#42 Minnesota Football 2016 Preview

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Overall Rank: #42
#8 Big Ten
Minnesota had to endure through a very tough 2015 campaign. Coach Tracy Claeys stepped in as interim coach half way through the season and did a very good job all things considered. Coach Claeys led the Golden Gophers to a bowl victory over Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl. With the interim tag removed, Coach Claeys will keep the program moving forward.
2015 Record: 6-7, 2-6
2015 Bowl: Quick Lane Bowl vs. Central Michigan (W 21-14)
Coach: Tracy Claeys (2-4 at Minnesota, 2-4 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jay Johnson
Defensive Coordinator: Jay Sawvel
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Shannon Brooks, RB, 709 yards
Passing: Mitch Leidner, QB, 2,701 yards
Receiving: Drew Wolitarsky, WR, 524 yards
Tackles: Cody Poock, LB, 99
Sacks: Steven Richardson, DT, 3.5
Interceptions: Jalen Myrick, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Rodney Smith, HB Brandon Lingen, WR Eric Carter, LB Jack Lynn, S Adekunle Ayinde
Key Losses: WR K.J. Maye, DB Antonio Johnson, DB Eric Murray, LB De’Vondre Campbell, DB Brean Boddy-Calhoun
And Coach Claeys thinks he has the offense to win the Big Ten West. Quarterback Mitch Leidner threw for 2,701 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. Leidner is not going to light up the Big Ten, but he is an experienced quarterback who can run the ball too. With Drew Wolitarsky and Eric Carter returning at wide receiver and a bevy of talent at tight end, the passing game should be solid. That will pave the way for what could be a very dangerous running game. Shannon Brooks had a very promising freshman season, rushing for a team high 709 yards and seven touchdowns. Rodney Smith is another sophomore on the rise. He added 670 yards and two scores. Those two should thrive behind a solid offensive line that has been bolstered by junior college transfers.
The defense was solid last year, but was hindered by a lack of a pass rush. Steven Richardson is a fine tackle and there is an influx of talent on the line coming in from the junior college ranks. But there are still major questions at the end spots. The linebackers are in good shape with Jack Lynn and Cody Poock leading the way. Poock was second on the team with 99 tackles last year and Lynn added 76 tackles, with 1.5 sacks and a team high 11.0 tackles-for-loss. The biggest concern besides the pass rush is in the secondary. Last year the Golden Gophers boasted two great cornerbacks in Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Those two are now gone and new defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel hopes that Jalen Myrick and KiAnte Hardin are ready to step up. Those two are talented and have been waiting their turn, so there are high hopes that the unit will not take a big step back after ranking 11th in the country in pass defense last year. However, an improved pass rush would go a long way in helping the secondary.
The Bottom Line:
Minnesota starts the season with a pretty easy non-conference slate that includes home games against Oregon State, Indiana State and Colorado State. That is much easier than what they faced last year. The news on the schedule front gets even better in Big Ten play where the Golden Gophers face Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers from the East. Avoiding Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State will do wonders for the record. Still, Minnesota faces both Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road. The Golden Gophers probably should be 7-2 or 6-3 heading down the stretch of the season, but it will be those last three weeks with those two tough road trips that will determine if this group can actually win the West. The answer is probably not, but by November the landscape of the Big Ten could look very different and Minnesota should be in a position to control their own destiny.
Projected Bowl: Foster Farms Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 144.1 (100th in nation, 11th in conference)
Passing Offense: 214.8 (73, 8)
Total Offense: 358.9 (103, 12)
Scoring Offense: 22.5 (106, 13)
Rushing Defense: 166.4 (61, 10)
Pass Defense: 179.5 (11, 4)
Total Defense: 345.9 (24, 7)
Scoring Defense: 25.2 (45, 9)
Turnover Margin: -0.31 (92, 10)
Sacks: 1.69 (91, 12)
Sacks Allowed: 1.46 (33, 4)

Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#90 Carter Coughlin