Minnesota hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 1967. Head coach Jerry Kill was 6 years old and most of the current fan base really can’t remember those “glory days.” Could it be another interesting year for the Gophers? Oh yeah sure, you betcha.
MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
Coach: Jerry Kill (136-89 overall, 9-16 at Minnesota)
2012 record: 6-7 (2-6 Big Ten)
Key losses: QB MarQueis Gray, QB Max Shortell, WR A.J. Barker, WR Devin Crawford-Tufts, CB Michael Carter
Newcomer to watch: Freshman QB/WR Donovahn Jones. He played both positions in high school, but Kill would likely use him as a wide receiver who has the ability to really stretch the field vertically for Nelson. At 6-foot-2, 189 pounds, he’s big enough to create tough matchups, but his athleticism and speed (4.69 in the 40) could give him the edge in a lot of those scenarios.
Biggest games in 2013: vs. Iowa (Sept. 28), vs. Nebraska (Oct. 26), vs. Penn State (Nov. 9), at Michigan State (Nov. 30)
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Can Nelson run this offense? He spent last year getting redshirted, then not, then battling for the starting spot. Now, he’s the only Gophers signal-caller who has ever taken a college snap. If Minnesota has bowl dreams, they rest heavily on Nelson’s shoulders.
It doesn’t help Nelson that he really doesn’t have much established chemistry with any current receiver, however, the offensive line returns much of its experience, which will benefit the sophomore QB. At this point, it’s pretty much a toss-up. Nelson seems ready to lead the offense, but whether or not he’ll lead an offense that can actually make plays remains to be seen.
Forecast: The conference seems to be positioning itself, at least for this season, as a Big Two-Little Ten situation that dominated the conference for years. Michigan and Ohio State return plenty of experience and confidence -- and well, Minnesota just doesn’t.
However, the Gophers sit in that second tier of teams that could go either way. The home schedule provides plenty of interesting matchups for the Gophers to potentially pick up signature wins on their home turf. If they can take down Northwestern and/or Wisconsin in November, those could be wins that put Minnesota on the map for some bowl games. But in order to make those games worth anything, it will have to win the games earlier in this season, which hasn’t always been a strong point.
The offense is shaping up to be somewhat impressive, but there are also a lot of gaps at crucial positions. The individual skill of Hageman and a few other players could land them on some All-Big Ten teams, but there just isn’t enough talent to go around to really lift this team into the upper echelon of Big Ten football quite yet.