Never let it be said that Coach Claeys doesn't have confidence in his team and staff. Coming off a 6-7 season that will likely have Vegas and many in the college football predicting the Gophers will post a similar record, Coach Claeys is confident that Minnesota can be much better.
While speaking to the media today, Claeys had this to say about how he thinks the Gophers will fare in 2016:
"I believe this is our best football team since we’ve been here," Claeys said Monday. "We’ve played well and competed."
"It’s hard to put a number on it," Claeys said about 2016. "Eight to 10 wins. Well, you win nine, and for around here they (haven’t) won 9 games in a (heck of a) long time."
Eight to ten wins. That certainly sounds like a fine fall, doesn't it?
Setting an expectation
Coach Claeys did not boldly predict a win total for Minnesota. If anything, I'd say that's a rather tentative statement about what he'd like to see happened combined with a factual comment about 9 wins being an important number. That doesn't matter however. Whether Coach Claeys intended to or not, he has set a standard that I expect many fans and media members will treat as the new expectation for the year. Since he's been at Minnesota 4 years, I suspect that he understands this fact (especially regarding how this will be filed away by various columnists and radio personalities for further use) and yet he chose to do offer up a range anyway.
I'm not one to care one way or the other about coaches setting explicit win goals for Minnesota teams. When the coaches say their goal is to win the Big Ten West I already know that means Minnesota is probably going to need at least 9 wins. That said, I know Coach Kill's traditional vagueness on this front left some fans annoyed. In the past, we'd likely have heard only the first part of the quote above that spoke to "the best team we've had" without any additional expectation setting. For those who care about such things I'm guessing Claeys' slightly tentative frankness is a nice change of pace.
Making a mark
The statement, while slightly off-hand and certainly not the boldest of proclamations, does continue a trend that I personally see as a positive for Minnesota Football. Since being hired as Jerry Kill's official successor following the 2015 season, Coach Claeys' actions and words suggest he wants everyone to know this is his program and that he believes Minnesota can be successful immediately.
The decision to fire Matt Limegrover and Jim Zebrowski sent a message that he had a vision for his program and he was willing to make changes to implement it. Saying Minnesota could win 8-10 games this year suggests he thinks the changes shouldn't stop the Gophers from having success. 8 wins would tie the program's best season in over a decade. With the Big Ten's new 9 game conference schedule it would also mean Minnesota won at least 5 Big Ten games for only the 4th time in the last 30 years. If Minnesota reaches the floor of the range outlined by Coach Claeys it will be a good year. If they exceed it, then 2016 could turn into a great season.