Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.
1. Creativity isn't always better
My initial reaction was the same as many others'.
As a whole, a conference improves when it makes better hires. It's that simple. When Pac-12 schools hired Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh in 2007, then followed with guys like Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, Mike Leach, Chris Petersen, and Jim Mora in the following years, the product improved rather dramatically. The Pac-12 North is now maybe the second-strongest division in college football. A decade or so ago, it was a desert.
It's the same with the ACC this year. In the last 20 months, the conference has brought in Mark Richt, Pat Narduzzi, Justin Fuente, Bronco Mendenhall, and Dino Babers. Mendenhall won 99 games in 11 years at BYU and was almost completely overshadowed because of the magnitude of some of the other hires.
The Big Ten, meanwhile, might be getting its act together in some regard. In the same 20-month (or so) span, Michigan has replaced Brady Hoke with Harbaugh, Maryland and Rutgers have both replaced coaches with mediocre-at-best success with well-regarded, seemingly high-ceiling Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh assistants. Illinois went from Bill Cubit to a Super Bowl coach in Lovie Smith.
Not all of these moves will work out, obviously. Coaching is the ultimate zero-sum game. Most (though definitely not all) hires make some degree of sense, and most head coaches are smart football guys who could succeed in the right circumstances. But in every game that is played, someone has to lose.
Regardless, in terms of aggression and ambition, these hires were all commended to a certain degree.
When Minnesota replaced Jerry Kill with Tracy Claeys, then, it was easy to be underwhelmed. Over the last four years, Minnesota has gone 28-24. That's clear improvement over the 20-42 record the Gophers had pulled off over the five previous years, but is it enough improvement, enough sure quality, for UM to simply give the job to Kill's right-hand man upon Kill's sudden retirement? And beyond the "who," the Gophers rushed to make this hire. They didn't check out the marketplace or weigh other names or take stock. They just gave the job to Claeys.
If nothing else, while all these other schools were making ambitious hires, it was easy to feel like Minnesota was happy with treading water.
Of course, hires are only judged based on feel and perception and aesthetics until they actually coach a game. And for whatever ambition we can claim the Gophers do or do not have, they have been a top-40 team for two straight years, per S&P+. They hadn't pulled that off even once since Glen Mason's last year in charge (2006).
With recruiting rankings typically in the high-50s or 60s, it was easy to wonder what Minnesota's ceiling was going to be under Kill. Heck, he might have already bumped his head on it. And we obviously don't know if or how Claeys might raise that ceiling. Plus, there's the small matter of Mason getting run out of town -- a decade ago, Minnesota was tired of merely fielding a top-40 team, and a decade later the school is celebrating it.
All of this undersells Claeys, however. Or at least, it might. The 47-year old Kansas State alum coached for Kill for 20 years, sure, but he's had plenty of time to work on his own plans as a head coach. He pushed out a couple of Kill assistants and brought in a couple of new influences on offense. And after Minnesota couldn't manage better than a No. 55 recruiting class ranking under Kill (per the 247Sports Composite), Claeys' first class cracked the top 50.
Claeys was Kill's righthand man, but Kill 2.0 could still end up an upgrade, too. And with what Minnesota returns in 2016, the Gophers could contend in the Big Ten West right out of the gates. Per S&P+, their conference win projection is higher than Iowa's. That would certainly be a pretty impressive way to make a first full impression.
|Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 55 | Final S&P+ Rk: 37|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|12-Sep||at Colorado State||86||23-20||W||63%||40%||+1.3||-3.0|
|7-Nov||at Ohio State||3||14-28||L||53%||5%||+6.0||+9.0|
|28-Dec||vs. Central Michigan||67||21-14||W||77%||72%||-2.5||+1.0|
|Points Per Game||22.5||106||25.2||45|
2. A bumpy ride
If you're looking for hope about a higher ceiling under Claeys, this February's slight recruiting uptick was certainly a favorable sign. Rising to 48th isn't the same as rising into the top 25 or something, but it's a start.
Meanwhile, the actual product on the field seemed to improve a touch when Claeys took over, too. You just couldn't tell it because the schedule also improved.
