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1. How high's the ceiling?
When a coach like Glen Mason raises the bar for a program but then stops raising it, or regularly clearing the bar he set, fans get impatient. And impatience can bring iffy decision-making.
Mason is Minnesota's most successful coach of the last five decades. In 1999 and 2003, he led the Gophers to their first two ranked finishes since 1962. In 2003, they won 10 games for the first time in 98 years. They went to seven bowls in eight seasons between 1999 and 2006 after going to just five ever.
Mason finished with a winning record more times in 10 seasons (five) than the last four Minnesota coaches had combined.
For all his accomplishments, his growth stalled out. Minnesota went 7-5, 7-5, and 6-7 after his 2003 breakthrough, and while the 2005 squad ranked a healthy 17th in F/+ (easily the Gophers' best mark of the last 10 years), they lost five games, and after going 6-6 in 2006, they blew a huge bowl lead against Texas Tech, and that was that.
You can understand frustration when growth slows, but Minnesota was bowling and still recruiting to a clear identity. When Mason left, that changed.
2014 brought a bittersweet milestone for the Golden Gophers. For the first time since 2006, Minnesota played at a level that exceeded the Big Ten average. In replacing the aging Mason with his opposite -- energetic up-and-comer Tim Brewster -- Minnesota had hit the reset button on its program; after winning 38 games from 2002-06, the Gophers won 20 from 2007-11.
Hiring a coach is terrifying. Probably 75 percent of hires make sense on paper, but in a zero-sum universe, only 50 percent are going to succeed, tops. And if you make a confusing hire, as Minnesota did with Brewster (no head coach or coordinator experience and hadn't coached in college in six years), your odds are even lower. Unless you know your current coach can't meet the goals you have set, firing a pretty good coach in no way guarantees you'll find a better one.
Luckily, Minnesota seems to have done fine with its next hire. Following four years of Brewster, the Gophers hired Jerry Kill, and while growth has been slow, it has been steady.
The plaudits for Kill have been overstated -- Minnesota did finish 8-5 and 37th in F/+ last year, not 11-2 and 15th -- but he's still building. The next time he doesn't improve his team from one year to another will be the first time since 2011.
So how long can Kill keep the growth going? He recruits at a top-60 level and put a top-40 team on the field, but what's the ceiling? Can a decent-not-great offense survive the loss of its best running back and top receiving threat? Can an experienced defense pick up the slack?
Minnesota is being treated as a contender in the Big Ten West, and while that's because of the lack of an elite team (Wisconsin is the most highly projected but barely squeezes into the top 25), it's also because we're beginning to expect more of Minnesota. Will we be disappointed?
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 37|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|20-Sep||San Jose State||116||24-7||W||90%||30.4||100%|
|Points Per Game||28.4||69||24.2||34|
2. Gotta maintain
The 80th percentile translates to a top-25 level of play, and Minnesota cleared that bar on five occasions in 2014. But after doing so in three of the first five games, the Gophers did so twice in the final eight. They played only one poor game (at TCU), but despite a nearly perfect performance against Iowa, the level faded from September to January.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 5 games): 71% (record: 4-1)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 8 games): 60% (record: 4-4)
The Gophers' offense was what it was -- decent, efficient, and in need of more big plays -- through most of the season. It improved a hair as the season elapsed. But the defense regressed considerably.
- Yards Per Play (first 5 games): Gophers 5.3, Opponents 4.6 (plus-0.7)
- Yards Per Play (last 8 games): Opponents 6.0, Gophers 5.5 (minus-0.5)
If your opponents are gaining .5 more yards per play than you over eight games, you're pretty lucky going 4-4, as Minnesota did. Turnovers helped, and the Gophers were masters of field position, which helped turn the tide in close wins over Northwestern, Purdue, and Nebraska and a competitive loss to Ohio State.
Still, that's a no-margin-for-error approach, and the defensive fade is alarming, considering the offense could regress in 2015.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.4%||57||Succ. Rt. +||108.1||38|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||27.6||20||Def. FP+||107.1||7|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||69||Redzone S&P+||115.9||27|
|Q1 Rk||61||1st Down Rk||49|
|Q2 Rk||29||2nd Down Rk||81|
|Q3 Rk||17||3rd Down Rk||30|
3. Running as much as any non-option offense
Identity is of immense importance in college football. Some teams are able to get by on pure talent; most aren't.
