With the kick off of The Daily Gopher this week we will certainly be bombarding you with various previews of 2008 Gopher Football. Expect positional previews, schedule breakdown, opponent previews, rivalry history, depth charts, "my guys," etc. But to begin with I want to take a big picture approach and give gopher fans a best/worst case scenario for the 2008 season.
Worst Case for 2008
The good news here is that I think the dooms day scenario for 2008 is an improvement on 2007 (barely). The schedule offers a couple teams that should be as close to a guarantee game as the current Gophers can hope to see. Before we get to the schedule lets look at worst case for the offensive and defensive units.
Continued After the Break...
Offense - worst case
Everyone is expecting at the very least slight improvement from QB-Adam Weber after his solid yet unspectacular freshman season. Many assume that at the very least he'll have similar numbers with fewer interceptions. But what if this assumption is incorrect? There are a few scenarios that could make for a regression by the offense.
First of all, what happens if Weber gets injured? Typically this is a bad scenario for any team at any position and I'll refrain from using this "what if" but it is kind of important when discussing the QB (especially in the spread). In this scenario we likely will get an experienced senior under center but is Tony Mortenson suited for the spread offense? I don't think so. Mortenson can throw a little bit but his lack of mobility, lack of experience in the spread and lack of a running game would mean very bad things for this offense. I believe they could still move the ball but it would be a struggle and we would surely see more three and outs. Behind Mortenson we have a true freshman or JUCO transfer who is currently a WR.
Assuming Weber stays healthy what if he just doesn't improve? It has happened before and I could show you examples of spread QBs who regress in their second full season. Another season of 19 interceptions will make it very difficult to win some of the winable games. Bad decisions at critical points in games plagued Weber in 2007, if that doesn't improve it will be another long season and put Coach Brewster on a very hot seat.
With question marks on 3/5 of the offensive line and no proven running game, this offense could become too one-dimensional. Big Ten defensive coordinators are not all dummies. They will adjust by maybe blitzing the right side of the OL, keying on Weber on run read-options and jamming receivers to slow this offense to a grinding pace. Coach Dunbar will also make adjustments as well but if he doesn't have the athletes to execute we are in trouble.
There are plenty of things that could go wrong this year for the offense. No running game, questions on the offensive line, inexperience at WR and all of us "hoping" our QB improves. A scenario of more pressure on the QB, more hits on the QB and a one dimensional offense would lead to fewer points. And we all know this defense cannot afford for the offense to score less.
Defense - Worst Case
This one is easy cause it really can't get much worse. Take a look at national and Big Ten rankings of the 2007 defense.
|Actual Stats||B10 Rank||Nat. Rank (119 tms)|
|3rd Down Eff||44.30%||11||n/a|
Last in the Big Ten in 7 major categories and bottom 10 in the country in all as well. It cannot get much worse. So worst case scenario? We see no improvement and this defense as bad as it was in 2007. Even if it is worse it really shouldn't affect results any more than it did. If they give up more yards and 40 points per game instead of 36.7 the final results in the standings won't be much different.
Schedule - Worst Case
As I eluded above, assuming everything goes worse than we hope/expect I still see 2 wins based on the schedule. 2007 was hard to watch but we also played 3 bowl teams in our non-conference schedule and had the likes of Indiana Northwestern on the road.
This year we have games against Northern Illinois and Montana State at home which should be guaranteed wins. Even if we play poorly and the defense still stinks we win them in a tight game rather than double digits. We have other winable games on the schedule but in the worst case scenario I assume we lose @ Bowling Green, FAU, NU, IND and Iowa at home.
Best Case for 2008
Brewster might try to convince his team, the media and fans that it is possible to reach the Rose Bowl in 2008. But even if the worlds align perfectly it is downright impossible. Mostly because for us to be Rose Bowl eligible we'd have to beat Ohio State, which would knock them out of BCS Title game and give them the path to Pasadena. Going bowling is possible, but it won't be in Pasadena. So lets move on with a realistic view at how we can come out smelling like roses without actually taking the team to Pasadena.
Offense - Best Case
Realistically the best case scenario involves a respectable rushing attach and slight improvement from Weber both of which would lead to a more diverse and unpredictable offense.
If Duane Bennett can be the lead back that he wants to be, this offense approaches being 2-dimensional. This helps us on so many fronts. If Bennett is able to take more carries and churn out more yards that takes the pressure and the mileage off Weber's legs. The fewer hits he takes the healthier he remains. In 2007 Weber was our leading rusher nearly out gaining Bennett and Jay Thomas combined. I fully believe this will be a run heavy offense if given the chance, but getting a productive back to hand the ball to is obviously a key ingredient.
