Now that we have completed the way too early / almost timely previews of the 2009 schedule I want to run through the entire schedule with the TDG staff and put out our official predictions. This is kind of like we are the American Idol judges (I'm Simon, Buck is Randy and JG is clearly Paula if anyone is curious) and we are going to determine if the Gophers are "going to Hollywood baby!" And by Hollywood, I mean Pasadena or Orlando or anywhere as long as it's in January. So we'll go game-by-game and each of us will give our thumbs up or thumbs down, two out of three thumbs up means a TDG predicted win (be sure to bookmark this post and come back to praise/ridicule us in November).
GN -The Gophers and Gopher fans have been looking forward to getting to see football outdoors, so we begin the season by heading back into a Dome. This one will have a slightly different result than our last game under a roof. Syracuse is not as bad as they were last year, but Paulus will still be adjusting to game speed and the team will struggle early. Gophers win by double digits.
BB - Paulus was an excellent quarterback prospect coming out of high school, but he's now a few years removed. Remember, Syracuse defeated a very talented but poorly coached Notre Dame team last year. Fortunately for Minnesota, the Syracuse program is in disarray. Adjusting to a new offensive scheme and new defensive coordinators will cause a few hiccups for Minnesota, and this game will be closer than many predict. Beware the ESPN footage of Greg Paulus' triumphant return to football. The betting line has the Gophers at about 7 point favorites over the Orangemen, and I think Syracuse will beat the spread but lose the game. Gophers win 28-24. (1-0 record)
JG - If I'm Paula, do I still get to work here? In a segue, a rule of thumb in football is generally this: it's probably not a good thing if a point guard can transfer in and take over your starting QB position. I get the feeling it'll take about one quarter for the Gophers to figure out Paulus and this offense. By the fourth quarter, Paulus will probably be wishing he was back on the Duke bench. Minnesota will win this game by at least 25 points. (1-0).
GN - TRAP GAME, TRAP GAME! The Gophers cannot overlook Air Force. This isn't a MAC team, the Mountain West has a history of beating BCS teams and Air Force is fully capable of beating the Gophers. This team will be very disciplined and will take advantage of us if we get out of position and do not play fundamentally sound. This game scares me but at this point I am nothing but optimistic. Gopher wins a close one (2-0).
BB - Air Force is a tough running, well disciplined team. Last year, they nearly defeated Utah early in the season. A young defense may become frustrated by repetitive running plays, and make a few mistakes. However, Air Force was scheduled as the new stadium home opener for a reason. Gophers win 17-10. (2-0 record)
JG - This is the kind of team the Gophers traditionally has problems with: tough, disciplined, hard-nosed. The team returns about 2/3 of their starters and rushes the ball 77% of the time. Still, it's not their stadium that's opening on September 12th. The game will be low-scoring, but the Gophers will win. (2-0).
GN - I'm on board the Cal bandwagon this year. They are experienced, have some big time players on both sides of the ball and I think they have a great shot at winning the Pac-10 title. This is a home game so it may not be our toughest game on the schedule but this may very well be the best team we face all year. Gophers lose and hopefully the time change and home field advantage (?) will help us to keep it close. (2-1)
BB - California is a great football team, with one of the best running backs in the country. Jahvid Best will run wild against the Gophers. I'll predict 300+ all purpose yards. Let's hope that this game doesn't start a cascade of lost confidence that carries into the next week. California wins 42-10. (2-1 record)
JG - And, thud. This is undoubtedly a trap game for Cal - the equivalent of a 9am start for these guys, with Oregon and USC, on the road, as the next two games on the schedule. Remember as well that we all saw what happened last year against Maryland. Unfortunately, we all saw what happened last year against Maryland and I'm pretty sure Jeff Tedford has circled this game for full attention. Reports out of Cal practice are: speed and power. I'm not sure Minnesota can keep up with these guys. Cal will win by 7. (2-1).
GN - Northwestern is in the same boat as Minnesota. Both should be better than they were a year ago but nobody is sure what exactly that will translate to. This is the type of game we have to win if Brewster wants to demonstrate that his team is truly improved. Northwestern is no slouch and their defense is much better than most people give them credit for. But I do believe the Gophers are better and barring a crazy hail-mary, pick-6 or miracle 4th qtr comeback (seriously how many lives do they have?), I'm going to break from my cohorts below and this one is a W. (3-1)
BB - The Gophers could very well suffer from a post-California defeat hangover versus Northwestern. Northwestern has one of the best coaches in the Big Ten with Pat Fitzgerald, and they will be prepared for a battle in Chicago. Minnesota will keep this one close against a Northwestern team with lesser talent, but the moral defeat of the California game will prevent them from playing their best football. Due to the home field advantage and a California hangover, Northwestern will win 24-21. (2-2 record)
JG - First Big Ten road game against one of Minnesota's bogey teams. Supposedly, Mike Kafka knows how to throw the ball pretty well, which scares me given what we saw out of his running. I trust Pat Fitzgerald more than I trust Tim Brewster. Minnesota loses on a last-minute safety. (2-2).
