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The Future of Gopher Football...Looking Way Ahead to 2013

Jerry Kill reminded us on National Signing Day that you can't really judge a recruiting class until two years down the road. As a fan of Minnesota sports I consistently love to look ahead , projecting just how good my team will be in a year or two (usually that's because the current year doesn't look so promising). I remember as a kid I would sit down and write out the Vikings roster for next season and dream of Super Bowl rings even before week one of the current season. Maybe I was born that way or maybe it is by choice, one will never know. I do know that I love to look ahead, especially when the current roster may not be talented enough

So rather than wait two years let's look deep into my maroon colored crystal ball and take a look at a projected 2013 Gopher football team. I realize this is a superfluous exercise and isn't really news or analysis on anything relatively concrete. But it is kind of fun to do and besides just looking at a projected lineup that will obviously be favored to make a Rose Bowl appearance, it is quite valuable for looking at recruiting needs for the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes.

With all of that said let's take a look ahead, two years down the road, at a projected 2013 Gopher lineup.

The Offense

The good news is that we should be an experienced team that is returning a lot of regulars, particularly along the offensive line. The bad news is we'll be grooming a new starter at the most important position. This will be year one without MarQueis Gray. Our strengths should be offensive line and running back, both will make life easier for our new quarterback. We should also have a handful of receivers who will have seen action in 2011 and 2012 giving us some help in 2013. Let's take a look at each position group.

Quarterback - As stated this will be year one of replacing MarQueis Gray. The battle for the starting job will be talk of spring practice 2013. Moses Alipate will be a senior, Tom Parish will be a junior and Max Shortell will very likely be a sophomore. Sitting here two years prior, I would make the assumption that Shortell and Alipate will be primary contenders for the job and my gut tells me that Shortell will have the inside track. Sure, Alipate will be the senior and as a big, strong kid he would certainly be capable of leading this team. But I believe that Shortell is a more accomplished passer and seems to be more of Kill kinda guy. My assumption is that Shortell will be your 2013 starting quarterback.

Projected Starter - Max Shortell (rSO)
Backup - Moses Alipate (SR)
Darkhorse - Philip Nelson (rFR)
Recruiting Needs - getting a QB per class is great and we have a verbal for 2012.

Offensive Line - Regardless of who our quarterback is, he should have a very good offensive line protecting him. The 2013 starting tackles, Ed Olson & Jimmy Gjere, will likely be entering their third year as starters. The interior of Tommy Olson, Zach Mottla and Josh Campion should all be at least in their second year of starting. And it is entirely possible that T. Olson and maybe even Josh Campion could earn some starts in the fall of 2011 making them third year starters as well. This group should be one of the best OL units we have seen in Minnesota in quite some time. I have very high expectations for this crew.

Projected Starters (L to R) - Ed Olson, Tommy Olson, Zach Mottla, Josh Campion, Jimmy Gjere
Backups - a LOT of worthy backups (Eggen, Epping, Bjorklund, Bush, Michel, Lenkiewicz, Ragoo, McAvoy, McAvoy)
- Joe Bjorklund
Recruiting Needs - with a number of current FR, rFR and SO we are OK, we'll land a few but we can be more concerned with quality

Running Back - I think it is a very safe bet to assume that Lamonte Edwards and Donnell Kirkwood will get the vast majority of carries for the Gophers this fall (2013) and this too should be a position of strength. Many believe that Edwards has the size and skills to be a very good Big Ten back. If he does live up to those expectations then we'll have a high quality back to go with a very good offensive line and that is rather exciting. We've seen some of Kirkwood and I like what he brings to the field, but he'll likely be a situational guy who takes several carries to lighten the load and is capable of being the man for a game if Edwards is injured. The thing I don't see currently on the roster is a quick/fast third-down back. Maybe over the next year or two we'll see a quick back who can catch the ball out of the backfield get recruited.