- First 7 games:
Record: 4-3 | Average percentile performance: 61% (~top 50) | Yards per play: UM 5.0, Opp 4.6 (+0.4)
- Last 6 games:
Record: 2-4 | Average percentile performance: 71% (~top 35) | Yards per play: UM 5.8, Opp 5.2 (+0.6)
Kill stepped down due to ongoing health issues the week of the Michigan game, and the Gophers proceeded to nearly take down a Michigan team that had been one of the stories of the season to that point. They outgained the Wolverines by 165 yards (1.9 per play) and won the turnover margin. They lost mainly because Michigan scored touchdowns on all four of its scoring opportunities, and while Minnesota created more of them, the Gophers settled for four field goals and ended the game at the Michigan 1.
Against Iowa, meanwhile, the Gophers produced an outstanding 61 percent success rate to Iowa's 49 and outgained the Hawkeyes by 0.9 yards per play. But again, they fell just short.
Winning either one of these games would have given Claeys a feather in the cap. Regardless, Minnesota was a competitive team with a better offense and less successful defense under his watch. We'll see what happens when he and his staff have had a full offseason to prepare.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.4%||92||Succ. Rt. +||113.8||20|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.3||79||Def. FP+||28.0||37|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.2||89||Redzone S&P+||115.8||19|
|Q1 Rk||83||1st Down Rk||62|
|Q2 Rk||39||2nd Down Rk||52|
|Q3 Rk||59||3rd Down Rk||65|
3. A Jay Johnson offense
Most of the coaching staff still has a Kill-heavy feel to it, but Claeys clearly felt the need to shake up the offense a bit. That's almost a little bit odd considering it improved late in the year, but the Gophers were still 58th in Off. S&P+ overall, squandering the efforts of a top-25 defense.
Claeys' choice in replacing Matt Limegrover was an interesting one: He brought in Jay Johnson, most recently of UL-Lafayette.
In a lot of ways, Johnson's offensive tendencies were Limegrover's: Run slightly more than normal on standard downs, pass slightly more than normal on passing downs, play at a plodding tempo and don't be afraid to run the quarterback.
The Ragin' Cajuns spread defenders out more and forced more solo tackles than Minnesota, and they were intent on sitting on the ball when they had a lead (running 86 percent of the time in garbage time situations), but there are far more similarities than differences.
Still, he did spread defenses out a bit more, and while his 2015 Cajuns offense struggled with drastic turnover, when he had a strong quarterback in place and experience around said quarterback, he did some damage. That offense graded out far better than Minnesota's in 2012-13 and was just about even in 2014. And in theory, Johnson could have both the quarterback and the overall offensive experience he needs in 2016.
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Mitch Leidner||6'4, 230||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8286||242||407||2701||14||11||59.5%||16||3.8%||6.2|
|Demry Croft||6'5, 200||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8532||7||17||34||0||0||41.2%||3||15.0%||0.9|
|Conor Rhoda||6'3, 219||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Seth Green||6'4, 235||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8813|
4. Has Todd McShay lost his damn mind?
It's amazing how quickly guys can go from underrated to overrated. When watching the FCS season opener between Montana and North Dakota State last year, I found that I liked NDSU quarterback Carson Wentz a decent amount. He had good size and a decent arm, and he seemed pretty composed. I thought he could maybe turn into a pretty solid mid-round pick.
Wentz missed half the season with injury but was still moving into first-round projections by the end of the season. And within a few weeks of the end of the season, he was talked about as a potential No. 1 pick. (He ended up going No. 2.)
This was honestly baffling to me. He's a perfectly solid quarterback, and a 152.3 passer rating is pretty good at any level. But his backup produced a 150.3 in his absence, and ... really? No. 2 pick? Carson Wentz?
Mitch Leidner, meanwhile, has developed nicely at Minnesota. As a freshman part-timer in 2013, he ran more than he threw and produced just a 114.7 passer rating in conference play. As a sophomore in 2014, he showed flashes of potential through ups and downs -- 71.9 passer rating against TCU, 142.4 against Michigan, 111.5 against Illinois, 267.6 against Iowa, 53.4 against Ohio State.
