QUESTION: What should fans expect from a Gopher program that has rewarded optimism under Jerry Kill?
David Cobb, Maxx Williams, Damien Wilson, Cedric Thompson
Eric Murray, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Mitch Leidner, De'Vondre Campbell, Adam Weber
9/3 - TCU
9/12 - at CSU
9/19 - Kent St.
9/26 - Ohio
10/3 - at Northwestern
10/10 - at Purdue
10/17 - Nebraska
10/31 - Michigan
11/07 - at Ohio State
11/14 - at Iowa
11/21 - Illinois
11/28 - Wisconsin
Conclusion: There is no getting around the fact that an already anemic offense lost some serious firepower. With a difficult schedule on top of those losses, Gopher fans should expect to continue watching a hard-working team, an exciting amount of depth at skill positions, and seven wins. That is not to say setting a goal for more wins is unrealistic, but expectations are different than realistic goals.
Reasoning: Seven wins is the correct expectation for this team at this time. Let me make this clear from the start...while I expect seven wins, I think the Gophers will win 8 games (and I would like to see 9 victories). As for hope? My hopes are definitely higher, high enough to do Andy Dufresne proud. My hope for the Gophers is ten regular season wins, lightning in a bottle in the B1G Championship Game, and a win in the Rose Bowl where, for some reason, I am carried off the field like Rudy by Peter Mortell and Goldy Gopher. But I expect seven wins.
We all know the schedule is difficult, but what concerns me the most is the loss of David Cobb and Maxx Williams from an offense that struggled even with their help. If Iowa had lost a rusher who just broke their single season rushing record and a tight end who may require the addition of "Yards After Pancake" to statistical nomenclature, I think our fan base would be salivating over the Hawkeye demise. No shade of Maroon and Gold glasses can overcome those losses. Am I excited to see a set of young receivers and talented backs add dimension to this offense? You bet, but do you remember Hayo Carpenter, Brandon Green, and Donovahn Jones? I was excited about them too. Give me the sure things in Maxx and David all day.
Then there is the schedule. TCU and a brutal stretch of Michigan, Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Iowa bottles up most of my hope for a Pacific Ocean as blue as my dreams. In all honesty, I could very well be wrong about that stretch of games. After all, it is way too early to seriously discuss what kinds of teams Nebraska, Michigan, and Iowa will be in two or three month's time. However, throughout my entire life, those kinds of stretches have killed what otherwise would have been great Gopher football seasons. While many of us associate late-season meltdowns with Glen Mason and Tim Brewster, Jerry Kill has not been immune from end of season slides. Minnesota is 7-12 in games after October 20 in the last three years, including a 2-4 mark last year. Also, the U has left Iowa City with Floyd once in the last 30 years.
Get Busy Living Addendum: I will revisit my expectations after the non-conference slate of games. I will be looking for more than wins or losses in determining whether or not to be more optimistic. What I want to see from this team in the first four games is the following:
1) Health along the offensive and defensive lines. Injuries, particularly early injuries, have been a factor inhibiting the growth of the Gophers for a couple of years now. There have already been some dings and this team is going to need the trenches healthy and playing well for conference play.
2) An offense that optimizes use of its personnel through play-calling. One of my biggest takeaways from the TDG Seminar reading is that successful coaches have found ways to scheme around their best players at their individual best uses. I see players like Berkley Edwards, Jeff Jones, and De'Vondre Campbell having unique best uses that need to be capitalized on.
3) Pressure on the quarterback. For all the accolades the defense has earned under Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys, there has not been enough harassment of the opposing QB. Defensive ends need to stretch the pocket and the Gophers need to make quarterbacks nervous in the backfield.
I'd love to hear your hopes as well. I don't claim to have a monopoly on insight here, but I do think that a pragmatic look at this year leads to an expectation of continued growth, but enough detours on the way to drop a few ballgames.