Camp has officially started and football season is here. We have begun the position previews and we've even posted a couple opponent previews, but let's take a wide-angle look at what to expect from Gopher football 2011-12.
How you view a season is largely dependent on what you were expecting heading into it. If you have the expectation of competing for a conference champion ship but you go 6-2 finishing 2nd, you may be disappointed. Fortunately for Gopher fans our expectations are much lower and if we happen to grind out even four B1G wins, we'll be happy. Six wins might allow Jerry Kill to run for Governor. But he has done this rebuilding thing before and he knows that wins may not come quickly, and I don't think he wants to be Governor.
"There's no quick fix in life. This is not a quick-fix thing," Kill said Thursday. "This is not a deal where, 'Hey, let's win immediately. Let's quick-fix it and get the hell out of there.' I want to be here and I want to build a program."
So the expectations are low, but I believe there is some opportunity to surpass the low expectations for this year. Nearly everyone with a pen, typewriter or keyboard is predicting the Gophers will finish last in the conference. But I want to give you some reason for hope and optimism because that is what I do.
The first thing I want to point out is that this team is coming into the season with a winning streak. The first 10 games of last year was maybe the worst thing we've had to endure as Gopher fans. But the final two games were a lot of fun and proof that with some actual coaching, game-planning and confidence there was enough talent on the roster to be a talented Illinois team and a better Iowa team. Ohio State is the only team coming into the season with a win streak that matches or surpasses the Gopher's (and theirs do not count anymore).
Secondly, and this one is tied to the first one, we have a coaching staff that we believe is actually teaching the players how to play football correctly. Jeff Horton tightened the reigns and after a few weeks of changing how the team approached games, he was able to win a couple of them. Jerry Kill and his staff has had a full spring and will have a full fall camp to continue putting players in the right positions and then teaching them what to do when they are there. I expect that across the board you will see guys playing more disciplined and making more plays that they should be making. I fully believe that at places like defensive end and safety you will see dramatic improvement over a year ago.
Thirdly I believe that there is some talent on this roster. More talent now than when Tim Brewster took over. Not enough talent to really compete with the top part of the conference but there is some Big Ten caliber football players here that will be able to make plays at this level. There is NFL talent on offense in MarQueis Gray and Da'Jon McKnight. Defensively I expect big things from the entire linebacking corp as well as Troy Stoudermire at corner. The offensive line is very talented, but young and the defensive line took last year to cut their teeth which hopefully means they will be ready to make some big strides in production this year.
The schedule is unkind for the Gophers. USC is a tall task. Miami (Ohio) is going to have one of their best teams in recent memory. And most of our winable Big Ten games will be on the road. But I do believe this team is capable of knocking off a good team at home if someone like Wisconsin or Nebraska is looking past us a bit. I also think some of those road games are ripe for winning (I'm looking at you Purdue, Michigan and Northwestern).
Are we going to be ranked this year or start creeping up on the conference favorites? I highly doubt it. But this team is going to beat themselves less and we are going to win more games than people are predicting. Enjoy the season Gopher fans. I believe this is the year we start to build. You won't see a finished product but the foundation is being laid.