In 2015, Leidner struggled for a while in developing a rapport with a mostly new set of receivers. But he slowly got somewhere.
- First 5 games: 57 percent completion rate, 10.4 yards per completion, 111.9 rating
- Last 8 games: 61 percent completion rate, 11.6 yards per completion, 127.1 rating
Now, you can't really use demonstrative verbs to describe that. It wasn't a surge; it wasn't a leap, but it was improvement. And when you see that Minnesota ranked fifth in Passing Success Rate+ last year, you're reminded that he was producing these numbers against strong defensive competition.
Heading into 2016, then, with another year of experience and a far more familiar receiving corps, it's easy to think Leidner might be able to take another step forward. Minnesota was 33rd in Passing S&P+ last year and could certainly hope to rise into the top 25 or 30 this year.
That's not a charging hype train right there, but it's optimism. This, on the other hand, is a charging hype train: ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay projected Leidner as a first-round pick in May.
Leidner shows some upside as a passer, but I'll be looking to see if he can improve his accuracy. ... Leidner has ideal size and has thown the ability to make plays with his legs off designed runs and scrambles. He's a late riser to keep an eye on, similar to Blake Bortles and Carson Wentz.
Sigh. A guy with a 56 percent career completion rate and a 123.2 career passer rating, who was basically a fullback playing quarterback two years ago, now has to deal with first-round hype. This helps no one.
|Rodney Smith||RB||5'11, 205||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8352||157||670||2||4.3||3.5||36.3%||0||0|
|Shannon Brooks||RB||6'0, 210||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8364||119||709||7||6.0||9.8||30.3%||4||2|
|Mitch Leidner||QB||6'4, 230||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8286||91||369||6||4.1||3.4||35.2%||8||5|
|Rodrick Williams Jr.||RB||33||108||1||3.3||1.7||24.2%||1||1|
|Demry Croft||QB||6'5, 200||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8532||6||55||0||9.2||10.6||50.0%||0||0|
|Jonathan Femi-Cole||RB||6'0, 225||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8272|
|James Johannesson||RB||6'1, 230||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8159|
|Kobe McCrary||RB||6'1, 235||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8332|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Drew Wolitarsky||WR-X||6'3, 220||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8373||62||39||524||62.9%||15.1%||8.5||51.6%||48.4%||1.61|
|Brandon Lingen||TE||6'5, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7984||49||33||428||67.3%||11.9%||8.7||57.1%||55.1%||1.46|
|Rashad Still||WR-X||6'5, 205||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8073||36||18||194||50.0%||8.8%||5.4||47.2%||38.9%||1.20|
|Eric Carter||WR-Z||5'11, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8146||35||23||255||65.7%||8.5%||7.3||48.6%||45.7%||1.45|
|Rodney Smith||RB||5'11, 205||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8352||22||16||124||72.7%||5.4%||5.6||50.0%||31.8%||1.37|
|Shannon Brooks||RB||6'0, 210||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8364||21||17||167||81.0%||5.1%||8.0||57.1%||47.6%||1.34|
|Nate Wozniak||TE||6'10, 275||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8432||15||8||75||53.3%||3.6%||5.0||33.3%||40.0%||1.13|
|Nick Hart||TE||6'5, 245||Jr.||NR||NR||13||9||84||69.2%||3.2%||6.5||53.8%||30.8%||1.88|
|Melvin Holland Jr.||WR-Z||6'3, 205||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8601||9||2||8||22.2%||2.2%||0.9||33.3%||0.0%||0.00|
|Rodrick Williams Jr.||RB||7||4||58||57.1%||1.7%||8.3||57.1%||42.9%||1.49|
|Isaiah Gentry||WR||6'4, 225||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8274||4||2||36||50.0%||1.0%||9.0||50.0%||50.0%||1.83|
|Duke Anyanwu||TE||6'4, 245||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7875|
|Brian Smith||WR||6'4, 210||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Hunter Register||WR||6'5, 215||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8386|
|Tyler Johnson||WR||6'2, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8643|
|Phillip Howard||WR||5'11, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8509|
5. Plenty of support if the line holds up
It should probably be mentioned that Minnesota's offensive line was pretty strong last year -- 24th in Adj. Line Yards, 21st in Adj. Sack Rate -- and must replace six players who had accounted for 115 career starts. That's not good.