While the Gophers had a low ceiling, averaging more than 6 yards per play just once, they knew exactly how they could win. Their offense was as intended to complement their defense as it was to score points. Minnesota leaned heavily on the run, played at a plodding pace that kept its defense fresh, and relied on the excellent leg of punter Peter Mortell to create field position.
Minnesota ran 77 percent of the time on standard downs; only Army, Navy, New Mexico, Air Force, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, and (by decimal points) Boston College ran more. On that list, everybody but BC runs an option offense, and BC did in a way, too.
While quarterback Mitch Leidner attempted about nine carries per game, Minnesota's standard downs offense was basically David Cobb right and David Cobb left. Cobb rushed 24 times per game; only Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Boise State's Jay Ajayi took more handoffs. Cobb's now a Tennessee Titan, and returning backs only combined for 53 carries last year.
It will be interesting to see if Leidner is asked to handle a bit more, either as a run threat or a passer. Minnesota will still run and run, but the percentages could drop.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Mitch Leidner||6'4, 236||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8286||122||237||1798||11||8||51.5%||19||7.4%||6.4|
|Chris Streveler||6'2, 227||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8119||4||11||37||1||1||36.4%||0||0.0%||3.4|
|Jacques Perra||6'3, 221||RSFr.||NR||NR|
|Demry Croft||6'5, 198||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8532|
|Mitch Leidner||QB||6'4, 236||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8286||107||600||10||5.6||4.4||43.9%||10||5|
|Chris Streveler||QB||6'2, 227||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8119||36||235||1||6.5||5.1||50.0%||1||0|
|Berkley Edwards||RB||5'9, 192||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8600||30||140||2||4.7||6.5||30.0%||0||0|
|Rodrick Williams Jr.||RB||5'11, 229||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8413||23||114||3||5.0||4.1||43.5%||0||0|
|KJ Maye||WR||5'10, 199||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8031||22||150||1||6.8||4.1||59.1%||0||0|
|Jeff Jones||RB||6'0, 207||RSFr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9689|
|Rodney Smith||RB||5'11, 202||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8352|
|Shannon Brooks||RB||6'0, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8364|
|Jonathan Femi-Cole||RB||6'0, 218||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8272|
|James Johannesson||RB||6'1, 221||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8159|
4. Plenty of carries, plenty of bodies
Berkley Edwards provided a nice change of pace, showing explosiveness, if minimal efficiency, in his two to three carries per game. Rodrick Williams Jr. was efficient but not very explosive.
Williams has stopped eating Chicken McNuggets and has trimmed, and he'll apparently get the first crack at replacing Cobb. But between Edwards, redshirt freshmen Jeff Jones and Rodney Smith, and three incoming freshmen, there are bodies available. Will Kill and coordinator Matt Limegrover attempt to lean on Williams or share the love more?
There are more questions in the receiving corps. All-world tight end (and hurdler) Maxx Williams went pro early, Donovahn Jones was dismissed, and No. 3 receiver Isaac Fruechte graduated. That means KJ Maye and Drew Wolitarsky are the only returnees who caught more than six passes.
