012: Beat Teams NOT Coached By Kirk Ferentz
Minnesota has 3 conference wins the past 2 seasons. 2 of those wins were against Iowa. For some reason, the Gophers have had Iowa’s number recently. However, they can’t seem to beat anyone else in conference. 2012 is Jerry Kill’s second season as head coach of the Golden Gophers. His task this year will be to get the program headed in the right direction. When Minnesota moved into TCF Bank Stadium in 2010, they didn’t expect to lose to a pair of FCS teams and win just 3 conference games in the first 2 seasons.
It’s time for Minnesota to forget about the past and move forward. Of course, moving forward and building the program is easier said than done. Per Rivals.com, Minnesota’s 2012 recruiting class was good enough for dead last in the Big-10. That’s disappointing for a program that has recently moved into a brand new stadium. The previous coach – Tim Brewster – was a decent recruiter, but a HORRIBLE coach. He continually lost his teams and struggled to develop players. He wasn’t much better at X’s and O’s.
Kill had a rough first season – both on and off the field. Health issues became a major concern when he suffered a stroke on the sidelines during a game. His team lost 9 games, which included a pitiful defeat to FCS North Dakota State. It was the second straight season the Gophers lost to an FCS team. If Minnesota is going to move towards getting back to a bowl game, they’re going to have to stop losing to FCS teams and programs such as New Mexico State.
Jerry Kill is, apparently, completely healthy now. Unfortunately, for him, his improved health didn’t help him bring in much of a recruiting class. Minnesota’s ability to win games in the Big-10 will always hinge on player development, but a recruiting class ranked as low as this will make player development even more important. Minnesota’s current roster isn’t filled with a ton of talent, so it was crucial for Kill to bring in a great class this year. He didn’t, so they’ll have to work with what they have.
Minnesota returns just 5 starters on each side of the ball, plus their kicker and punter. They’re a young team that’s going to need a heap of luck to go their way this year if they expect to make it to a bowl game. A bowl game is the goal in year 2 of the Jerry Kill regime, but the Gophers may have their sights set a bit high. They have depth issues and a starting unit that isn’t overly talented. But they do have the potential to surprise some teams if taken lightly.
Consistent Quarterback Play Gophers Biggest Key
Minnesota doesn’t have a prayer of getting to a bowl game if MarQueis Gray doesn’t improve his passing efficiency. Gray has proven to be more mobile than an accurate passer thus far in his career. That has to change or Minnesota isn’t going anywhere. Gray led the team in rushing with an impressive 966 yards, but his 50.7% passing and only 8 touchdown passes left Gopher fans with a lot to be desired. Gray did show some passing improvement late in the year. 5 of his 8 touchdown passes came in the final 5 games. He also threw for a career high 295 yards in game #9 at Michigan State.
Gray is a converted quarterback. He’s not a natural passer and some would argue he’s playing out of position. But he is an exceptional talent. His arm strength is good enough but he must improve his accuracy. The problem is accuracy is something most quarterbacks either have or they don’t. If a quarterback is inaccurate early on in their career, they tend to stay that way throughout their careers. So if Gray isn’t able to improve on his accuracy, he’ll have to improve on his decision making and make even more plays with his feet.
For Gray to improve his passing numbers, he’s going to have to find some reliable receivers. Wide receiver Brandon Green is the only returning player with a touchdown reception. The top 2 pass catchers from a year ago are gone and their replacements have yet to prove they’re capable Big-10 receivers. On top of that, the Gophers don’t have another proven runner besides Gray.
More Concerns for Gophers: The Entire Defense
Minnesota’s 2011 defensive stats were bad. There’s really no way around it. They ranked 93rd nationally in scoring defense, 91st in rushing defense, 49th in pass defense, and 77th in total defense. They gave up 186.4 yards per game on the ground. It’s virtually impossible to win in the Big-10 conference when you’re giving up that many rushing yards. Their pass defense ranking of 49th wasn’t horrible, but when you consider teams ran the ball so well against them, there really was no reason to throw a ton. They also ranked 100th in the country in turnover margin. Minnesota doesn’t have the talent to overcome turnovers.
Just 5 starters return from that mediocre defense. That’s either a good thing (replaced with better players) or a bad thing (too much inexperience). We’ll find out early in the season the answer. The defensive player with the most potential is defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman. Hageman is a Minneapolis native that can also play on the outside. He’s tall (6’6) and big (300 pounds). He has great speed for someone of his size. He’s a former tight end that has impressed his coaches ever since switching to defense.
The secondary is another area of concern for the Gophers. They return just 1 starter (strong safety Brock Vereen) in the unit. Other than Vereen, there isn’t a proven Big-10 caliber pass defender on this team. Both cornerbacks are seniors with playing experience, but neither have been consistent. Expect the Gophers to get beat deep often this year.
2012 Minnesota Football Schedule: Predicting Wins and Losses
The schedule sets up nicely for Minnesota to get off to a great start and tease the fans into thinking they’re going to have a big year. Then they enter conference play and will struggle to win games. Their best chance for a conference win will come on October 13th when Northwestern comes to town. The non-conference slate is weak. They have the talent to go 4-0 to start the season, but it wouldn’t surprise us if they lost 1 or 2 of those games. Western Michigan, UNLV, and Syracuse are all good enough to beat the Gophers, especially considering how poorly they’ve performed the last couple of years against similar mediocre teams.
Aug 30 at UNLV – WIN
Sept 8 vs New Hampshire – WIN
Sept 15 vs Western Michigan – WIN
Sept 22 vs Syracuse – LOSS
Sept 29 at Iowa – LOSS
Oct 13 vs Northwestern – WIN
Oct 20 at Wisconsin – LOSS
Oct 27 vs Purdue – LOSS
Nov 3 vs Michigan – LOSS
Nov 10 at Illinois – LOSS
Nov 17 at Nebraska – LOSS
Nov 24 vs Michigan State – LOSS
Overall Record: (3-9)
Conference Record: (1-7)
Games Favored: 2
Games Underdog: 10
Minnesota Golden Gophers: Final Analysis
Jerry Kill has an uphill battle to fight. Minnesota is a difficult place to recruit, even with the new stadium. College Football just isn’t that important to folks up in the Twin Cities. They’re an afterthought to the professional sports teams and the Gophers Men’s Basketball squad. But it’s not impossible to win there. It just takes the right coach at the right time. Is Jerry Kill the right coach, hired at the right time? We’ll find out in the next couple of years.