Projected Starter - Lamonte Edwards (rSO)
Backup - Donnell Kirkwood (SR)
Darkhorse - Devon Wright or recruited 3rd down back
Recruiting Needs - like QB we are OK for a few years but getting one or two per class is the best idea

Wide Receiver -We have a number of young receivers on the 2011 roster who will have to be heavily used in 2012, which means they'll be primed to carry the load in 2013. Devin Crawford-Tufts, Quentin Gardener and maybe Marcus Jones should be a receiving corp that is as fast as any in recent Gopher memory. They'll have to deal with a new starter at QB but this team should be running more than it is passing and these guys have the speed to break off some big plays as the defense gets sucked in to stop the run. This crew will be juniors, they may pick up another contributor or two in the next couple recruiting classes but they'll be fine on their own. AJ Barker will also be a senior in 2013 and may very well be our "starting" 3rd receiver.

Projected Starter - Quentin Gardner (JR), Devin Crawford-Tufts (JR), A.J. Barker (SR)
Backup - Marcus Jones (JR), Victor Keise (SR)
Darkhorse - Andre McDonald (rFR)
Recruiting Needs - We have at least four quality recruits who will be here through 2014 but we need more. McDonald is a great start for 2012 but we could use at least two receivers in each of the next two classes.

Tight Ends - This position projects to be our weakest and it will need to be addressed in the 2012 recruiting class. Drew Goodger is going to be a true freshman this fall and is probably going to be the starter in 2013 as probably a redshirt-sophomore. I really do not know anything about Goodger as a TE and as stated it will have to addressed this year after losing a couple of TE recruits who committed to Tim Brewster and changed their minds after Kill was hired.

Projected Starter - Drew Goodger (rSO)
Backup - Maxx Williams (rFR)
Darkhorse - Sahr Ngekia (SR)
Recruiting Needs - this might be the #1 area of need in the 2012 class. We need to get a couple good ones.

For those of you who like to see things graphically this is my best guess of what the 2013 1st team offense will look like. Obviously there are two more recruiting classes between now and then. And things like injuries, transfers and varying levels of player development will likely make this largely inaccurate. But this is my best guess for now...

Pos 1st Team Offense YR
QB Max Shortel SO
RB Lamonte Edwards* JR
RB Donnell Kirkwood JR
TE Drew Goodger SO
WR Devin Crawford-Tufts JR
WR Quentin Gardener JR
WR AJ Barker SR
OT Ed Olson* SR
OG Tommy Olson* JR
OC Zach Mottla SR
OG Josh Campion JR
OT Jimmy Gjere* JR

* indicates guys who I think have a chance at being All-Big Ten caliber players. Not a prediction, I just think they have a shot.

The Defense

Let's move on to the defense. This side of the ball has more question marks in my opinion. I think we know most of the names who will be contributing but where exactly they lineup, who will be backing them up and whether or not they'll be any good is much more up in the air. Each of these units will have starters who will be contributing in 2011 and should be very experienced by 2013. What I haven't seen is any quality production out of many of these guys yet so it is hard to gauge how excited I should or should not be. In their defense many of them were freshmen last year so expecting them to dominate is unfair, but guys like Hageman, KGM, Beal, Vereen, Manual and Watkins could be six quality seniors anchoring a solid defense in 2013.

Defensive End - This should be a solid group of three seniors who will get the majority of the snaps. Some of this depends on Ra'Shede Hageman getting back into the system and on board with Kill and staff. But assuming Hageman gets on board he, Kendal Gregory-McGhee and Matt Garin should be a senior trio who has plenty of experience under their belt to help anchor the line. None of the three have shown any valuable production but they are young and with a couple years of added strength, experience and knowing the Kill defense I assume they'll be solid.

Projected Starter - RaShede Hageman (SR) and Kendall Gregory-McGhee (SR)
Backup - Matt Garin (SR)
Darkhorse - Michael Amaefula (rSO)
Recruiting Needs - This is a big need. The 2012 class needs to get at least a couple of ends to be groomed for 2014.

Defensive Tackle - concerns me mostly because it will be manned by players I have yet to see take a snap in a Gopher uniform. Eric Jacques, Harold Legania and Josh Tauaefa would be the three battling to be the two starters. It is very possible that Hageman moves inside by 2013 and then starts at tackle but that would then assume another DE steps up to assume some serious playing time. Overall this doesn't appear to be a real strong position but we will know a lot more about these three after the 2011 season.

