#102 Minnesota Football 2012 Preview

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Overall Rank: #102
#12 Big Ten Conference
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On and off the field, Minnesota has had a tough year. Coach Jerry Kill had some scary health problems during the 2011 campaign and more recently a former Golden Gopher linebacker, who finished up his collegiate career in 2011, was found dead in his campus apartment. On the field, the Golden Gophers had a couple decent wins against Iowa and Illinois, but also lost games to an awful New Mexico State squad and FCS member North Dakota State. Year two under Coach Kill should be better, but there is a long way to go.

2011 Record: (3-9, 2-6)
2011 Bowl: None
Coach: Jerry Kill (3-9 at Minnesota, 58-41 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: MarQueis Gray, QB, 966 yards
Passing: MarQueis Gray, QB, 1,495 yards
Receiving: Brandon Green, WR, 190 yards
Tackles: Mike Rallis, LB, 83
Sacks: D.L. Wilhite, DE, 3.0
Interceptions: Troy Stoudermire, CB, 2

Other Key Returnees: G Caleb Bak, LB Keanon Cooper, G Zac Epping, RB Donnell Kirkwood, OT Marek Lankiewicz, TE John Rabe, S Brock Vereen

Key Losses: RB Duane Bennett, CB Kyle Henderson, DT Anthony Jacobs, TE Eric Lair, WR DaJon McKnight, S Kim Royston, LB Gary Tinsley

This offense has always had potential. Quarterback MarQueis Gray is a unique talent and many thought he had the potential to be the next Cam Newton. Newton would look bad at Minnesota too, but Gray is no Newton anyway. Gray led the team with 966 rushing yards and 1,495 passing yards. He will need more help this season from the rest of the offense if the Gophers are going to win more than three games. He could get assistance from a young, but emerging offensive line that was thrown into the fire last season and performed relatively well. Marek Lankiewicz, Caleb Bak and Zac Epping may not garner too much national attention, but they could be key to the Minnesota offense. If Gray has time to make things happen, he will. However, Coach Kill needs to find a ground game as well. Duane Bennett is gone after rushing for 639 yards and three scores last season. That leaves the oft-injured Donnell Kirkwood left to carry the load. Kirkwood is a bruising back and a great short yardage option. But the job is not Kirkwood’s yet. He will likely split time with junior college transfer James Gillum.

The Minnesota offense was not good in 2011, but the defense was awful. The coaching staff did a little house cleaning and the changes could make a big difference on the defensive side of the ball. However, a 3-0 spring game score had more to do with the lack of offense than the stellar defense. The biggest changes were in the secondary. Former cornerback Brock Vereen will move to safety in an effort to help replace leading tackler Kim Royston. He could be joined by emerging sophomore Cedric Thompson. But moving Vereen is also due to the addition of junior college transfers Martez Shabazz and Jeremy Baltazar. They could be the starting corners on opening day. While those changes, and the return of linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper, should make the Minnesota defense a little faster, they still have to get much, much stronger on the line in order to compete in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers were consistently beaten at the line of scrimmage and they need somebody like defensive end Michael Amaefula or D.L. Wilhite to consistently get into the backfield.

The Bottom Line:
This team will not win games with defense even if it does improve quite a bit. Gray will need to have a good season. Unfortunately, he will need to find some new targets now that Da’Jon McKnight is gone. McKnight caught 51 passes during his senior season; the next highest total was by tight end Collin McGarry, who had 16. McGarry is also gone. Brandon Green has plenty of experience and Devin Crawford-Tufts made some nice plays during his very limited playing time as a freshman. Fellow sophomore Malcolm Mouton and junior Marcus Jones are also options if they can stay healthy and continue to improve. Tight end John Rabe is a solid target in the red zone and former quarterback Moses Alipate could make an offensive impact at tight end as well. Minnesota does have some more options this year and that depth alone is a step in the right direction, but nobody should be expecting any miracles in Minneapolis.

Projected Bowl: None

2011 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 160.00 (56th in nation, 10th in conference)
Passing Offense: 150.33 (109, 11)
Total Offense: 310.33 (110, 12)
Scoring Offense: 18.42 (111, 12)
Rushing Defense: 186.42 (91, 11)
Pass Defense: 216.67 (49, 9)
Total Defense: 403.08 (77, 10)
Scoring Defense: 31.67 (93, 11)
Turnover Margin: -.67 (100, 12)
Sacks: 1.58 (86, 10)
Sacks Allowed: 1.75 (52, 5)