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SB Nation: Minnesota Football can contend in the Big Ten West

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Bill C’s long awaited Minnesota preview is here!

Minnesota v Colorado State Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

It’s finally here. Bill Connelly from Football Study Hall & Rock M Nation has finally released his Minnesota Football preview. Not familiar with what Bill C does? Each year he previews every D1 football program. Every. Single. One. He does an excellent job and they are always worth a read. So what does he have to say about Minnesota in 2016? Bill sounds like a lot of Minnesota fans:

But if the Gophers have their house in order from the beginning of the season, and if they're at least decent at closing out games ... well ... an 8-1 start is at least on the table.

Per S&P+, they have a below-50 percent chance of winning in only one game in the first nine games, and while there are a few tossups (and you probably can't expect to win all of those), if they handle their business in September, October could have quite a bit of magnitude. And if Claeys is able to skate through this schedule and stick a nine-win total or something on the board, then I'm really curious where his recruiting goes from there.

There's nothing saying his tenure is going to raise the ceiling that Kill established, but you can at least see the path for such a thing. And that's all Minnesota can ask for at this stage.

Tempered positivity? Damn Bill, show me a solid passive/aggressive aversion to conflict and I’m ready to call you a Minnesotan right now! But in all honesty that’s what this season seems to call out for; acknowledgement that an OK to solid year is not as farfetched as some would believe.

Thoughts

  • Bill isn’t saying a big year is a sure thing. But on paper the Gophers have a shot at a nice to special year and the preseason S&P+ numbers bear that out (to a point).
  • Those of you who feel like the Gophers just missed out on a better 2015 may also find support in this preview:

Kill stepped down due to ongoing health issues the week of the Michigan game, and the Gophers proceeded to nearly take down a Michigan team that had been one of the stories of the season to that point. They outgained the Wolverines by 165 yards (1.9 per play) and won the turnover margin. They lost mainly because Michigan scored touchdowns on all four of its scoring opportunities, and while Minnesota created more of them, the Gophers settled for four field goals and ended the game at the Michigan 1.

Against Iowa, meanwhile, the Gophers produced an outstanding 61 percent success rate to Iowa's 49 and outgained the Hawkeyes by 0.9 yards per play. But again, they fell just short.

  • The flip side of the coin for 2015 is that the Gophers played terribly against a Northwestern squad that had flaws and lost a game to Iowa that they beat soundly in some key advanced stat metrics. That can’t be a thing anymore for 2016 to pay off the way Minnesota fans want.
  • Ignore the Todd McShay stuff (not that Bill is wrong), the post has more numbers that show that Mitch Leidner is not the terrible quarterback far too many Minnesota fans think he is.

In 2015, Leidner struggled for a while in developing a rapport with a mostly new set of receivers. But he slowly got somewhere.

First 5 games: 57 percent completion rate, 10.4 yards per completion, 111.9 rating

Last 8 games: 61 percent completion rate, 11.6 yards per completion, 127.1 rating

Now, you can't really use demonstrative verbs to describe that. It wasn't a surge; it wasn't a leap, but it was improvement. And when you see that Minnesota ranked fifth in Passing Success Rate+ last year, you're reminded that he was producing these numbers against strong defensive competition.

There is plenty more goodness in the preview, so if you haven’t already go read the whole thing immediately!