Wolitarsky could be the key. He experienced a breakout in 2013 -- nine catches, 172 yards in his last four games -- but battled injuries last fall and caught only 10 passes. If he lives up to the potential Gopher fans thought he had, the pass should be fine. Williams was a unique threat, but with effective running and play-action, there should be open receivers.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|KJ Maye||WR-Z||5'10, 199||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8031||38||16||298||42.1%||15.8%||39.5%||7.8||85||7.5||45.8|
|Drew Wolitarsky||WR||6'3, 217||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8373||19||10||106||52.6%||7.9%||52.6%||5.6||-20||5.4||16.3|
|Lincoln Plsek||TE-Y||6'4, 266||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8097||8||5||53||62.5%||3.3%||62.5%||6.6||-8||6.8||8.1|
|Miles Thomas||FB||5'11, 250||Sr.||NR||0.7000||8||6||41||75.0%||3.3%||87.5%||5.1||-30||7.1||6.3|
|Berkley Edwards||RB||5'9, 192||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8600||6||3||24||50.0%||2.5%||50.0%||4.0||-14||4.5||3.7|
|Brandon Lingen||TE-H||6'5, 245||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7984||2||2||18||100.0%||0.8%||100.0%||9.0||-5||NR||2.8|
|Eric Carter||WR-X||5'11, 189||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8146||1||1||4||100.0%||0.4%||0.0%||4.0||-7||NR||0.6|
|Nate Wozniak||TE-Y||6'10, 267||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8432|
|Duke Anyanwu||TE||6'4, 239||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7875|
|Melvin Holland Jr.||WR||6'3, 196||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8601|
|Isaiah Gentry||WR||6'4, 205||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8274|
|Jerry Gibson||TE||6'3, 227||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8151|
|Hunter Register||WR||6'5, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8386|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Zac Epping||LG||47||2014 2nd All-Big Ten|
|Josh Campion||RG||6'5, 310||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.7907||39|
|Jon Christenson||RG||6'4, 296||Sr.||NR||NR||14|
|Ben Lauer||LT||6'7, 314||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7544||10|
|Foster Bush||RT||6'5, 319||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8104||9|
|Joe Bjorklund||LG||6'5, 296||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8378||8|
|Jonah Pirsig||RT||6'9, 324||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8724||7|
|Brian Bobek||C||6'2, 297||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9106||0|
|Isaac Hayes||LG||6'2, 310||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8714||0|
|Connor Mayes||C||6'5, 320||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8726||0|
|Alex Mayes||LT||6'6, 310||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8391||0|
|Chad Fahning||LT||6'6, 293||So.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||0|
|Tyler Moore||OL||6'4, 311||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8539|
|Quinn Oseland||OL||6'6, 301||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8553|
|Bronson Dovich||OL||6'5, 295||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8392|
|Ted Stieber||OL||6'6, 290||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8367|
|Nick Connelly||OL||6'7, 277||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8310|
5. A strong line does some shuffling
Matt Limegrover is a steady coordinator. You know what Minnesota wants to do, but it's still hard to stop if you don't have the manpower. Kill and company recruit strong running backs, and the offensive line is stronger than recruiting rankings would suggest.
Thank Limegrover for that. He has become known as one of the country's best OL coaches, and despite the loss of all-conference guard Zac Epping and another two-year starter (center Tommy Olson), which has forced a few position changes as the Gophers look for the right starting mix, it's hard to worry too much about the line.
The Gophers will keep defenders out of the backfield on run plays, and while sack rates will probably continue to be an issue, that has as much to do with the fight-or-flight instincts of Mitch Leidner as anything else. The line was a strength and will continue to be one.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.1%||52||Succ. Rt. +||106.3||41|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||33.0||15||Off. FP+||105.0||20|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||61||Redzone S&P+||98.8||67|
|Q1 Rk||45||1st Down Rk||39|
|Q2 Rk||71||2nd Down Rk||16|
|Q3 Rk||19||3rd Down Rk||49|
6. Coaches vs. stats
It's fun to pair up opponents' run-pass rates and a defense's S&P+ rankings. If you see that an opponent ran or passed more than the national average, you can usually scroll down to see that the defense was far worse in defending one or the other. It usually matches up.
It didn't for Minnesota. Opponents ran slightly more than the national average on standard down and far more on passing downs, but Minnesota graded out better against the run (37th in Rushing S&P+) than the pass (53rd in Passing S&P+).
In a way, Minnesota's reputation might have proceeded it. The Gophers have had a strong pass defense for a few years now, but even with Ra'Shede Hageman at nose in 2013, they ranked 79th in Rushing S&P+. But without both starting tackles (Hageman and Roland Johnson) and injured backup Scott Ekpe, and even with squatty true freshman Steven Richardson (and a few other freshmen) playing major minutes, Minnesota's run defense improved immensely.
Meanwhile, without any key injuries, the pass D sprang a few leaks.
- Pass Defense (first 5 games): 56% completion rate, 9.8 yards per completion, 3.6% INT rate
- Pass Defense (last 8 games): 60% completion rate, 12.2 yards per completion, 3.8% INT rate
Regression in pass defense led to overall regression.
