Key stretch: Minnesota

Time for the eighth part in our series looking at a key stretch of the schedule for each Big Ten team.

Minnesota, this post's for you.

Key stretch: at Michigan (Oct. 1), at Purdue (Oct. 8), Nebraska (Oct. 22), Iowa (Oct. 29)

Breakdown: Let's say for the sake of argument that the Golden Gophers' goal in Jerry Kill's first year will be to get to six wins and a bowl game. And let's say that Minnesota will lose the opener to USC but win its next three at home against New Mexico State, Miami of Ohio and North Dakota State for a 3-1 start. That makes this opening four-game stretch to the Big Ten season important, so Kill can get his team another win or two toward bowl eligibility and not dig a morale-reducing early hole. Unless Michigan is wildly improved, the Gophers will at least have a chance in both of the road games here. They figure to be underdogs in the two home contests, but you know they will be fired up to host Nebraska for the first time in Big Ten play, and Minnesota did take Floyd of Rosedale at home against the Hawkeyes last year.

Prediction: A record of 2-2 or better in this stretch would have to be considered a success, considering that would mean Minnesota has beaten Michigan, Iowa or Nebraska. It is difficult to predict, however, just what to expect from a team with an entirely new coaching staff. I think Kill will lead his team to at least one upset in Big Ten play, maybe one in which MarQueis Gray goes nuts on somebody. But I'm going to give his team just a 1-3 record in this stretch. If so, the Gophers will have to hunt for bowl-clinching wins late in the season.

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