The Gophers kick off the 2012 college football season tonight against the UNLV Running Rebels. Minnesota is coming off a 3-9 season last year in coach, Jerry Kill's first year on the job. Kill's teams have improved in his second year on the job everywhere he has been. With a cake non-conference schedule, the Gophers, at least on paper, could be competing for a crappy bowl game invite this season.Which would be their first since 2009. Will it happen?
Top 3 questions for the Gophers this season:
1. How much has QB Marquise Gray improved from last season?
This is by far the most intriguing question the Gophers face on the field this year. Make no mistake, Gray is the whole Gophers team. If he has a bad year,
the team will be terrible. Conversely, if has a great year, the team
could be alright this season.(4-6 wins). Although, I believe Gray will improve as a passer this year, (and he must if the Gophers are to even resemble a Big-Ten team), the Gophers do not have the talent surrounding him to compete in the Big-Ten. Gray, will have to be demonstratively better this season; just to mask the problems losing their top WR and top two tacklers from last season will pose on the Gophers this year.
2. Can the Gophers sweep the non-conference portion of their schedule?
The Gophers have a very easy non-conference schedule. And they should be 4-0 entering the Big-Ten portion of their schedule.The Gophs open the season on the road at UNLV. They then play three consecutive home games against New Hampshire, Western Michigan, and Syracuse. Minnesota should be favored to win all four of those games. And it is imperative that they do, if they are to have a successful season. If they can earn the sweep, they will need to win just two Big-Ten games
to finish the year at 6-6. A 6-6 record qualifies them for a bowl game.
And more importantly would be a three win improvement from the previous
Personally, I don't think the Gophers will win all four of those games. As they have a history of losing to teams they should beat. (South Dakota, North Dakota State, etc.) But the fact is, any Big-Ten team should beat all four of these schools.
3. Is Coach Kill's job safe?
In my opinion, no. The Gophers have a new school President and a new Athletics Director. Both of whom, are committed to improving the Gophers football team. And more importantly, neither of whom were around when Kill was hired to coach the Gophers. Simply put, they have no ties to Kill. Which puts him squarely on the hot-seat, if his team does not show improvement from last season.
Kill, can not afford to lose easy non-conference this season. And he can not afford to get blown out in Big-Ten games. His team needs to, at the very least, be competitive and put up a fight this year in the Big-Ten. Losing, 58-0 to Michigan will not be tolerated this year. Nor, should it. The Gophers have to win at least 5-6 games this year for Kill to be safe. And if they don't, I think a coaching change will be made. And should be made.
This team is not getting good enough recruits to compete under Coach Kill. Yes, they got Andre McDonald and Jonah Pirsig to play for the school. Two above average recruits from Minnesota. But that is not good enough. In my opinion, at the very least, the Gophers should be receiving the majority of commitments from the top players in Minnesota. But that is not happening. Wisconsin, Iowa, and Notre Dame are getting the best players from our home state. If you can't recruit your home state well, how do expect your program to be any good? If you can't convince a top player from Minnesota to stay home and play for his home state, how do you convince a top player from Florida, Texas, California, etc to play here?
If you don't believe me, take a look at the Gophers offensive and defensive lines. Go ahead, I'll wait.... OK, now look at Michigan's, Wisconsin's, Iowa's etc... Notice the difference? Minnesota doesn't have the size or athleticism to compete with these schools. And they never will, if they continue to recruit the one and two star players like coach Kill has done since he has been at the University. The Gophers should be competing with fellow Big-Ten teams for high-end recruits. Instead, Minnesota is competing with Mid American Conference teams for one and two star recruits. Which is not acceptable for a Big-Ten program.
Predicting the Gophers record game by game:
At UNLV- Loss
VS New Hampshire- win (Lose this game, and you might as well forfeit the rest of the year.)
VS Western Michigan-Win
At Iowa- Loss
VS Purdue- Loss
VS Michigan State-Loss
On paper, going game by game, I have the Gophers with two wins for the season. I would be surprised if they won only two games this year. Considering, they won three games last year. And they have an easier schedule this year. But, they will not be favored in any Big-Ten game they play this year. Plus, this program, as previously stated, has a bad habit of losing non-conference games they should win. So, I'm going with 3 wins for the Gophers this season.
The Gophs will finish with the same record as last season. As a result, Coach Kill will be fired. Which will allow, Norwood Teague, Minnesota's new Athletic Director, the chance to hire a new coach. This will afford Teague his first and possibly biggest chance to live up to the hype that surrounded his hire.