Minnesota had a very successful 2013 season in Jerry Kill's third year at the helm, notching eight victories and a .500 conference record that included The U's first four game B1G winning streak since 1970. Improving upon- or even maintaining- that success in 2014 looks to be more daunting as the schedule toughens up both in the B1G and out of conference. Here's a game-by-game look at each opponent and the feelings of this writer- in May!- of Minnesota's chances of winning each. Are there eight wins on the 2014 schedule?
8/28 vs EASTERN ILLINOIS
Yes, this is an FCS school, but don't let that fool you- the Panthers are pretty good. An FCS playoff team the past two seasons, they made the quarterfinals last season before losing to something called Towson. Sure, a B1G school should always beat any FCS school-especially at home- not named NDSU, but this game will be far from easy. Thank god rising NFL draft prospect QB Jimmy Garoppolo is gone, as he is the reigning Walter Payton Award winner as the FCS player of the year, and broke all of Tony Romo's passing records as a senior in 2013, throwing for 5050 yards and 53 TD's. Not in his career, in 2013. No really.
So while EIU's new QB can't be as good as Garoppolo, their offense should still be dangerous, even for an FCS school. And that's before last week's Dorial Green-Beckham transfer rumors, which would change this game from "don't take them lightly" to "oh s**t". Green-Beckham, the #1 overall high school recruit of the 2012 class, is a 6'6 225 pound monster of a wide receiver who was dismissed from Mizzou on April 11th because of alleged off-field issues:
Green-Beckham... was dismissed by Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel a day after prosecutors decided not to charge him in a burglary investigation that followed his alleged unlawful entry into an apartment while searching for his girlfriend.
He also had two pot arrests previously, so it seems despite immense talent- and production- coach Pinkel had enough. If he ends up at EIU as rumored he'd be eligible to play immediately, and boy would that create an opening night challenge for Minnesota's secondary- whatever his off-field problems, he lived up to his billing on the gridiron with 59 catches for 883 yards and a whopping 12 TD's last season as just a sophomore. And this was in the SEC against their much hyped "big boy" defenses. DGB would be by far the best (or at least most physically gifted) wideout the Gophers would play all season. We're all very excited for Eric Murray, Breian Boddy-Calhoun and Derrick Wells at corner, well here's a chance for them to test their skills vs a probable 2015 1st round pick.
So while the Gophers should definitely be favored, this game will be far from a gimme, and if Beckham-Green is on the team? Definitely not the kind of opener Jerry Kill had in mind, but it would be a real test for the Gophers defense right out of the gate.
Oh, and while this has no bearing on the game itself, I have to point out that the list of former players from Eastern Illinois include not just Romo, but NFL head coaches Sean Payton and Mike Shanahan, and my personal favorite...(puts on glasses and an oversized head set)... Brad Childress! Now THAT'S an alumni list!
9/6 vs MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
Another non-BCS school not to be taken lightly, yet am I crazy for saying this game might actually be easier than the opener vs Eastern Illinois? Yes, MTSU won eight games and went bowling last season, but they mostly beat up on the bottom of an awful CUSA conference, with their only win that would even remotely be considered quality coming vs Marshall (who won one of the CUSA divisions, lost the conference title game to Rice, then got throttled in their bowl game). In games against real teams the Blue Raiders lost 40-20 to UNC, 37-7 to BYU and 24-7 to Navy in their bowl game. They don't throw it particularly well (the Gopher defense will be used to seeing that after practicing vs the Gopher O for six weeks...sorry, cheap shot), but run fairly well (31st in the nation in 2013), so it'll be a different kind of test for the Minnesota defense. SB Nation's Bill Connelly (if you're not reading his work currently, shame on you. Now fix that by reading his 2014 MTSU preview- and anything else he writes) thinks they could be a bowl team again, but their two biggest questions are quarterback and offensive line, and calls their roadie at Minnesota "out of reach." While MTSU isn't a bottom of the barrell CUSA school, this is still absolutely a game the Gophs should win by double digits.
