With the 2011 recruiting class put to bed, so begins the long offseason for Gopher football fans. 34 days until spring practice starts March 24 (looking out the window at 8 feet of snow and 8 below windchill, spring can't get here fast enough!) and another month after that is the spring game April 23rd. Then it's two months til June when we officially get a new school president and (hopefully) a new athletic director and after that...yeah it's a long, long time until the Gophers open the season Sept 3 in LA against USC. We're all looking ahead to that fateful day, wondering how Coach Kill's Gophers will look, and how the 2011 season will go. So I thought, why not post a way too early poll on your expectations for the 2011 season? I figure let's do one now, one right after spring ball, and a final one in late August right before the season starts.
Before we get to possible outcomes, a reminder of Minnesota's 2011 schedule:
9/3 @ USC
9/10 vs. New Mexico State
9/17 vs. Miami (OH)
9/24 vs. North Dakota State (revenge game!!! Beware, Bison! Beware! Payback's a comin!!!)
10/1 @ Michigan
10/8 @ Purdue
10/22 vs. Nebraska (on a scale of 1-10, how much are you looking forward to this game? I'm at about a 4,213)
10/29 vs. Iowa (we defend the Pig! Remember how we beat Iowa last year? Me too. It never gets old)
11/05 @ Michigan State
11/12 vs Wisconsin (can you believe we get Sconnie, Iowa, AND Nebraska at home? Get your tickets now!)
11/19 @ Northwestern (can you say roadtrip?)
11/26 vs. Illinois (I'm betting the Illini fans feel the same way we do- we close the season with THEM?)
Is that a tough conference schedule, or what? Welcome to the rest of our lives as Big Ten
Legends West Division members. And keep in mind- this is a year we miss both Ohio State AND Penn State! Still, I wouldn't have it any other way.
So we've had a month or so to get to know Coach Kill and his staff, and how they plan to use the talent they have to produce better results than Tim Brewster did before them. But what is a reasonable expectation in year 1? Most of the offensive players will be with their third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, the defense is going to get a new look, at least scheme wise, and special teams? We may just see a focus on special teams! A lot of changes for sure, and while there's varying results that can happen in 2011, I've boiled it down to four possible outcomes...
Scenario 1): Kill and Co. are in over their heads.
Thanks to AD Joel Maturi's
fumbling handling of the hiring process of finding a new head coach, there was a lot of outcry at first when Jerry Kill was named HC. Plenty of folks were saying initially we were doomed and Kill wouldn't be able to win here. A month or so later, most folks (I would hope the vast majority) have calmed down, and have come to realize that inspite of himself, Maturi hired a really, really good football coach. There are still probably a small minority (I would call them the Sid Hartman's, who have crazy contrarian views that don't make any sense to anyone) who believe Kill was still the wrong hire, and he won't win here. They believe his first season will be a disaster, and the transition to yet another new offensive and defensive scheme will be too much for the players to handle. Or they're just not that talented. Or both. That means the team wins less than three games. This is a possible outcome, but I don't think it's probable.
Scenario 2): Baby Steps
We see some definite improvements from the Brewster Era, with an offense that can move the ball, a defense that can stop somebody, and fewer stupid penalties and mistakes. Still, because of the adjustment to a new scheme, MarQueis Gray has a few growing pains learning to run a new offense and lead a team, a tough schedule (yes we get Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin at home- but we still have to play Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin!), and/or a rash of 2010 Purdue-like injuries, we don't see much better results in the win column. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-5 wins, with some tough losses and perhaps a Purdue-over-Ohio State-type upset. Or we just beat Iowa again. Or not. Still, while it doesn't equate to a bowl game, the feeling is Kill has the program moving in the right direction.
Scenario 3): Put on your bowling shoes!
A lot goes right. The offense takes to the new scheme like a fish to water, the defense really likes the idea of forcing the opposition to punt, MarQueis proves all of us who think he should have played QB a lot sooner (that would be me) right by taking the conference by storm, Michael Carter regains his all-conference form, Brandon Beal lives up to the hype, another receiver not named Da'Jon McKnight steps up and the Gophs catch a break or two along the way. Six wins and a lower tier bowl as the U starts selling out its stock of Kill Koolaid (keep your hands off my Blue Powerade-flavored Kill Koolaid!).
Scenario 4): Jerry Kill is some kind of magical coaching mix of Bernie Bierman, Herb Brooks, and Tom Kelly
EVERYTHING goes right: MarQueis does his best Denard-Robinson-of-2010 impression, the o-line and running backs are so good they make Wisconsin envious of us for once, Da'Jon McKnight goes all kinds of All-American, so does Brandon Beal, Kim Royston becomes the missing ingredient in the secondary, and the defensive line not only stops the run, but get this- they generate a pass rush! Basically, it's miracle-of-miracles type stuff where things never before thought possible happen: Cats and dogs sleeping together. Iowa finally admitting that Northwestern football beating them 5 of the past 6 years really does mean the Wildcats are better than them. Lebron admitting Decision 2010 was a mistake. KFAN stopping the sham of calling themselves the "Sports Leader" when their two afternoon shows often don't talk about sports at all (and with that they change their slogan to "We'll talk sports only when we feel like it...and we usually don't feel like it"). Democrats and Republicans agreeing on anything. NFL owners realizing how good they have it by dropping the ridiculous idea of an 18 game regular season that nobody else wants and signing a new deal that stops a lockout. Gary Bettman resigning immediately as Commissioner of the NHL, and his replacement is someone who a) actually understands and cares about the game of hockey and b) stops pandering to the teams and fans in the southern US (who have proven over and over and over again they do not care about hockey) and starts listening to those that do. Brett Favre retiring and never being heard from again. A season like this means at least seven wins and a New Year's Day bowl game for the first time since the 1960's.
So there are your four options: which do you think it'll be?