The signing of Minnesota's heralded 2008 recruiting class was billed as the beginning of a new era in Gopher Football. Most of these players needed only to watch film of the 2007 Gophers, who finished the season 1-11, to realize their potential for playing time on a Big Ten team.
Entering the 2010 season, the remaining players from that class will be in their junior and redshirt sophomore seasons. Having had a few years in the program, the time is now for them to shine.
Of the 22 spots on offense and defense, several should be filled by members of the 2008 class:
RB - Deleon Eskridge - Unless one of the three incoming freshmen running backs shake things up, expect Eskridge to share the bulk of the carries with redshirt junior Duane Bennett. Eskridge has seen action in both of his first two seasons, and should be expected to be a fundamentally sound, experienced running back heading into his junior year.
WR - Da'Jon McKnight - I fully expect McKnight to be the first option at wide receiver. He entered the program with little experience as a wide receiver, and has developed into an impressive talent. I'll go as far as to predict that he's the top producer on offense next season.
WR - Brandon Green - Green was the most highly touted wide receiver of the 2008 class, and needs to have a breakout junior season if he is to reach his predicted four star potential. Green will probably be in the starting rotation of receivers.
WR - Troy Stoudermire - Stoudermire is a versatile player, with good coordination and speed. Expect to see him not only on special teams, but also as a frequent option at wide receiver.
WR - Xzavian Brandon - Brandon has been quiet in his first two seasons on campus, but some reports online have claimed that he has struggled with injuries and is poised for a good year.
TE - Eric Lair - Expect Lair to see significant action at tight end. He looked talented in a few receptions last season, but it's impossible to adequately evaluate him off of a few plays.
QB - Marqueis Gray - Gray has all of the skills to be a great quarterback, but has yet to show that he can put them together and use them cohesively. He'll see some action this season, but expect Adam Weber to start.
DE - D.L. Wilhite - Wilhite has the frame and speed to be a solid defensive end. He should start and perform at least at an average level.
DT - Jewhan Edwards - Edwards has an NFL body. Period. If he improves his technique, he could be a serious force up the middle.
DT - Brandon Kirksey - I'll predict Kirksey to have the best season of the defensive linemen. He's big, his motor keeps running, and he should be a bull in the middle of the line.
LB - Gary Tinsley - I'll predict Tinsley to have the greatest breakout season of 2010. Tinsley has great linebacker instincts and could develop into one of the better linebackers in the Big Ten. He'll be the quarterback of the defense, as long as he keeps out of trouble.
LB - Keanon Cooper - Cooper may have the best natural talent of any player on the defense, and will probably be all over the field as an outside linebacker.
LB - Mike Rallis - Not one of the heralded members of the class, many are predicting Rallis to win a starting spot.
LB - Spencer Reeves - There hasn't been any buzz about Reeves winning a starting spot, but expect him to at least rotate into the lineup.
While the 2008 class had a number of junior college players who only had two years of eligibility, a few notable transfers, and some academic casualties, there are at least 14 players who should be expected to see significant playing time this Fall. Not bad for a class that will have players around in 2011 and 2012.
I fully expect Da'Jon McKnight, Brandon Kirksey, Jewhan Edwards, Gary Tinsley, and Keanon Cooper to have exceptional seasons. The progress and development of the other 9 players listed above will determine whether 2010 shines or sputters for the Gophers.