Former Minnesota Coach Tim Brewster emphasized the importance of winning trophy games in his four-year tenure with the Golden Gophers.
The Gophers dropped all 10 trophy games in Brewster's tenure, which ended mid-season in the middle of a nine-game losing streak. Ironically, the Gophers did finish the season with a trophy win — 27-24 over Iowa to claim Floyd of Rosedale — well after Brewster left the program.
New Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill won't sink into the win-or-else trophy game rhetoric that inevitably sunk Brewster. Kill respects the tradition of playing Iowa and Wisconsin annually in rivalry games, but he's more interested in building a program than stuffing the Gophers' trophy case.
"I don't think there's any question the state of Minnesota is hungry for a good football team," said Kill, who coached Northern Illinois last year. "I think they want us to get better. Do they talk about the rivalries here? You bet. I do. That's college football. That's important. That's all a part of it.
"Right now our concentration better not be on anything but our football team getting better from a coaching staff standpoint. I think the fans understand that."
The Gophers have some chemistry-altering personnel changes entering this season, beginning at quarterback. MarQueis Gray steps in for four-year starter Adam Weber, who served as the team's unofficial spokesman during his tenure. Gray shifted between receiver and quarterback last year, completing just two passes but catching 42 and scoring five touchdowns.
Gray, an incoming junior, is a mobile quarterback, which gives the Gophers more options on offense. He's already impressed Kill.
"He's really surprised me for a kid that was hurt his high school senior year, then hasn't played quarterback, then making the transition to the position," Kill said. "He's learned very well. He's a very quick learner. He doesn't make the same mistake twice. He's a tremendous athlete. No question about that. I think Coach (Jim) Zebrowski, our quarterback coach, has done a heck of a job with him.
"I'm very pleased with his progress and pleasantly surprised."
Gray hasn't played strictly at quarterback since his junior year of high school. He alternated with Weber in 2009 to give the Gophers a running option and he rushed for 265 yards.
"Unfortunately I didn't get to play once I got up here, but I got a chance to learn from our quarterback Adam Weber, a leader on and off the field," Gray said. "Just playing receiver was fun, getting my feet wet playing Big Ten football. I'm looking forward to playing quarterback this year, waiting for the upcoming season."
The Gophers return most of their other skill position leaders such as top rushers Deleon Eskridge and Duane Bennett, and top wideout Da'Jon McKnight. Gray was second in catches last year.
Minnesota loses three starters along the offensive line and its safety tandem of Kyle Theret and Ryan Collado. But the Gophers had the Big Ten's worst rushing defense so changes may be in store anyway.
"I think we have to improve our talent pool," Kill said. "I don't think there's any question about that. I've always said coaches don't win games, players do, and the team with the best players usually wins.
"We have a lot of work to do. But I think the kids we have here are working hard."