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Minnesota Football: A Quick Glance Ahead at Gopher Football's 2014 Opponents

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

With the Texas Bowl loss in the rear-view mirror, what better time than now to take a quick glance at the opponents on the 2014 schedule.  Since the Big Ten schedule makers released the 2014 and 2015 schedules this has always been categorized as a very difficult schedule.  Ohio State and Michigan, a non-conference trip to TCU and ending the season with back-to-back road games at Wisconsin and Nebraska!  Ouch!!

Perceptions about some of our opponents and perceptions about the strength of the Gophers have shifted a bit over the last couple months.  The schedule may not have gotten any "easier" but I think there is greater confidence that the 2014 Gophers will be better equipped to compete with and maybe even beat some of the teams we face in 2014.

I began this exercise just wanting to take a look at how many starters our 2014 opponents would be losing.  Then I wanted to track if they were losing their quarterback and then I tend to put a lot of stock into team's losses along the offensive line.  And then I wanted to start characterizing the caliber of players leaving/returning.  For instance Wisconsin losing James White and Chris Borland and Jared Abbrederis are all three rather significant losses (certainly more significant than losing James Manuel and Derrick Engel).

Below are my findings, and below the table is a bit of analysis.  As much as I could I took each team's depth chart from their final game.  Sometimes positions starters were labeled with an "Or" and I usually just took the first name listed.

Starters Lost
2014 Opp 2013 Rec OFF DEF TOT QB OL Key Losses Key Returners
EIU 12-2 4 6 10 Y 2 Jimmy Garoppolo (QB), Erik Lora (WR), Alex McNulty (CB) Shepard Little (RB), Robert Haynes (LB), Jourdan Wickliffe (DB)
MTSU 8-5 7 4 11 Y 3 Logan Kilgore (QB), Tavarres Jefferson (WR), Stephen Roberts (LB) T.T. Barber (LB), Kevin Byard (S),
@TCU 4-8 4 3 7 Y 3 Jason Verrett (DB), Casey Pachall (QB) Chucky Hunter (DL), Sam Carter (DB)
SJSU 6-6 5 2 7 Y 3 David Fales (QB), Bene Benwikere (CB) Christian Tago (LB), Jarrod Lawson (RB)
@Mich 7-5 (3-5) 6 4 10 N 2 Taylor Lewan (OT), Devin Gardner (QB), Jeremy Gallon (WR) Blake Countess (DB), David Funchess (TE)
NW 5-7 (1-7) 3 3 6 Y/N - Jeff Budzien (K), Tyler Scott (DL), Kain Colter (QB) Ibraheim Campbell (S), Tervor Siemian (QB), Chi Chi Ariguzo (LB)
Pur 1-11 (0-8) 3 4 7 N 2 Ricardo Allen (CB), all 3 DL starters, both starting OTs Danny Etling (QB), Akeem Hunt Jr (RB), DeAngelo Yancey (WR)
@ILL 4-8 (1-7) 6 2 8 Y 2 Nathan Scheelhaase (QB), Jonathan Brown (LB), Steve Hull (WR) Houston Bates (DL), Josh Ferguson (RB),  Earnest Thomas III (DB)
IOWA 8-4 (5-3) 3 5 8 N 2 James Morris (LB), Anthony Hitchens (LB), Christian Kirksey (LB) Brandon Scherff (OT), Kevonte Martin-Manley (WR), Mark Weisman (RB)
OSU 12-1 (8-0) 6 2 8 N 4 Carlos Hyde (RB), Corey Linsley (C), 4/5 of OL Braxton Miller (QB), Bradley Roby (CB), Ryan Shazier (LB)
@Neb 8-4 (5-3) 7 5 12 N 4 Ciante Evans (CB), Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB), Kenny Bell (WR) Ameer Abdullah (RB), Randy Gregory (DL), Tommy Armstrong (QB)
@Wis 9-3 (6-2) 5 7 12 N 1 Chris Borland (LB), James White (RB), Jared Abbrederis (WR) Melvin Gordon (RB), Joel Stave (QB), Rob Havenstein (OL)
MIN 8-4 2 4 6 N 1 Ra'Shede Hageman (DT), Brock Vereen (DB), Ed Olson (LT) Maxx Williams (TE),David Cobb (RB), Eric Murray (CB)

Much of the table above is a bit subjective.  When picking who are the key returners / departures it can be hard to pick just a couple.  Minnesota is a good example of this.  Is Donovahn Jones a key returner?  Possibly.  Is Eric Murray the biggest defensive returner?  I probably could have gone with Thieren Cockran or Damien Wilson or De'Vondre Campbell.  I also could have chosen Josh Campion or Zac Epping on offense.  You get the picture, this is rather subjective but it should give you a very high level view of next year's opponents.

I also did not bother to try and project which returning players will wind up declaring for the NFL draft before their eligibility is up.  Melvin Gordon, Braxton Miller, David Funchess are all candidates to not be around next year but I am counting them as returners for now (which I think is the safe bet for at least two of these three).

The first thing you'll notice is that the Gophers return more starters than any of our opponents.  Offensively we graduate two starters and one of them is a FB.  Defensively we take some heavier losses but still return 8 core players in a year when depth will continue to build as many young guys will have another year to add strength after another year of experience.  Also worth noting that Brien Boddy-Calhoun will also be returning from an early-season injury.

More notes from the above table.

  • We will be facing quite a few teams replacing talented quarterbacks in 2014, including our first five opponents.
  • Iowa will be replacing three outstanding linebackers which should put a dent in that stout defense.
  • Wisconsin is losing three 1st team All-Big Ten guys as well as some 7 total starters on defense.  They will be an interesting team next year.
  • Ohio State returns most of their defense but they will be graduating 4/5 of their offensive line.
  • I was down on Northwestern heading into 2013 but I expect a bounce-back year in 2014.  They return a lot of starters, all of their offensive line and narrowing their focus to 1 quarterback might be better for their offense next year.
  • Purdue and Illinois better be wins for Minnesota next year if we are to take this "getting better" thing seriously.
This little exercise wasn't so much to come up with any predictions for games that are to be played 8-9 months from now.  But I pretty much see a 12-0 season next year (maybe 11-1) (sarcasm).