2011 schedule analysis: Minnesota

Let's continue the breakdown of each Big Ten team's schedule with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 3: at USC (8-5)

Sept. 10: New Mexico State (2-10)

Sept. 17: Miami University (10-4)

Sept. 24: North Dakota State (9-5)

Legends division games

Oct. 1: at Michigan

Oct. 22: Nebraska

Oct. 29: Iowa

Nov. 5: at Michigan State

Nov. 19: at Northwestern

Crossover games

Oct. 8: at Purdue

Nov. 12: Wisconsin (protected)

Nov. 26: Illinois

No plays

Ohio State

Penn State


Gut-check game: At Michigan. If Minnesota is going to make any noise this season, it must play well on the road. After three consecutive winnable nonconference home games, the Gophers visit Ann Arbor and face a Michigan team also welcoming a new coach (Brady Hoke) and plenty of changes on both sides of the ball. First-year Gophers boss Jerry Kill can make a major statement with a victory to regain the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 2005 and win at the Big House for just the second time since 1986. A blowout loss, meanwhile, could indicate a very long season ahead.

Trap game: There really isn't an obvious trap game for a Minnesota team that can't afford to look past any opponent. The Michigan State contest falls between two rivalry games (Iowa and Wisconsin), but the Spartans pose a significant challenge and Minnesota knows it after falling 31-8 last season in East Lansing. The Purdue game might also be a trap if Minnesota is looking ahead to an open week.

Snoozer: New Mexico State. Sure, it marks Kill's first home game as Gophers coach, but New Mexico State doesn't inspire much excitement after a 2-10 season that included losses of 59-0 (Boise State) and 52-6 (Nevada). Some will label North Dakota State as a snoozer, but remember that Minnesota lost to South Dakota last season and nearly stumbled against South Dakota State in 2009.

Non-con Challenge: At USC. The Kill era opens in a very tough place to play against an always talented USC Trojans squad. Minnesota held its own for part of last year's contest against the Trojans, and it'll be interesting to see how the Gophers perform at the L.A. Coliseum. USC has won its past 14 home openers. The Miami (Ohio) game won't be easy, either, as the RedHawks come off of a MAC championship.

Key stretch: Minnesota begins a stretch of three of four at home on Oct. 22. The problem: the Gophers face Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin, four teams that combined to go 40-13 last season. Minnesota likely will be a sizable underdog in all four contests, but a few wins would go a long way toward raising confidence and enthusiasm both within and outside the program. An o-fer probably ensures no bowl.

Analysis: Kill doesn't get many breaks in his first go-round as Gophers' coach. The USC opener is a major challenge for a transitioning team, and Minnesota could have a tough time with Miami (Ohio), too. Although the Gophers miss both Ohio State and Penn State, their home schedule is fairly daunting for the second consecutive season. The good thing is Minnesota gets both of its rivals, Wisconsin and Iowa, on its home turf. It'll be important for Minnesota to generate some confidence heading into the open week before the schedule cranks up a notch with Nebraska.

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