9/13 at TCU
The move to the Big 12 might have helped fatten the wallet of TCU's athletic department, but it sure hasn't helped the football team on the field. A BCS-Busting juggernaut as recently as three years ago the Horned Frogs have gone from back-to-back BCS games in 2010 and 2011 (remember when they beat Wisconsin in the Rose bowl? That was fun. Take the opportunity to remind Sconnie fans of that. Always appreciated) to the Poinsettia Bowl, the BWW bowl, and then last season a 4-8 stinker. Head coach Gary Patterson (did you know Jerry Kill was best man at his wedding?!? Did you?!? BECAUSE HE WAS!?! THEY ARE THE BEST OF FRIENDS!!!! Sorry, just getting you prepared for the media coverage you'll get that week) is still one of the best in college football, and they still play excellent defense, and despite continued QB issues (Cincinnati might not want Andy Dalton but boy TCU sure misses him), this will still be a very tough game for Minnesota, especially since it's on the road. This would be a great win to have, but as of now (and we'll see how the Matt Joekel transfer plays into their QB situation) the Horned Frogs should be favored here, though not by much.
9/20 vs SAN JOSE STATE
The Gophers finish up the non-con with a trap game vs the Spartans. Yes, QB David Fales and his 9 bazillion passing yards are gone, but Ron Caragher proved last season in his first year as head coach that SJSU's success under Mike MacIntyre wasn't a fluke. They improved as the season went on, and while none of the bowls felt them worthy of inclusion (don't you worry, as that won't be a problem this year!) they made a strong statement with a 62-52 win over then #16 Fresno State to close the season. Replacing Fales will obviously be huge, but the Spartans return a big chunk of their team and will provide yet another test for Minnesota's defense (noticing a trend yet?). Connelly sees SJSU as a possible bowl team again, which means this one won't come easy either. The Gophers should win this one but as they were last season they won't be heavy favorites.
9/27 at MICHIGAN
You already know the history- Minnesota has beaten Michigan for the Little Brown Jug just three times since 1967, with the Gophs last victory coming in Ann Arbor in 2005. The Gophers have lost six straight in the series, and despite Michigan not being "Michigan" since Lloyd Carr was ousted in 2007, the past five Minnesota losses have all been various forms of ugly and awful. Here's hoping 2014 will be different, as the Wolverines will be playing for Brady Hoke's job following a seven win season that included a 3-5 B1G record. Michigan are loaded with top recruits, but then again they usually are and yet that hasn't stoppedd them from NOT playing up to expectations . This one's probably a loss because recent- and not so recent- history says it will be, but I have hope that the Gophers will be in this one much longer than in previous years.
10/11 vs NORTHWESTERN
The win in
Evansville Evanston/Ryan Field/not Chicago/definitely not Evansville last year was the turning point of the season, as it stopped an ugly two game skid to Iowa and Michigan and began the four game B1G win streak. A trendy darkhorse pick to win the conference heading into 2013, Northwestern had an uncharacteristically down season thanks to a rash of injuries and bad luck as they stumbled to a five win season with just one coming in conference. The Wildcats can't be worse this season as star HB Venric Mark should be back and fully healthy but they'll have to hope Trevor Siemian has a better year as the full-time starter now that he's without union leader quarterback Kain Colter to share duties. As of now this game looks like a toss-up, and while normally you'd give the edge to Gophers at home, Minnesota hasn't beaten the Wildcats at home since Glen Mason was coaching in 2004. Seriously. That's definitely a streak that needs snapping this season.
10/18 vs PURDUE
Hooray, Purdue is back on the schedule! Every year! How they were missed the past two seasons. This is a game the Gophers absolutely should win and absolutely must win to be as good or better than last season.
10/25 at ILLINOIS
Am I crazy for saying the Tim Beckham Era at Illinois is making Illini fans yearn for the days of the Zooker? I mean, he DID get them to the Rose Bowl after all. Yeah let's just say things are not going well in Champaign as Beckham is just 6-18 in two seasons with the lone B1G win coming over Purdue last season. Should Illinois be better, even if only slightly, in 2014? Probably. Should the Gophers win this game anyway? Absolutely.
11/08 vs IOWA
So the Floyd of Rosedale game moves from late September to early November, and if the B1G believed in putting Iowa or Minnesota in prime time, this one could be a marquee game. If you look at the Gophers schedule, they could have a pretty solid record to this point. Iowa? They could be undefeated- and that's unfortunately not being the least bit sarcastic. The Hawkeyes had a good 2013 season finishing 8-4 and while they could be even better in 2014, there's a reason they're a trendy pick to win the division- their schedule. Or total lack of one. I mean, have you SEEN their schedule this season? Well have you? Go ahead and click here and take a gander, and come back to me when you're done being appalled at what an absolute joke it is. Of two possible cross-over opponents the Gophers drew Ohio State (they were due) and Michigan. Sure they avoid Michigan State and Penn State, but getting both the Buckeyes and Wolverines is a very tough draw. Iowa? THEY MISS ALL FOUR OF THOSE SCHOOLS!?!? They somehow drew Indiana and Maryland. Now sure, they could lose to Iowa State, Pitt or in their near annual loss to jNU before playing the Gophers in November, but it's also pretty reasonable they run the table to that point. The only thing stopping an undefeated Hawkeye team after that are the Gophs, Wisconsin and then Nebraska to close the season.