In 2015, the defense returns enough pieces to get you excited: six of last year's top eight linemen (plus Ekpe), three of the top four linebackers, and five of the top seven defensive backs. Key pieces like safety Cedric Thompson, linebacker Damien Wilson, and tackle Cameron Botticelli are gone, but they were far from irreplaceable. There's reason to think the defense can improve, but it will be interesting to see how opponents plan to attack.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Theiren Cockran||DE||6'6, 257||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7593||13||18.0||2.6%||7.0||4.0||0||2||1||0|
|Steven Richardson||NT||6'0, 291||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8142||13||16.0||2.3%||6.0||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Scott Ekpe (2013)||NT||6'4, 293||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8104||13||13.5||1.9%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Robert Ndondo-Lay||NT||6'5, 266||Sr.||NR||NR||13||13.0||1.9%||2.5||2.5||0||0||0||0|
|Hank Ekpe||DE||6'5, 244||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8167||13||11.5||1.7%||3.0||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Alex Keith||DE||6'3, 253||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7944||9||9.0||1.3%||2.5||1.5||0||0||1||0|
|Gaelin Elmore||DE||6'6, 262||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8568||13||9.0||1.3%||2.0||1.0||0||1||1||0|
|Andrew Stelter||DT||6'4, 269||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8473||12||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Gary Moore||DT||6'4, 287||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7994||4||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Julien Kafo||DE||6'4, 255||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7882|
|Yoshoub Timms||DL||6'2, 293||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7000|
|Mose Hall||DT||6'4, 255||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8004|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|De'Vondre Campbell||LB||6'5, 241||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8553||13||62.0||9.1%||6.5||2.5||1||1||0||0|
|Jack Lynn||LB||6'3, 240||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8264||13||45.0||6.6%||7.0||1.0||0||2||3||0|
|Jonathan Celestin||LB||6'1, 222||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7982||11||15.0||2.2%||3.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|De'Niro Laster||LB||6'4, 226||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8487||9||5.5||0.8%||0.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Everett Williams||LB||6'1, 235||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8079||8||2.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Nick Rallis||LB||5'11, 233||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8342||2||2.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ray Dixon||LB||6'3, 228||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8287|
|Chris Wipson||LB||6'2, 219||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8073|
|Cody Poock||LB||6'2, 235||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8069|
|Julian Huff||LB||5'11, 223||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8035|
|Jaylen Waters||LB||6'3, 228||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8364|
7. Run defense should still be a strength
Botticelli was a solid play-maker at defensive tackle, but with the return of Richardson, lanky senior Robert Ndondo-Lay, and a host of sophomores, it appears the middle of the line should still hold up. (And because of youth, it might hold up for a few more years.)
Linebackers De'Vondre Campbell, Jack Lynn, and Jonathan Celestin combined for 16.5 tackles for loss last year, mostly against the run, and Theiren Cockran is a strong end. Graduation skimmed off a few decent names, but more return.
However, the front seven was likely to blame for the regression in pass defense. Minnesota again ranked poorly in Adj. Sack Rate, and Cockran's numbers regressed, perhaps because of the loss of Hageman. A little more juice up front would take pressure off of the secondary, but unless that comes from spring star Hank Ekpe, I'm not sure it will happen.
Ekpe might be the most important player on this year's defense. Coordinator Tracy Claeys doesn't want to overcommit his linebackers to rushing the passer -- LBs had more passes defensed (nine) than sacks (eight) last year -- so a surge from the line is key.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Eric Murray||CB||6'0, 196||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7793||13||58.0||8.5%||2||0||1||7||0||0|
|Damarius Travis||S||6'2, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7000||13||49.0||7.2%||3.5||0||2||5||1||1|
|Briean Boddy-Calhoun||CB||5'11, 188||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7867||13||45.0||6.6%||2||0||5||9||2||1|
|Antonio Johnson||S||6'0, 211||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8274||12||27.5||4.0%||2.5||0||1||3||0||0|
|Jalen Myrick||CB||5'10, 208||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8151||13||19.0||2.8%||1||0||1||7||1||0|
|Craig James||CB||5'10, 189||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8407||13||6.0||0.9%||0||0||0||3||0||0|
|Daletavious McGhee||S||6'1, 210||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7983||10||5.0||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ace Rogers||DB||6'1, 207||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8535|
|Jacob Huff||DB||5'10, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8156|
|Dior Johnson||DB||6'2, 195||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8574|
|Ray Buford||DB||6'2, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8463|
|Antonio Shenault||DB||5'11, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8285|
8. Another active secondary
Despite iffy sack rates, Minnesota's Havoc Rate of 18.3 percent ranked a healthy 23rd in the country. An active run defense helped, but so did a handsy secondary that featured eight players with at least three passes defensed and five with at least two tackles for loss.
