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Minnesota Football: Where is Jerry Kill's program now? Where do we want it to be?

It's been a tough few days. I'd like to widen the scope a bit and get your perspective on where this program is and what it can be.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Good news Gophers fans! Things cannot get worse on offense for our team. That's not hyperbole either. Zero points is absolutely as offensive as this offense can get. Let's take some time to ask ourselves what we expect out of this program from year to year.

There seems to be a few options that fans can choose from.

1) The Gophers can be a team that will compete for conference and national championships almost every year. Nine wins is a fireable offense.

2) The Gophers can win at least five conference games each year and have some special years where national contention is realistic.

3) The Gophers will be mediocre with non-sustained success to get to an interesting bowl game once or twice every decade.

4) The Gophers will be forever at the bottom of the Big Ten and any bowl eligibility is a surprise.

To believe that conference and national championships can be within reach on a regular basis, one has to also believe some other things to be true. First, the Gophers would need to be able to compete with Alabama, Ohio State, and other helmet schools in a number of ways that can all be summarized with $. Money allows a program to build facilities, pay coaches, and market pervasively. In order to compete each year for championships, expensive procedures need to be in place. Money trumps all the debate on if our offensive coordinator, or any other coach, deserves to be employed. Money allows for good coach to be rewarded and poor coaches to be bought out and replaced. Branding and an active alumni base are the best ways to generate serious money.

Like this kind of money:

The second option asks the Gophers to become a steady program like Wisconsin. For this to be attainable, the Gophers would have to develop an ability to consistently fit athletes to their style of play, recruit well nationally, and win key games in the national spotlight. Facilities must be nice and coaches must fit the personality of the school. The key to this kind of program is consistency. Even competent head coaches who struggle to retain offensive or defensive identities will struggle to maintain this kind of program. These kinds of programs do not have a year where the roster needs to adjust to a new emphasis or style of play.

If money summarizes the first option, and consistency the second, then safety is the buzzword for the third tier listed above. Coaches are not fired after disappointing spells because it is the safer choice to keep them as a known commodity. Players are recruited who will toe the line and follow the program. Coloring outside the box is discouraged. The path to bowl eligibility is written with four guaranteed non-conference victories. When I think of these programs I see 10-yard cushions on the perimeter of the defense and fullbacks hitting the flats to spice things up on offense.

The final tier can be summarized with resignation. Coaches are hired and fired with the hope of catching lighting in a bottle before the inevitable departure for greener pastures. Players come and go, some do well, some don't, but even those who have success aren't warm ambassadors, just visitors from days gone by.

There you have it Gopher faithful. What kind of program do we cheer for?

The optimist in me believes that the Gophers can be that top tier program. After all, who would have predicted Oregon's rise 20 years ago? According to this article from the USA Today, the Gophers are in pretty good standing from a revenue point of view, but the extra $15-20m per year of revenue to go from mid-teens to top 10 in annual revenue is a big gap to close.

As for the other options, I see the Gophers in all of them. Starting at the bottom, I see the classically conservative Scandanavian mindset settling for a couple years of Marion Barber III and Lou Holtz here and there while never really pursuing chances to improve upon things as they are. I see a lot of Jerry Kill's program in the kind of program in the third tier as well. Jerry has repeatedly stated his desire to soften up the non-conference slate (and after years like this who can blame him?) and the offensive approach certainly seems to prefer safety over production.

However, the second tier program is where the Gophers slot in best. The Gophers have an identity that guides them in recruiting and game planning. When they struggle, it is because that identity fails them. The two pieces that have this program teetering downward are the lack of big wins on the national stage and the state of the roster. Going 0-7 against Wisconsin, TCU, and Ohio State combined with three consecutive bowl losses is a blow to national perception that will take some time to reverse. Wins over Nebraska and Penn State simply don't resonate on a national stage the way they would have in the 1990s. That brings me to the state of the roster. Programs that win consistently can replace players without losing their ability to execute the fundamentals within their playbook.

There is no doubt that Jerry Kill and his staff inherited one of the worst roster situations that could ever exist. However, five years is enough to fix that. Five years is enough time to balance out classes along the offensive line, develop a serviceable quarterback, and produce a single wideout who can make plays at big moments. With that said, this team looks like a team caught in a lurch between veteran players either not talented or not healthy enough to lead a program and young players who are not yet ready to carry the team.

I've had my time here, what are your thoughts? What kind of program do we have here?