None of this changes whether the Gophers can or cannot beat Iowa as they've done two of the past three meetings at TCF Bank, but just thought I should point out what a gift Iowa has been given this season. No team deserves it less.
11/15 vs OHIO STATE
Love Jerry Kill, love where the Gophers are at, and I could even talk myself into Minnesota being pretty good at this point- but I still can't see them beating the Buckeyes, even at home. Hopefully someday soon, but not this year.
11/22 at NEBRASKA
Last season the Gophs broke a 16 game losing streak to the Huskers. This year, why not beat them in Lincoln for the first time since 1960? While still daunting, it seems a little more doable after the upset win in 2013. Key for Nebraska will be figuring out who their QB is as 17th year senior Taylor Martinez has finally...wait let me just double check...yes, finally run out of eligibility. Finally. The defense should be feisty and RB Ameer Abdullah and WR Kenny Bell are both back so the Huskers could be one of the B1G's best, or they could do what they do every year under Bo PeLLLLini and lose at least four games. And just like last season, why couldn't this be one of those games? Also, this would be an excellent opportunity for the very first TDG staff road trip game, as we could try in vain to outdo GoAUpher's' first/last trip to Lincoln. I'm sure GN can come up with a sponsor for the trip, right GN?
vs at WISCONSIN
WHAT? No Sparty? No Illinois? Yes, the only good thing about Maryland and Rutgers joining the conference this year is Minnesota finally gets an end-of-season rivalry back, as the Gophers and Badgers will continue the most-played rivalry in college football at the end of every season from now through at least 2019. So there's that, but remember what I said about Iowa's schedule? Well the same thing applies to Bucky, except not only do they get Maryland but instead of Indiana they get the other conference newcomer in Rutgers. So that's fun. At least the Badgers will lose by 3 scores to open the season in Jerry World vs LSU so they won't go undefeated, but between that game and mid November when they close with Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota, they get Northwestern (who as mentioned previously should be feisty again) and then a bunch of cupcakes, and cups made of cake, and cakes in the shape of little cups. In the B1G coaches ranking post from last week we discussed whether Gary Andersen is a good coach or not? I'd say the jury will still be out until November based on this schedule.
As for the matchup itself, this is the win I want more than any other. This "rivalry" game is becoming almost Michigan-esque as the Gophers have lost 10 straight and 17 of the past 19. They also haven't beaten the Badgers in Madison since 1994,
but we'll worry about that one next year. Despite the losing streak, the Gophers should have an excellent chance to finally get The Axe back- Minnesota lost 20-7 last season despite generating no offense whatsoever vs a senior-laden Badger squad that was a pretty good team. Sconnie loses most of their defense to eligibility, continues to have major questions at QB, and while their running game should be great again, they had only three players last season with more than 12 catches (not a typo), and all three won't be back this year.
I'm not going to go as far as to say Minnesota SHOULD win this one, but looking at it now, this is absolutely a game the Gophers CAN win. The Axe has been in Madison too long- this is the year it comes back.
So that's what the 2014 schedule looks like. How many wins could it mean for the Gophers? Let's break it down like this:
SHOULD WIN: (5) EIU, MTSU, SJSU, Purdue, @ Illinois
None of these are gimmes (well maybe Purdue), but all are games that this program SHOULD win.
COULD WIN: (4) @ TCU, Northwestern, Iowa, @ Wisconsin
All of these are toss ups, but games Minnesota should have a good chance to win if they play well. As of now I would not consider any of these upsets.
SO YOU'RE TELLING ME THERE'S A CHANCE: (2) @ Michigan, @ Nebraska
Could it happen? Sure, but will it? As of right now, these would be definite upsets. Though like we saw vs Nebraska and Penn State last season, if Minnesota plays well and gets a few breaks, it's certainly possible.
UM, NO: (1) Ohio State
I...I just can't. Not this year. Not yet.
Since we have all summer, there's plenty of time to predict Minnesota's schedule, but what I'm showing here is a really good chance to find at least six wins to go bowling for the third straight season (anything but the Houston Bowl, please) and a chance to match last year's win total. Somewhere between 6-9 wins seems to be a good low and high range.