#57 Minnesota Football 2014 Preview

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Overall Rank: #57
#9 Big Ten

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Coach Jerry Kill has now led Minnesota to back-to-back bowl appearances. They should be able to make it three in a row in 2014. However, at some point the Golden Gophers will want to do more than just reach a mediocre bowl game; they will want to win a mediocre bowl game. Minnesota has lost six bowls in a row, with their last win coming against Alabama in the Music City Bowl back in 2004.

2013 Record: (8-5, 4-4)
2013 Bowl: Texas Bowl vs. Syracuse (L 17-21)
Coach: Jerry Kill (17-21 at Minnesota, 144-94 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: David Cobb, RB, 1,202 yards
Passing: Mitch Leidner, QB, 619 yards
Receiving: Maxx Williams, TE, 417 yards
Tackles: Cedric Thompson, S, 79
Sacks: Theiren Cockran, DE, 7.5
Interceptions: 4 tied with 1

Other Key Returnees: RB Rodrick Williams, RB Donnell Kirkwood, LB Damien Wilson, DB Antonio Johnson, DB Marcus Jones

Key Losses: QB Philip Nelson, WR Derrick Engel, LB Aaron Hill, S Brock Vereen, DL Ra’Shede Hageman

The Minnesota defense lost a couple big time playmakers, but overall the unit is experienced and should once again keep the Gophers hanging around most contests in the tough Big Ten. The line will not be the same without tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, the 37th overall pick in the NFL Draft. He was a freakish athlete who totaled 11 tackles-for-loss and eight pass breakups during his senior season. But the rest of the defensive line is back and they are pretty good despite Hageman earning most of the credit. Cameron Botticelli will be the new top tackle and ends Theiren Cockran and Michal Amaefula are both capable of getting into the backfield. Cockran, who totaled a team high 7.5 sacks, is a tough 6-6 junior who could be in for a breakout season. Damien Wilson will step back into the middle linebacker role after totaling 78 tackles in 2013. Sophomore Jack Lynn and junior college transfer De’Vondre Campbell figure to start on the outside. Brock Vereen is a big loss in the secondary, yet Minnesota is loaded with talent in the secondary. Safety Cedric Thompson will become the new leader of the unit and Antonio Johnson ranked fourth on the team with 69 tackles last season. At cornerback, Eric Murray is coming off of a very promising sophomore season. He defended a team high ten passes. Finding a consistent corner opposite him may be an issue, but there are options. If the front four can get more pressure on the quarterback this year, the defense will easily rank in the top half of the Big Ten in total defense.

The Golden Gopher offense was painful to watch at times last season. It is not tough to stop a third and long draw when you know it is coming. The passing game was non-existent and now the best passing quarterback on the team, Phillip Nelson, is headed to Rutgers. Mitch Leidner was a part-time starter as a freshman, passing for 619 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 407 yards and seven scores. The coaching staff must have the confidence in Leidner to allow him to throw the ball on occasion. If not, the offense will again sputter. Of course, Leidner needs to complete some of those passes too. Tight end Maxx Williams is a good safety outlet for Leidner and the hope is receivers Drew Wolitarsky or Isaac Fruechte can stretch the field every once in a while. In the meantime, this team will stay on the ground. Leidner will get his yards, but David Cobb is coming off of a big year in which he rushed for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns. There are also high hopes for redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards, who adds a speedy dynamic to the backfield.

The Bottom Line:
Yet again, this team should go 4-0 in non-conference play. That leaves just two wins needed in the Big Ten to reach a bowl. And this is a team that traditionally pulls off an upset or two along the way. Last year it was against Nebraska and Penn State. But the more likely wins will come in a three game stretch against Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois. Win two of those and this team has another shot at a mediocre bowl win.

Projected Bowl: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 195.2 (37th in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 148.1 (115, 12)
Total Offense: 343.3 (105, 11)
Scoring Offense: 25.7 (85, 11)
Rushing Defense: 158.2 (54, 8)
Pass Defense: 215.1 (35, 5)
Total Defense: 373.2 (43, 6)
Scoring Defense: 22.2 (25, 4)
Turnover Margin: 0.2 (42, 5)
Sacks: 1.38 (106, 10)
Sacks Allowed: 2.08 (66, 8)

Madness 2014 Recruit Rankings:
#98 Jeff Jones


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