MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
2012 record: 6-7 (2-6 Big Ten); lost Texas Bowl 34-31 to Texas Tech
Returning offensive starters (10): G Caleb Bake, T Josh Campion, T Ed Olson, G Tom Olson, C Jon Christenson, C, Zac Epping, WR Isaac Fruechte, TE Drew Goodger, RB Donnell Kirkwood, QB Phillip Nelson
Projected starting offense: WR Isaac Fruechte, jr., 6-3, 204; T Ed Olson, sr., 6-7, 309; G Zac Eppling, jr., 6-2, 306; C Brian Bobek, jr., 6-2, 282; G Caleb Bak, jr., 6-3, 295; T Josh Campion, so., 6-5, 310; WR Derrick Engel, sr., 6-2, 182; WR Devin Crawford Tufts, jr., 6-2, 194; QB Philip Nelson, so., 6-2, 222; RB Donnell Kirkwood, jr., 5-10, 220
Returning defensive starters (7): DE Michael Amarefula, DT Cameron Botticelli, DT Ra’Shede Hageman, LB Aaron Hill, S Cedric Thompson, S Brock Vereen, S Derrick Wells
Projected starting defense: DE Michael Amaefula, jr., 6-2, 242; DT Cameron Boticelli, jr., 6-5, 285; DT Ra’Shede Hageman, sr., 6-6, 301; DE Alex Keith, sr., 6-3, 237; LB Aaron Hill, sr., 6-2, 230, LB James Manuel, sr., 6-2, 225; MLB Damien Wilson, jr., 6-2, 254; CB Derrick Wells, jr., 6-0, 200; CB Eric Murray, so., 6-0, 195; S Cedric Thompson, jr., 5-10, 200; S Brock Vereen, sr., 6-0, 200
Return specialists: (2): K Chris Hawtorne, sr., 6-6, 200; K Christian Eldred, 6-3, 190
Key losses: QB/WB MarQueis Gray, HB John Rabe; CB Troy Stoudermire, CB Michael Carter, LB Keanon Cooper, LB Mike Rallis, DE D.L. Wilhite, K Jordan Wettstein
Key additions: RB Berkley Edwards, 5-9, 185; LB De’Vondre Campbell, 6-5, 225 (juco); WR Drew Wolitarsky, 6-3, 215; WR Eric Carter, 5-11, 177; Damien Wilson, 6-2, 230 (juco); OL Alex Mayes, 6-6, 275
2012 review: Minnesota earned its first bowl berth since 2009. That’s a start for Jerry Kill. The Gophers put up a fight against highly favored Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas before losing on a last-second field goal 34-31.
The Gophers started strong, winning their first four games. Then the Gophers were overpowered at Iowa, hung tough in an eight-point loss to Northwestern, then were blasted as usual by Wisconsin. But the Gophers bounced back against Purdue in a 44-28 win. The Gophers closed out the regular season with three losses in four games, but won 17-3 at Illinois to secure bowl eligibility. But of its six league losses, only the Northwestern defeat was by fewer than 16 points.
The downside for Minnesota was erratic quarterback play from Max Shortell (transferred), MarQueis Gray (now attempting an NFL career as a tight end) and Phillip Nelson, who will open the season as the starter.
2013 schedule: A29 UNLV; S7 at New Mexico State; S14 Western Illinois; S21 San Jose State; S28 Iowa; O5 at Michigan; O19 at Northwestern; O26 Nebraska; N2 at Indiana; N9 Penn State; N23 Wisconsin; N30 at Michigan State
Key stretch: The Gophers have a shot at starting 4-0 for the second straight season but then face rival Iowa and three other Legends Division favorites: at Michigan, at Northwestern, Nebraska. A win combined with a later victory could help Minnesota pick up a second straight bowl berth. An 0-4 stretch could demoralize a rebuilding program.
Trap game: San Jose State. The Spartans finished 11-2 last year but now have a new coach (Rob Caragher) in a new league (Mountain West). San Jose State also boasts the nation’s most accurate quarterback from last year in David Fales, who completed 72.5 percent of his passes last year. In Big Ten play, the trap could come at Indiana on Nov. 2. After facing a grueling four-game stretch to open Big Ten play, a game at Indiana usually offers a respite. But home teams are 10-1 in the last 11 games in the series.
Glass half-full: Minnesota establishes some type of rhythm on offense behind a veteran offensive line and the talented Donnell Kirkwood. Philip Nelson makes major strides at quarterback and the inexperienced wide receiver corp gains traction. Minnesota wins all of its non-conference games to start the season, then beats rival Iowa to regain possession of Floyd of Rosedale. The 5-0 start ultimately propels Minnesota to at least a 4-4 conference record, beating Wisconsin to snag Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time since 2003 and playing on New Year’s Day for the first time since the 1962 Rose Bowl.
Glass half-empty: The Gophers drop at least one of their pre-Big Ten games at home. A tough four-game stretch to open Big Ten play nets a losing record through eight games. The passing game fails to gain consistency under Nelson. The Gophers go 0-4 in trophy games and miss a bowl for the third time in four years.
The Iowa angle: You already know this one. Minnesota is Iowa’s most-played rival. The teams have battled since 1935 for Floyd of Rosedale, one of the nation’s most historic and unique traveling trophies. There’s no love lost between the fan bases or players.
But more important to this season, it’s possible their meeting on Sept. 28 could determine which school qualifies for a bowl game. The Iowa-Minnesota game gets good treatment from the television partners, airing at 2:30 p.m. on ABC. It’s also one of just two full Big Ten tilts on the slate.
The schools have played every year since 1931 and that will continue into the indefinite future. This is the last year they’re band mates in the Legends Division and next year their move into the Western Division.
Quotable: ““Competition is always going to be a competition. I’ve been that way everywhere I’ve been. Somebody has to take Philip’s job. Right now it’s his job. Somebody has to take it. That’s part of how you play.”” — Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill
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