Projected Starter - Eric Jacques (SR) and Harold Legania (JR)
Backup - Josh Tauaefa (JR)
Darkhorse - incoming recruit
Recruiting Needs
- This is also a huge need. Must land a couple kids capable of contributing by 2013.

Linebacker - If Brendan Beal isn't starting in the middle then either somebody dramatically stepped up or we are going to be in real trouble. We've never seen him play but most accounts are that he has the size and skills to be a very good MLB. The other spots are kind of up for grabs. I am of the belief that two of this year's freshmen will be starting in 2013. Peter Westerhaus will earn one of the OLB starting spots and Jephete Matilus will earn the other but this is 100% guesswork. It is very possible that Brent Singleton or Quinn Bauducco will be the guys, but I think Singleton will be the primary backup at OLB and Bauducco will be stuck behind Beal at MLB and in line to start in 2014. Beal should be the real deal and the other spots will be filled by the guys who assimilate to Kill's defense the fastest.

Projected Starter - Peter Westerhaus (rSO), Brendan Beal (SR), Jephete Matilus (rSO)
Backup - Brent Singleton (SR), Quinn Bauducco (rSO), Dwayne Mitchell (JR)
Darkhorse - Aaron Hill (SR)
Recruiting Needs
- Not a huge need, we can recruit for quality not just quantity. This position is much more about development than it is needing fresh talent.

Corner Back - Now we get into some question marks. Brock Vereen saw some action at corner last year but it is really unfair to judge him based on trying to defend Big Ten receivers as a true freshman on a terrible defense. His sophomore season will be a much better indicator of future success. But he should be a three-year starter in the fall of 2013 and will be counted on in this secondary. I'm going out on a limb and I believe that Steven Montgomery, the DB added late to the 2011 class, will be starting on the other side of Vereen. He'll either be a JR or redshirt-SO. After those two we have Tyrone Bouie who will be JR and very well may be starting but we haven't seen him on the field yet so it is hard to guess how good he will or won't be.

Projected Starter - Brock Vereen (SR) and Steven Montgomery (JR)
Backup - Tyrone Bouie (JR)
Darkhorse - incoming recruit
Recruiting Needs
- Always need more depth, speed and talent here. I assume we'll bring in two or three this year and next.

Safety - James Manuel and Kenny Watkins are the presumed starters for 2013 in my book. Both will be seniors who have seen extensive playing time in all four of their years in maroon and gold. Like Vereen neither looked outstanding as true freshmen but it isn't exactly fair to judge them yet. I'd be surprised if at least one of these guys isn't starting and if someone else surpasses one on the depth chart, more power to them. Grayson Levine and Nick Rallis are a couple Minnesota kids who should be backing up Manuel and Watkins but these are two more guys we've never seen play.

Projected Starter - James Manuel (SR) and Kenny Watkins (SR)
Backup - Grayson Levine (rSO)
Darkhorse - Nick Rallis (rFR)
Recruiting Needs
- Always need more depth and landing good safeties in 2012 class will gives us depth and replacements for Manuel/Watkins in 2014.

The chart...

Pos 1st Team Defense YR
DE Ra'Shede Hageman* SR
DT Harold Legania JR
DT Eric Jacques
DE Kendall Gregory-McGhee SR
OLB Peter Westerhaus rSO
MLB Brendan Beal* SR
OLB Jephete Matilus rSO
CB Brock Vereen SR
S James Manuel SR
S Kenny Watkins SR
CB Steven Montgomery rSO

* indicates guys who I think have a chance at being All-Big Ten caliber players.

As I stated above this unit will have several seniors who will have a lot of games under their belts. I just have no idea if these guys will be ready to be solid contributors or just starters because we don't have anything better. I think the 2013 will have a handful of guys who are difference makers or playmakers. The defense has the potential to have a few as well but I'm not as confident. Every unit needs playmakers and then you'll always have some guys who are just solid contributors.

I'm not going to take any sort of a guess at wins or predict what place we'll finish in the Big Ten. There needs to be talent, it has to be developed and the coaching staff has to then keep bringing in talent. I think this team has some talent but it needs to be developed. Two years is a long ways off but I like where we are headed, especially if we have coaching staff who can make these guys better each year.