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MnB B1G Preview: Three key players for Minnesota football

In continuance of our Big Ten preview, we take a look at the three key players for Minnesota football this upcoming season.

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If it weren't due to a heartbreak loss against Syracuse, the Minnesota Golden Gophers would've surprised many by finishing off a nine-win season in 2013. However, an 8-4 season is nothing to scoff at, especially for Gopher fans. With a favorable schedule (for the most part) ahead in 2014, another nine-win plateau could very attainable in 2014.

In order to have another successful season, these three players will be key factors in leading the way in '14.

David Cobb - Running Back

2013 was a breakout season for senior running back David Cobb. Having very little playing time his freshman and sophomore seasons, his junior year was an incredibly productive year on the ground for Cobb. He finished 2013 with 237 carries for over 1200 yards and seven touchdowns. Almost single-handedly revitalizing the Gopher offense and helped pave the way for a successful season.

Cobb is expected to build off a productive season by becoming more of a factor during his final season in Minnesota. Showing some success against Big Ten opponents a season ago, he will need to reach the endzone more than seven times this season in order to really fuel the Gopher offense.

Zac Epping - Offensive Line

The senior leader on the offensive line, Zac Epping enters 2014 as the most game-experienced offensive lineman Minnesota has on roster in 2014. Epping has over 34 career starts over the course of his career and has not missed a start. Not only is consistency important, his presence on the offensive line will help pave the way for Cobb and quarterback Mitch Leidner in '14.

Also able to play center, his versatility and durability make him a steady presence and threat for the Gophers offense.

Below is a video of Epping and a few other Gophers discussing their real-life superhero and comic book heroes. Very cool.

Theiren Cockran - Defensive Line

Perhaps overshadowed by fearsome defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman (who was drafted by Atlanta in the second round), redshirt junior Theiran Cockran had arguably a more productive 2013 season compared to the defensive tackle counterpart.

The biggest question about Cockran's 2013 season is this: Was his productivity due to extra attention that needed to be given to Hageman?

Either way, Cockran is a very important piece to the Gopher defense and he proved himself worthy last season as a redshirt sophomore. Finishing '13 with 24 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, seven-and-a-half sacks and four fumbles. He will need to prove his worth again this year with him taking the attention that Hageman left behind.

Below is a short video of Cockran discussing the defensive line without Hageman.

Joshua Henschke covers University of Michigan football for SB Nation's Maize n Brew. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaHenschke.