Nonconference primer: Minnesota

The 2013 season will be upon us before you know it -- just nine weeks from tomorrow until kickoff. With that in mind, we're taking a page out of the Pac-12 and Big 12 blogs' playbooks and offering you a primer on each Big Ten team's nonconference opponents.

First up: Minnesota.

UNLV, Aug. 29

Coach: Bobby Hauck (6-32), fourth year

2012 record: 2-11, 2-6 Mountain West

Offensive headliner: Senior running back Tim Cornett ran for 1,232 yards and seven touchdowns last year. He has led the team in rushing the past three seasons.

Defensive headliner: Senior safety Tim Hasson is the leading returning tackler with 76 stops a year ago. He's a former walk-on.

The skinny: The Rebels managed to take Minnesota to triple-overtime last year in Las Vegas, but this has been one of the worst programs in the FBS for years, going 24-84 over the last nine seasons. Hauck will be coaching for his job this year.

at New Mexico State, Sept. 7

Coach: Doug Martin, first year

2012 record: 1-11, 0-6 WAC

Offensive headliner: Junior receiver Austin Franklin had 74 catches for 1,245 yards (13th-best in the FBS) and nine touchdowns in 2012. He was a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist.

Defensive headliner: Senior linebacker Trashaun Nixon had 96 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks last year and was named second-team All-WAC after transferring from junior college.

The skinny: This program bottomed out under DeWayne Walker, who went 10-40 before leaving for an NFL assistant job. In comes Martin, the former Kent State coach who will lead the Aggies into the Sun Belt Conference and hopefully out of the FBS basement.

Western Illinois, Sept. 14

Coach: Bob Nielson, first year

2012 record: 3-8, 1-7 Missouri Valley (FCS)

Offensive headliner: It's hard to find one on a team that averaged just 9.7 points and 220 yards of offense per game last year, but Nikko Watson led the team with 660 rushing yards.

Defensive headliner: Junior defensive back Martinez Davis led the team with five interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns.

The skinny: The Fighting Leathernecks made a coaching change after last year's brutal season, hiring Nielsen away from Division II Minnesota-Duluth, where he won two national titles. They have 15 starters back, but the first order of business is fielding a competent offense.

San Jose State, Sept. 21

Coach: Ron Caragher, first year

2012 record: 11-2, 5-1 WAC

Offensive headliner: Senior quarterback David Fales threw for 4,193 and 33 touchdowns last year with only nine interceptions and finished No. 3 in the country in pass efficiency. Many project him as a first-round NFL pick in 2014.

Defensive headliner: Junior defensive tackle Travis Raciti had 13 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks last year, though he clearly benefited from playing next to departed all-time WAC sacks leader Travis Johnson.

The skinny: The Spartans had a huge breakthrough year in 2012, going 11-2 and winning the Military Bowl with a No. 21 finish in both major polls. They hadn't been ranked since 1990. Head coach Mike McIntyre parlayed that into the Colorado job, while former San Diego coach Caragher replaced him in San Jose. The Spartans still have a lot of talent, particularly on offense, though they return just six starters on defense.


The Gophers lined up two of the worst teams in FBS and an FCS squad that couldn't score last season. If they are anything less than 3-0 after those first three games, something has gone horribly awry. The only game of intrigue here is San Jose State, which has some serious offensive firepower and should provide more of a test than Minnesota probably bargained for when it scheduled this game. Of course, the Spartans are going through a coaching change, which is a familiar refrain for Gophers' non-league opponents, as three of the four teams here will have first-year leaders. Minnesota started off 4-0 last season and should have an excellent chance of doing the same in 2013.