Where I Came From: Expectations for the 2010 Season

This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011

After looking back last week, we finally get to look forward and throw out some 2010 expectations. It has been well documented that this is going to be a challenging season for the Golden Gophers. By challenging I am not throwing up the white flag and it should be interpreted as losing season. But clearly this schedule is brutal, we are replacing a number of defensive starters and this offense wasn't exactly potent last year. To say the least this season will present a number of challenges.

Challenges though can be viewed as opportunities. There are ample opportunities for the Gophers to notch a signature win that has been missing for a few years. This year we may potentially have up to four top 10 teams running through the tunnel of TCF Bank Stadium. Tough games that are likely going to end in a loss for the Gophers but also an opportunity to make some headlines and ruin somebody's season.

This is all very early and there are still a number of questions surrounding the 2010 Gophers but here are my very early expectations.

Offense

The good news is that the offense returns the vast majority of their starters. The entire backfield is back, most of the offensive line is back and most of the receiving corp is back. The bad news is that an all-american caliber receiver graduated, our returning offensive line was not very good and our starting backfield wasn't any better.

After finishing at or near the bottom in several offensive stat categories, I have great expectations that there will be modest improvements in all of those areas. I do not expect that there will be any dramatic improvements and you will see this offense go from the lowest scoring offense in the league to the top 3. But there has to be improvements across the board. Below is a little table with our 2009 results and my modest expectations for 2010.

2009 B10 Rank 2009 Actual 2010 Expectations
Scoring Offense 11th 20.9 24.5 (8th)
Total Offense 11th 306.5 340 (10th)
Passing Offense 8th 207 215 (7th)
Rushing Offense 11th 99.5 125 (8th)
Turnovers 10th 29 20(5th)
3rd Down Conversion 11th 34.1 40% (6th)
First Downs 11th 207 235 (8th)
Sacks Allowed 11th 41 30 (9th)

I doubt that the passing numbers will improve much as I believe the emphasis on the running game will actually play out this year. So I'm expecting an extra 25 yards on the ground each game, I expect fewer turnovers and by running the ball more effectively I believe sacks will go down and 3rd down conversion should go up. I really do not believe that adding about 4 points per game is unreasonable. To get there the peripherals must improve (turnovers, sacks, converting 3rd downs, etc) but all of that is very reasonable.

I'm not going to get into position group or individual breakdowns yet, but modest improvement needs to come from all groups for this offense to improve. Returning everyone is meaningless if they don't get better.

The other wrinkle in all of this is yet another brand new offensive coordinator. The company line now is that Jeff Horton is simplifying the offense and allowing the group to execute. His play-calling must be better than his predecessor and his players must execute with more consistency. The offense is going to be interesting to watch this year.

Defense

Replacing half our secondary, all of our linebackers and most of our defensive line is scary. It is not like this defense was the class of the conference and we'll be reloading. This defense was the heart of the 2009 Gophers and was respectably in the middle of the conference statistically. There will be a lot of new faces on the first string defense but these are going to be some talented kids. What we lose in experience we may gain in athleticism (especially in the front 7).

The defensive line has a ton of talented, albeit young, kids. I am really excited to if our young defensive ends can get to the quarterback more frequently than last year's group. And our tackles should really take up space in the middle making it difficult to run inside the tackles. Our linebackers should be faster than a year ago but what was arguably our strongest position group a year ago is completely gone so there will be a lot of experience to replace here. The secondary is a huge question mark. If our safeties return and Michael Carter improves they could be just fine. But Royston's broken leg and depth concerns make this group a complete unknown at this point.

Statistically I'm not sure we'll see any major improvements and I don't really expect to see any major drop-offs either (barring significant injuries).

B10 Rank Actual Expectations
Scoring Defense 5th 23.8 26.0 (7th)
Total Defense 6th 369.2 375 (6th)
Passing Defense 5th 217.5 220 (6th)
Rushing Defense 7th 151.7 155 (8th)
Turnovers 5th 28 26 (6th)
3rd Down Conversion 9th 44.4 42.5 (8th)
First Downs Allowed 9th 252 245 (8th)
Sacks 9th 22 30 (6th)

The one area I think we significantly improve is in sacks. I love our young DEs and I think we'll see our linebackers coming off the edge a bit more often this year. Overall I think production by the defense drops off a little bit, but not too much. Much of their success this year will rely on the offense eating up more clock and putting them in better position on a regular basis.

The Schedule

There are some great teams coming to Minnesota this season. USC, Ohio State and even Iowa all have dreams of a BCS Title season (USC probably won't be allowed but that doesn't mean they aren't that talented). Penn State is also a great team who is in search of a QB but they are in that same class. That is 4 opportunities to ruin somebody's season and finally notch a signature win our new home.

The drawback to having some outstanding teams at home is that you have to travel to all of the teams you'll be fighting with to get bowl eligible. The 2010 Gophers have to travel to Purdue, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois. Wisconsin and Michigan State have dreams of cracking the top 3 in conference and Purdue/Illinois look to be much better than their 2009 version. Just with those four home games mentioned above and the four road games mentioned in this paragraph it isn't too hart to envision eight losses there. Regardless of this team being better or not this year those are eight difficult games and is the reason many are predicting a 10th or 11th place finish for the Gophers.

What do I expect? I think the Gophers win the four games not mentioned (@Middle Tenn St, SoDak, Northern Illinois and even Northwestern). I also think they win one of the four road games. The four top-notch home games are likely going to be all losses but I'm extremely hopeful we can catch lightening in a bottle and steal one of them. I am expecting a 5-7 season, hopeful for 6-6. That record is nothing to brag about but it when considering the schedule that shows some improvement and competitiveness. A mediocre record buys this staff another year and then 2011 becomes even more critical.

What do you think?

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