Maize n' Brew mercilessly drifts through another preview. This week is going to be a bit preview heavy as we lead into the season. Ladies and Gentlemen, the
Explanation and indemnifications found: here
Last season was, no doubt, a great success for Tim [FIGHT PANTS WIN EXCEL] Brewster's Golden Gophers, going 7-6 with a bowl appearance against Kansas in the Insight Bowl. How much, I ask, of that season was smoke and mirrors? The Gophers started off hot, going 7-1 with the only loss a close-ish game at Ohio State. Then the wheels came off, and they lost the final 4 games of the Big Ten schedule, including the game in which Nick Sheridan looked like a Division 1 Quarterback.
The reason for this wild swing from winning to losing rests squarely on a turnover margin that was ranked, by the end of the season, at +12, 16th in the nation. What turnovers giveth, turnovers can taketh away, and it appears that any luck in that department last year was redistributed from Michigan to Minnesota. Minnesota's wins last season were mostly a result of timely turnovers, and not a sign of a really solid football team. This is evidenced by an offense than ranked 91st in the country in total yards, and a defense that ranked 80th in yards allowed. A bowl game this season for the Gophers might be possible, but only if they can get more production out of a balanced offense. Brewster knows this, and has been preaching "run to [TRIUMPH EXCELSIOR COFFEE FIGHT] win" this off-season. This becomes especially important as the Gophers ditch the Metrodome (finally) for their swanky new outdoor digs.
More Previewin' After The Jump
|9/05||@ Syracuse||12:00 PM|
|9/12||Air Force||7:00 PM|
|9/19||No. 12 California||12:00 PM|
|10/17||@ No. 9 Penn State||3:30 PM|
|10/24||@ No. 6 Ohio State||12:00 PM|
|10/31||Michigan State||8:00 PM|
|11/14||South Dakota State||TBA|
|11/21||@ No. 22 Iowa||TBA|
Eric Decker being awesome
One thing the media will harp on that is off base
There are a lot of returning starters for the Gophers team, including the majority of the skill positions on offense, but I question whether that will really translate to wins. Adam Weber returns under center, but it's clear that the future of this Gopher offense rests with Freshman MarQueis Gray, who went 8 of 10 passing and scored two touchdowns. He's been relegated to mostly gadget plays in this offense, and has even lined up at WR a bit. Similarly, Troy Stoudemire had an impressive spring, and looks to be the biggest big-play threat. The Gophers also return the majority of their offesensive line.
However, this offense struggled last year, and often only scored by virtue of having a short field due to a turnover. There has to be some sort of spark for the unit if they want to compete for another bowl berth. Gray or Stoudemire might give them that spark, but that's only going to be on a few certain plays. The battery of Weber-Eskridge (RB)-Decker (WR) has to be better this year. Eric Decker was very good last year, but teams are going to start loading up to stop him. Can the Gopher running game improve from the 104th ranked attack last year to give Weber/Decker some breathing room? Sure, 10 returning starters on offense, but there are still a ton of question marks for the unit.
One thing the media will completely ignore that is integral to this team's success:
As has been mentioned before, the Gophers led the conference with a +12 turnover margin last season that looked even better until the luck abandoned them in the final five games. The defense, which returns 3 DB's, 3 LB's and both DT's needs to continue to force turnovers and give their offense as short of a field as they can. One thing that this team has going for it is a lot of team speed. Linebacker Simoni Lawrence wasn't a full time starter last year, rather, he earned his way on the field, and for good reason. He's a fast rush-end who can terrorize quarterbacks on passing downs. The secondary - with so many INT's last year - starts all upperclassmen.
The unit last year had a pretty big disparity between scoring defense and total defense - ranked 61st and 80th in the nation respectively. This points to a bend-don't-break mentality that relied on...you guessed it...turnovers for big stops. If the defense can improve - and they have the players to do so - and get some big three and outs while maintaining their propensity for game changing turnovers, the Gophers will be in good shape to return to a bowl game.
Most important contributors on each side of the ball:
Traye Simmons also being awesome
Offensively, it's gotta be Eric Decker, who is no-doubt-about-it one of the best receivers in the country. He's a big target for Adam Weber to look for, and demands double coverage. Not only should Decker get his - he had 1,074 yards with 7 TD's last season - but he should allow the running game some room to work. It should also open some of the field for Brandon Green and Ben Kuznia to work. Let's not forget that Brewster was a TE coach and player in his former life. Senior Nick Tow-Arnett returns from ACL surgury this season, and will give Weber a nice outlet when Decker is inevitably blanketed.
Defensively, cornerback Traye Simmons led the team last year with 4 INT's and is capable of shutting down his side of the field. The 5-11 senior is tall, athletic, and must perform at a high level.
Area that scares you as Michigan Wolverines:
Michigan doesn't play Minnesota this year. However, for purposes of a preview, I will say that there would be two things that could work together to give Michigan fits. First, they return two defensive tackles in Eric Small and Garrett Brown. If these two get a good push up the middle, that would force Tate (or whoever, I suppose) into some hasty decisions that would allow their opportunistic defense to get some good looks at some INTS. We don't have to worry about that this season, as the jug rests safely in Ann Arbor.
Area that makes you salivate as the Michigan Wolverines:
With the same caveat as above, I'd say that I can't see how the Gopher offense improves to the point where I could see them as being dangerous. Win the field-position battle (MESKO SPACE PUNT), and limit turnovers (gulp...), and I think this Gopher team is very beatable.
Man, that's a tough schedule. I have them at 5-7, missing a bowl game.
Final Big Ten Standing:
Negative Ghost Rider...the pattern is full.