Schedule analysis: Minnesota

Just a few more weeks before the games kick off. Until then, we're looking forward and analyzing every Big Ten team's 2014 schedule.

Up next: the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Nonconference schedule (with 2013 records)

Aug. 28: Eastern Illinois (12-2)

Sept. 6: Middle Tennessee (8-5)

Sept. 13: at TCU (4-8)

Sept. 20: San Jose State (6-6)

West Division games

Oct. 11: Northwestern

Oct. 18: Purdue

Oct. 25: at Illinois

Nov. 8: Iowa

Nov. 22: at Nebraska

Nov. 29: at Wisconsin

Crossover games

Sept. 27: at Michigan

Nov. 15: Ohio State




Michigan State

Penn State


Gut-check game: The Gophers haven't played Ohio State since 2010, and after that 52-10 loss, they weren't exactly clamoring for more games with the Buckeyes. Urban Meyer's team visits TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 15, which also happens to be Senior Day for Minnesota. Since the final two games are on the road against Nebraska and Wisconsin, the Gophers need to make their best stand here or risk a rough finish.

Trap game: The Oct. 25 game at Illinois arrives after a stretch of two winnable home games and before a bye that precedes the challenging final four games. If the Illini offense is as potent as it was a year ago, the Gophers may have a hard time keeping pace.

Snoozer: Eastern Illinois may have presented a stiff challenge last year, but since quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went to the NFL and head coach Dino Babers bolted for Bowling Green, Minnesota should be a heavy favorite in the opener.

Nonconference challenge: The TCU game stands out in an otherwise ho-hum collection of nonleague games. The Horned Frogs had a rough go of it last year in the Big 12 and are trying to regain their footing. Given the conference hurdles awaiting the Gophers, grabbing a win in Fort Worth could prove crucial to the season.

Analysis: Jerry Kill and his staff are very confident in the roster they've built, thinking this might be their best Gophers team yet. But the schedule might mean this is a case where the team is improved and the record is not. Those final four games are a bear, and drawing Ohio State and a road trip to the Big House as crossovers is about as burdensome as it gets. Minnesota faltered down the stretch last season after a great start. This schedule sets up for a similar story unless the Gophers have truly taken the next step forward.