Will Adam Weber improve? In this case, lets assume he does. Improvement from Weber will be tracked by one stat...INTERCEPTIONS. If he can cut down on mistakes and bring his INT total down from 19 to say 12 that will do wonders for this offense. His yards, TDs and rushing totals don't have to jump at all. If he can just reduce mistakes he'll keep the offense on the field (and the defense off it!) and give us an opportunity to score more points.
Scoring offense and time of possession were 9th and 10th respectively in the B10 last season. Realistically both of these stats could improve which would give us an opportunity to win more games.
So assuming a reliable tailback and assuming improvement in the passing game I am really excited to see what this offense can do. As I understand it the offense in 2007 was somewhat limited by inexperienced players (especially at QB) and kids learning a complicated offense on the fly. But an off season to learn it and a more balanced set of athletes should allow coach Dunbar to open up the play book and get more creative. I'm not looking for "statue of liberty" or "fumblerooski" plays, but more sets more diverse plays to keep defenses on their heels is a good thing for Golden Gopher fans.
With our non-conference schedule and home Big Ten games, I'm looking for 30 points per game this year from the offense.
Defense - Best Case
By all accounts the talent on the defense is better. I don't know how much better but simply adding a couple athletes to the defense HAS to equate to an improvement on the field. The problem is this defense has a LONG way to go. Based on last year's numbers this defense would have to give up 45 fewer passing yards per game and 62 rushing yards per game just to achieve 10th in the Big Ten status. I'm sorry but not even I foresee the defense improving by 100 yards per game, even under a best case scenario. I guess it is possible, and I can see them improving to 8th or 9th in the conference but let's go with the following assumptions.
Rushing yards allowed is the one area I really want to see improvement. A Big Ten defense giving up 230 yards per game on the ground is embarrassing. Best case for 2008? Can we improve by 50 yards per game? I think so. Some improved tackling and more beef on the defensive line could be enough. While it may be aggressive I really do not think that getting down to 180 yards allowed is unattainable.
The defensive backfield is where we have seen the most changes from 2007 to 2008. 3 new starters and nearly all of the back ups are fresh faces in the Gopher secondary. The added speed and coverage skills of Traye Simmons and Tramaine Brock should be an immediate shot in the arm. Can we improve by 50 yards per game? That seems like a lot to me. What I'm really looking for statistically is some help in the turnover department. Every Big Ten team (except Northwestern) had at least 4 more INTs than we did last year. My best case scenario has us improving by a mere 25 yards per game but we go from 7 to 14 INTs. Aggressive? Sure but I think it is possible.
If you ask me the number one area of improvement I want to see from this defense is forcing some "Three and Outs!" In 2007 we forced 1.75 3'n'Outs while opposing defenses forced us into quick punts 2.83 times per game. If you eliminate our lone win, we forced only 1.45 3'n'Outs per game. That number has to at least get up to once per half (2 per game for any Hawkeye fans reading). Forcing a few quick punts an allowing our offense to have better field position would help us add to the win column more than anything else, imo.
Schedule - Best Case
I see 7 games on the schedule that fall under the winable category and another 3 which are long shots but have upset potential. @ Ohio State and @ Illinois just don't seem winable for us in 2008 so I'm taking them off the table.
In the best case scenario for the2008 Gophers I'm counting all 7 winable games as wins and 1 upset to give us an 8-4 record (4-4 in B10).
Northern Illinois - lock
@Bowling Green - good road test, should win
Montana State - lock
Florida Atlantic - really should win at home after myriad of mistakes in 2007
Indiana - home against a bottom half B10 team
Northwestern - should have won last year, will get it done this year
Iowa - home, rivalry, overrated
Michigan - home, lost all kinds of starters, new system
@Wisconsin - not likely, but maybe they take us lightly
@Purdue - good passing team and we are on the road, but OSU they are not so maybe
Dose of Reality
I should clarify (in case it wasn't obvious) this is not an outright prediction for the 2008 Gophers. I'm just simply stating that one could make an argument that if everything falls into place (and I mean everything) an eight win season isn't totally crazy. Finishing 8-4 would be a lot of fun, but we all know the likelihood falls somewhere in between finding Osama Bin Laden and someone like Tampa Bay winning the AL East (wait, what? really?). Both are possible but HIGHLY unlikely.
If the outliers are 8-4 or 2-10 the realistic middle ground is really somewhere between 4 and 6 wins. 6-6 would be a step in the right direction and is attainable for the current squad. I'd be somewhat disappointed that once again we are pleased with a mediocre season because it was an improvement, but I for one will not be satisfied until we move beyond happy to be mediocre.