Sadly spring practice has come and gone and other than an occasional recruiting update it is an extremely quiet time for Gophers news. Of course that is usually a good thing, as the only other news that pops up right now is players getting arrested and/or kicked off the team, so really no news is good news right now. Look no further than the Ra'Shede Hageman post for proof.
As a result, what better time then now to start going over each Big Ten team's schedule to provide my wildly unscientific guesses for best and realistic scenarios for each team's season. As an admitted Gopher fan, lets kickoff our analysis by studying the hometown team.
Best Case Scenario
Aug. 30 - at UNLV - WIN
UNLV was 2-10 last year and 2-11 in 2010 and haven't even been 6-6 since the 2003 season. Their last win vs. a BCS conference team was September 20, 2008 vs. Iowa St. in overtime. The bottom line is the Gophers are more talented and with a complete off season to work with his players Jerry Kill will have his team ready to turn the page on a difficult 2011 season and begin setting the tone on the 2012 season.
Sept. 8 - New Hampshire - WIN
New Hampshire is a IAA program coming off an 8-4 campaign in which their only IA game came against Toledo, which crushed New Hampshire 58-22. The Gophers recent track record against IAA schools is absolutely embarrassing having lost last year to North Dakota State 37-24 and South Dakota 41-38 during the 2010 campaign. In 2009 the Gophers squeaked out a win against the mighty Jackrabbits of South Dakota St. 16-13. It is inarguable that the Gophers will be more talented at nearly every position and with more familiarity with Jerry Kill's system I think the Gophers begin exercising the demons of IAA opponents from the prior five years. In addition, it must be pointed out that the IAA schools the Gophers have played are the Dakota schools which are full of players from Minnesota that feel snubbed by their hometown team. Against, New Hampshire that personal motivating factor will be lacking. Chalk up a W for the Gophers.
Sept. 15 - Western Michigan - WIN
The Gophers face their first true test of the season against an underrated Western Michigan team. The Broncos have a returning senior starter at quarterback in Alex Carder that can put up points in a hurry, as he racked up 31 TDs last year while completing 66% of his passes. Ultimately, he ranked 8th among all players in IA by averaging 335 yards of offense per game. This will be a huge test for the Gophers secondary to see if the holes from last season have been filled. Ultimately, the Gophers improved secondary led by Stoudermire, Carter, Vereen and Shabazz prove up to the challenge while the Gophers young, but talented, offensive line controls the trenches. Gophers win a close one.
Sept. 22 - Syracuse - WIN
The Gophers build on the impressive Western Michigan performance and feed off the energy crowd at the Gophers only night game under the lights at TCF Stadium. Meanwhile, Syracuse comes in flat after an uncompetitive trouncing of Stony Brook and can't recover from the early hole they dug for themselves.
Sept. 29 - at Iowa - WIN
From a coaching perspective, Iowa has been arguably the most stable program, perhaps other than Penn State, in the Big Ten for a decade and was a key reason for the success of the program. However, that all changes in 2012 with Coach Ferentz having to replace his offensive and defensive coordinators. The instability on the coaching staff and significant departure of defensive talent to the NFL the past two seasons proves to much to overcome. The Hawkeyes spend the prior two weeks coasting past Northern Iowa and Central Michigan, while the Gophers come in battle tested from wins against Western Michigan and Syracuse. The Gophers hang on to Floyd of Rosedale for a 3rd straight year in a tight contest.
Oct. 13 - Northwestern (Homecoming) - WIN
Northwestern has beaten the Gophers the previous two seasons, but Dan Persa, Drake Dunsmore and Jeremy Ebert have all graduated. New starting quarterback Kain Colter is unable to make up for the team's lousy running game. With the Wildcats forced to be one dimensional, the upgraded Gophers secondary shines again and MarQueis exposes a suspect Wildcat defense in an inspired Homecoming effort
Oct. 20 - at Wisconsin - LOSS
The Gophers blazing 6-0 start comes to a sudden halt with a defeat at Camp Randall Stadium to the hated Badgers. While the Gophers play inspired football and demonstrate a closing of the gap between the programs, the Badgers simply beat the Gophers at their own game as the Gophers young offensive and defensive lines lose the battle in the trenches.
Oct. 27 - Purdue - WIN
Jerry Kill forces his players to remember the disastrous performance against Purdue in 2011 when the team lost 45-17 and surrendered 24 first quarter points. The Gophers play inspired football to purge the bad taste left by last year's defeat. In particular, MarQueis Gray continues to show his development as a quarterback and put his athleticism on display in a high scoring affair.
Nov. 3 - Michigan - LOSS
Sadly, Michigan has dominated the Gophers seemingly forever and you need look no further back than last year's 58-0 dismantling of the Gophers. Michigan shows some chinks in their defensive line that MarQueis and the running backs expose, but the Gophers simply have no answer for Denard Robinson.
Nov. 10 - at Illinois - WIN
Illinois is mired in a difficult season with their first year head coach and arrive at this game 3-6 on the year and having lost 4 of their last 5 games while getting drilled by Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State. In addition, the Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State games were all on the road. The battle weary Illini simply get out of the gate slow and the Gophers offense takes advantage. Gophers win a game that was never as close as the score indicates.
Nov. 17 - at Nebraska - LOSS
Gophers enter Lincoln one of the major surprises of the season and the program appears to be leaving the Tim Brewster era behind. Nebraska comes into the came sluggish having just wrapped up consecutive games against Michigan, Michigan St. and Penn St. However, Nebraska reminds the Gophers that they are not an upper echelon team yet by coming from behind in the second half to earn the victory and stay on track for the Legends division title.
Nov. 24 - Michigan St. - WIN
Gophers continue the trend of wrapping up the regular season on a high note by upsetting the Spartans. The Gophers defense and offense benefit from their growth throughout the season and put together one of their most complete games on both sides of the ball. Troy Stoudermire cements first team All Big status with a big time interception late in the game and breaks the NCAA all-time kick return yardage record. The Gophers go bowling for first time since 2009!
Final Record 9-3 and goes to a bowl game
The Gophers show dramatic improvement in the secondary thanks to the return of a healthy Troy Stoudermire, the long awaited maturity of gifted Michael Carter, the steady play of Brock Vereen at saftey and the influx of JUCOs make an impact, much the way Traye Simmons and Trumaine Brock did at the start of the Brewster era. The linebacking core is rock solid with seniors Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis. The Gophers decision to emphasize speed at the defensive end positions with Theiren Cockran and Michael Amafuela generates the spark the pass rush has craved for years and big Ra'Shede Hageman proves to be a dominator in the middle. Meanwhile, the offense takes significant strides as MarQueis translates his immense athletic ability into a dynamic season and earns 2nd Team All Big Ten honors behind Denard Robinson. The young offensive line delivers on its promise and leaves fans excited for the years ahead.