Even though Coach Kill was speaking tongue-in-cheek about bringing artificial snow in for the September 3rd opener, it brings up an important question. TCU is loaded and very good, so besides the off chance it actually does snow in TCF Bank Stadium, how can the Gophers win that game?
The Horned Frogs are a very good team with great speed on both sides of the ball and tremendous weapons. But people need to shed their preconceived notions of Gopher football. Notions that have rightfully developed over the last few decades, but this Gopher team is also very good with speed and players who will be drafted next Spring. This is probably the most talented team to play for Minnesota in my lifetime. That does not make them contenders to win the National Championship Game, but they can play with anybody.
So specifically, I have great trust in this Gopher defense, even against the TCU offense lead by Trevone Boykin and his trackster receivers. Last year, on the road, the only times the Gopher defense allowed TCU into the end zone was after a horrific offensive or special teams debacle that gave them an incredibly short field. The real question is, can the Gopher offense move the ball and score? That is going to be a challenge and one I'm not all that confident will be answered to my satisfaction.
Can the Gophers win? Yes. This is a talented, experienced and confident team. To win, they will have to eliminate the mistakes that killed them last year, win the special teams battle and it might take a defensive score along the way. Will they win? Certainly not going to be favored, but the gap may not be as great as many believe.
Minnesota's schedule has three of their opponents ranked inside the top ten to start the season. Wisconsin is down a few more spots, and a couple other Big Ten foes are just outside the initial top 25. Can the Gophers steal of those games based on expectations for this season?
Being the only team to be playing both the #1 and #2 teams in the country is daunting. Add to that games against Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan! Hosting TCU is by far the more likely upset of their two games against the top 2 teams in the country. I believe Ohio State is better and that game is in Columbus. Overall this is a really tough schedule. Quality opponents, mostly at home and then teams like Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue...all on the road, which is never easy in the Big Ten.
And with Michigan specifically, the Gophers thumped the Wolverines in Ann Arbor last year to take back the Little Brown Jug. Now that Jim Harbaugh is running things, does that affect the way-too-early strategy to keep the jug?
I'm not sure what to think about Michigan this year. Once again I think it is important to point out that Minnesota is a talented team, winning last year in Michigan was no fluke or a result of catching Michigan overlooking the Gophers. This was a prime example of how good the Gophers can be when they get a good game out of their quarterback.
Like pretty much everyone else, I believe Harbaugh is a very good coach who will get Michigan back on track. I am just not sure what that means exactly in year one for him. This year's game is a primetime matchup on Halloween night. Both teams will have a bye week to prepare after coming off important divisional games (Michigan St for the Wolverines and Nebraska for us). I'm not going to start making predictions but that is going to be a great atmosphere at TCF Bank Stadium.
Mitch Leidner returns as the starting quarterback. He did really well against several opponents including Michigan, but not-so-great against others. What're you hoping to see out of him for improvements? Does he have support around him this year at wideout or on the line without Maxx Williams and David Cobb?
The Gophers legitimately have one of the best defenses in the Big Ten and one of the best offensive lines. Running back should be fine, even with the loss of David Cobb. But quarterback is such a huge question mark for this team. Last year, as you pointed out, Mitch Leidner had some really good games and some awful ones. He was very good against Michigan, Iowa and Nebraska resulting in three very important wins for the 2014 Gophers. He was really bad against TCU putting the defense in really tough positions and he was pretty bad at Illinois resulting in the team's one "bad loss" of the year. He needs to be more consistent and ultimately he just needs to increase his completion percentage. This is a running team with a very good offensive line, he needs to make a handful of key plays in the passing game when the opportunities are there.
On the receiving end he has a number of young and very athletic receivers. The hope is that one or two begins to emerge this season to really boost the passing game and help make the offense a bit more balanced.
Pick two that you'd rather have for this season: Win over Michigan, win over Ohio State in Columbus, upsetting TCU on opening night, or a bowl victory.
I'm going to go with another option and say beating Wisconsin is the one thing I want more than anything this year. Then if I have to pick from the list you provided I would choose another win over Michigan. I really don't care about a win in a bowl game as I think they are basically meaningless. And beating Ohio State or TCU would be outstanding, but this team can still achieve a very nice bowl game without those wins. I choose beating Wisconsin and Michigan (and Iowa). Considering that the Gophers and Michigan won't play for a few years after this Fall, I'd love to keep The Jug in a Minnesota trophy case for a few years. He and The Axe need to get reacquainted.