GN - Home game, rivalry game and this is the game that will secure Brewster's job. Year three and he has to win one of the rivalry trophies. Wisconsin isn't a guarantee by any stretch but this is the game circled on the calendar of many on the roster. I was there, I saw their faces last year in Madison and that one hurt bad. This game is played with some serious emotion (on both sides) but the Gophers get back the Axe! (4-1)
BB - The Gophers will recover at home versus a Wisconsin team that has been headed in the wrong direction the last few years. The TCF Bank Stadium home field advantage will bring the axe back to Minnesota, and may increase the heat to the seat of Bret Bielema. Adam Weber and/or Marqueis Gray will exploit the Badgers' secondary. Gophers win a close one with a defensive stand on the final drive by a score of 20-18. (3-2 record)
JG - This will be the first time in 20 years that the Badgers don't travel 20,000 to Minneeapolis for a football game. They'll feel it. Also, Bret Bielema is their coach and I trust him about as far as I can throw John Clay. Gophers win by 3. Axe me. (3-2).
GN -Hammer and Rails thinks this will be a unified team that will be greater than the sum of their parts. But at home this game cannot be a loss. There may be some looking past the Boilermakers, but if this Gopher team thinks they are good enough to look past anybody then this season will be lost before we get to week 6. Ultimately too many freshmen and sophomores playing for Purdue. They may be building for the future, but the Gophers are more talented and better win. (5-1)
BB - Purdue will be adjusting to the loss of Joe Tiller, and will visit TCF Bank Stadium with a team featuring mediocre talent. Minnesota will have a strong showing versus the Boilermakers for Homecoming. Gophers win 32-21. (4-2 record)
JG - Now THIS is the Gophers' trap game. Homecoming against a supposed doormat, but we know little about what Danny Hope is building in West LaFayette. While I have trepidation, I predict a 14-point victory for Minnesota (4-2).
GN - Two losses are coming. If the Gophers are in fact 5-1 coming into this game, then there will be higher expectations. But this will be a loss. It pains me to say it but remaining competitive is progress. At some point I don't want to have to say that but this year, that is the case. I think Gophers lose this one fairly big. (5-2)
BB - Penn State is loaded with talent, and Happy Valley is a tough place to play on the road. No one is giving the Gophers much of a chance in this game, including me. Penn State features talented 5th year seniors and accomplished future NFL talent. Also, Dan Nystrom graduated a few years ago and won't be eligible to kick the winning field goal. Nittany Lions win big 35-14. (4-3 record)
JG - I predicted a victory in my preview and I'm not shying away now. Penn State travels to the workout monsters in Ann Arbor the week after this game. Penn State is young at the wideout and defensive secondary positions. They should be exploited - this is the game where Jedd Fisch makes his money. Gophers by 4. (5-2).
GN - Another loss and don't try to pursued yourself otherwise. I think this one is relatively close. After getting stomped by Penn State I think the Gophers refocus and come out ready to be road warriors this week. It won't be enough but this one will be closer than expected. (5-3)
BB - Visting Ohio State after playing in Happy Valley? Why not run a marathon the day after finishing a triathlon? The Gophers could very well be facing two Heisman candidates this season in California's Jahvid Best and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor. Pryor will put on a Heisman-caliber show for the highlight reels. Jim Tressel doesn't usually run up the score, so the Buckeyes' second team plays most of the second half and Ohio State wins 32-20. (4-4 record)
JG - And the thud begins for the Gophers. The last time the Buckeyes had this many starters to replace they played for the national title. I'm not picking against them here. Ohio State by 21. (5-3).
GN - This is the one game on the schedule with which I have no idea what to do. The Gophers return home after a brutal road stretch and I Michigan State is tough but they aren't going to win the league or anything. Or maybe the Spartans have the pieces to be the third best team in the league and this is one of the road games they have to win to achieve that status. Since I'm the optimist around here I'm going to say they never get comfortable with a QB and their lack of studs on the defensive line allows the Gophers to generate some offense. Gophers win one they shouldn't. (6-3)
BB - This home-field battle will be between two coaches that were hired to rebuild their respective programs in 2007. Mark Dantonio has done a great job of recruiting at Michigan State, as has Tim Brewster at Minnesota. Unfortunately for Gopher fans, Dantonio has better upperclassmen from the previous regime. Michigan State wins a close one 34-30. (4-5 record)
JG - For Michigan State, see Air Force. Mark Dantonio will scowl his way into town on the back of owning recruiting in the state of Michigan. Freshman running backs Caper and Baker will run wild, and this game will be won by MSU by 3 with a bunch of zombies in the stands. Literally. It's Halloween you know (no, the BTN didn't know.) (5-4).