The Gophers were deep, aggressive, and mostly effective (less so late in the year), and the depth should pay off. Two members of the havoc club are gone (safety Cedric Thompson, corner Derrick Wells), but six other return, including one of the most active trios of corners in the nation in Eric Murray, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, and Jalen Myrick (combined: five tackles for loss, seven interceptions, 23 break-ups).
There is no clear reason for last season's fade (other than the fact that the pass offenses on the schedule improved), but depth and experience are Minnesota's friends, and even if the pass rush doesn't come around, this should still be a top-40 defense.
|Peter Mortell||6'2, 191||Sr.||67||45.1||12||16||25||61.2%|
|Ryan Santoso||6'6, 245||So.||70||63.5||38||2||54.3%|
|Ryan Santoso||6'6, 245||So.||45-46||9-10||90.0%||3-8||37.5%|
|Andrew Harte||6'0, 191||So.||0-1||0-0||N/A||0-0||N/A|
|Jalen Myrick||KR||5'10, 208||Jr.||18||28.2||1|
|Craig James||PR||5'10, 189||So.||16||8.7||0|
|Special Teams F/+||12|
|Field Goal Efficiency||105|
|Punt Return Efficiency||51|
|Kick Return Efficiency||14|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||105|
9. Special teams weapons
Few teams tilted the field as well as Minnesota. The Gophers ranked 15th in field position margin (plus-5.4 yards per possession). Granted, thanks to good run defenses and great return men, this was a field position conference -- 15th overall meant fourth in the Big Ten behind No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Nebraska, and No. 9 Michigan State -- but it was still a strength.
And while the run played a role, Minnesota ranked 12th overall in special teams efficiency. Kicker Ryan Santoso was automatic inside of 40 yards (as a freshman) and knocked more than half of his kickoffs for touchbacks, Peter Mortell averaged more than 45 yards per punt, Craig James was a good punt return man (also as a freshman), and Jalen Myrick was an outstanding kick returner.
All of those guys return. Special teams is a small-sample unit prone to variance, but Minnesota has every reason to believe it will once again have an excellent unit.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|12-Sep||at Colorado State||72|
|7-Nov||at Ohio State||2|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-4.9% (68)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||59 / 65|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||10 / 7.0|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+1.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (5, 7)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||7.7 (0.3)|
10. Another volatile schedule
We saw this with Michigan, and we see it with Minnesota: a volatile schedule with better teams visiting you (in this case, TCU, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan, all projected higher than the Gophers) and slightly lesser teams hosting you (trips to Iowa, Northwestern, Colorado State, and Purdue await).
That suggests Minnesota will be in close games and introduces a wide array of outcomes from "scraping by at 6-6" to "Big Ten West champs."
If the passing game doesn't completely fall apart without four of its top five targets, and if the defense can avoid fading, getting Nebraska and Wisconsin at home could make the difference in the division. But if special teams gets a little flaky, and last year's run defense was a bit of a mirage, then Minnesota could stumble outside of the top 50.
Years ago, one of the preseason mags would feature a one-page look at teams' likely records broken into likely wins, likely losses, and tossups. I know Minnesota fans are aiming high -- that's what happens when you've improved for three straight years and your biggest division rivals come to your place -- but a glance at the Gophers' schedule gives me something like four to five likely wins, two likely losses, and five to six tossups.
The Gophers might be ready for big things, and hey, keep betting on Kill until he gives you a reason not to. But the margin of error is small.