GN - Originally I had this as a win. I think Juice is vastly overrated as a quarterback, but I greatly underrate him as s football player. The guy is dangerous and can generate a ton of offense (he's just not a very good passer). We won this on the road a year ago and I feel like it left a bad taste in the mouths of the Illini. They should roll into TCF with a three-game win streak and enough confidence to take care of the Gophers. (6-4)
BB - Illinois will be out for blood after being upset by the Gophers last year at home. Ron Zook is a relentless coach, and he'll have his team in top form for this matchup. Minnesota will keep this one close in a back-and-forth game, but Illinois will still be able to field more mature and developed talent for the game. Illinois wins 31-24. (4-6 record)
JG - I gave my tickets to this game in 2007 to my sister in law and her husband. They reported back that they had crushes on Rashard Mendenhall. I believe that game Illinois rushed for 870 yards. Something close. While I think their defense is porous, they have an axe to grind over 2008. They'll win here by 10. (5-5).
GN - seriously, if we lose this game I will exclusively cover Gopher volleyball until basketball season starts. I'm not kidding, if we lose this game no more football coverage until the2010 season (even that may be in doubt). Gophers win by 28 and we get to see a lot of the underclassmen. (7-4)
BB - South Dakota State will not be able to match up versus the Gophers. Marqueis Gray should be seeing a significant number of touches by this point in the season, and Minnesota should have an outstanding offensive performance. Gophers win big 42-17. (5-6 record)
JG - GN, we have to cover football in 2010 because the Song Girls, Joe Paterno's glasses, Terrelle Pryor's Porsche, and the Pig currently in Iowa (along with Floyd of Rosedale) come to the BANKVAULT. Minnesota by 50, by the way. (6-5).
GN - Way too many reasons to pick Iowa here. 55-0, on the road, very good offensive line, very good defense and 55-0. Iowa was not 55 points better than Minnesota last year and I'll be shocked if we get destroyed like that again this year, but I'll be equally as shocked if we win. (7-5)
BB - First, Shonn Greene was an above average running back who was playing college ball at the age of 23 years old. Why was he a Heisman candidate? Iowa had, and still has, an outstanding offensive line to run behind. Iowa also had the second best recruiting class in the entire Big Ten in 2005, and many of these players are now 5th year seniors. While the Gophers did play flat against Iowa, the 55-0 loss was no fluke. Iowa followed up that game by trouncing South Carolina. Iowa has a good coach in Kirk Ferentz who isn't afraid to run up the score. Expect Iowa to compete with Ohio State and Penn State for the Big Ten title. Hawkeyes win 38-17. (5-7 record)
JG - I don't care if Itali O'Seamus is running the ball, I will never bet against Kirk Ferentz after 55-0. At least, until I'm given reason to. Iowa by 14. (6-6).
GN predicts 7-5 - I guess someone had to be even a little optimistic here. 7-5 with a 4-4 conference record will be solid improvement. Alamo Bowl (or Champps Sports depending on BCS situation) is the destination in my world. I think 7-5 is optimistic but not crazy. This team could finish anywhere from 8-4 down to 4-8, so I'm on the upper side of what could happen. Ultimately we are an experienced team. The defense should be tough up the middle against the run. Our corners should be solid against the pass while our safeties and DEs are areas of some concern. Offensively we have some playmakers that we aren't used to seeing. But the season will hinge on our offensive line. If they struggle similar to how they struggled last year then the thought of 7-5 will be laughable in a few months. If the line is able to create some running lanes and give Weber time to find Decker or Stoudermire or Green or Carpenter then this offense will be better than everyone is expecting. Points will flow like milk and honey :). I'm optimistic they'll be a minor surprise and this team will finish with a respectable 7-5 record.
BB predicts 5-7 - Based upon the strength of schedule and the youth of the Gopher squad, 5-7 is a reasonable expectation for Minnesota. If the Gophers are to finish the season better than 5-7 with one of the toughest schedules in college football, not only will several young players need to step up and play beyond their years but the coaching staff will deserve credit for defeating teams with more talented rosters. From an unbiased perspective, anything better than 4-8 should be considered a respectable season given the lack of depth on the Gopher roster (the running backs, offensive line, and defensive backs) and a grueling schedule against several well coached, mature, experienced, and talented teams. While 7-5 is a remote possibility, 3-9 could be just two or three injuries away from becoming a reality.
JG predicts 6-6 - Boy, I realize that I waffled here. But I think 6-6 is the upside this year. The key for Minnesota is to avoid bad losses. The worst case I see is the Gophers lose all the games I predicted, as well as Air Force, Purdue and Penn State. That, and they aren't even competitive. If that happens, or if a losing record is followed by a USC special (see Nebraska 2007), Brewster may get the Golden Parachute out of here back to Mack Brown's staff (given that Tuberville, Fulmer, Dungy, Gruden, Shanahan and Schottenheimer are unemployed, Brewster's got to prove it now). However, mediocrity will do for now, with a Pizza Pizza Bowl berth against Western Michigan as this year's "reward."
Time for you all to make your predictions. Please put your predictions in the comments so we can make fun of you in December.