Of course, Minnesota's line was an injury-depleted carcass by the end of the year, which means that a) ranking in the top 25 in both line categories was a spectacular accomplishment and b) three other guys with starting experience return, including enormous right tackle Jonah Pirsig, the only guy to last all 13 games in 2015.
Of course, Limegrover was the offensive line coach, so getting rid of him as offensive coordinator includes maybe getting rid of the best offensive position coach on the staff. (He's now at Penn State.) New OL coach Bart Miller, formerly of FAU, has big shoes to fill.
If the line holds up, though, there's plenty to like elsewhere. Sophomores Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks showed potential while trying to carry the running game; Smith was a decent efficiency guy, and while Brooks was all-or-nothing, the alls were impressive.
Combined with a receiving corps that returns senior Drew Wolitarsky and tight end Brandon Lingen (both of whom averaged a solid 8.5 yards per target or so), you have some weapons. Lingen is efficient, and while it seems Minnesota is always looking for one more big-play guy, it's possible that someone like sophomore Isaiah Gentry or big redshirt freshman Hunter Register can fill that role. A lack of big plays held Minnesota back a bit (Brooks aside), but the efficiency aspect should be there again.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Jonah Pirsig||RT||6'9, 325||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8724||13||20|
|Connor Mayes||RG||6'5, 330||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8726||9||9|
|Tyler Moore||C||6'4, 305||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8539||8||8|
|Jared Weyler||LG||6'4, 305||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8017||0||0|
|Matt Leidner||C||6'2, 290||Jr.||NR||NR||0||0|
|Chad Fahning||RT||6'6, 290||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||0||0|
|Quinn Oseland||OL||6'6, 320||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8553|
|Bronson Dovich||OL||6'5, 300||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8392|
|Ted Stieber||OL||6'6, 320||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8367|
|Nick Connelly||OL||6'7, 300||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8310|
|Garrison Wright||OL||6'4, 320||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8472|
|Vincent Calhoun||OL||64, 330||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8189|
|Sam Schlueter||OL||6'6, 290||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8603|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.0%||69||Succ. Rt. +||100.3||66|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||28.0||107||Off. FP+||29.8||69|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.4||67||Redzone S&P+||101.3||67|
|Q1 Rk||78||1st Down Rk||41|
|Q2 Rk||33||2nd Down Rk||37|
|Q3 Rk||33||3rd Down Rk||25|
6. Promoting the guy with the awesome secondary
Claeys changing offices opened up a vacancy at defensive coordinator, and he didn't look too far to fill it: Jay Sawvel, leader of the Minnesota secondary (typically one of the better units in the Big Ten) got himself a promotion.
One assumes not too much will change with the Minnesota defense, then. And that's fine; not much needs to change. The Gophers have carved out a decent niche as an opportunistic bend-don't-break unit, sacrificing efficiency for big-play prevention but still playing efficiently enough to make it work. Minnesota allowed only 16 gains of 30-plus yards all season -- only six teams allowed fewer -- and a lot of that was due to an awesome pass defense.
This could be a "strength gets weaker, weakness gets stronger" situation in 2016. The front seven returns a majority of its two-deep and features a couple of nice weapons in tackle Steven Richardson and linebacker Jack Lynn. Meanwhile, the secondary must replace its top three tacklers, including two strong corners in Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun. The secondary might be deep enough to absorb the losses, especially with the return of safety Damarius Travis, who was injured in 2015. Still, losing Murray, Boddy-Calhoun, and safety Antonio Johnson hurts.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Steven Richardson||DT||6'0, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8142||10||20.0||2.7%||8.0||3.5||0||2||1||0|
|Andrew Stelter||DT||6'4, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8473||13||19.5||2.6%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Scott Ekpe||DT||6'4, 285||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8104||7||14.0||1.9%||2.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Yoshoub Timms||DT||6'2, 295||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7000||8||10.0||1.3%||2.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Gaelin Elmore||DE||6'6, 275||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8568||12||9.0||1.2%||3.5||1.5||0||2||0||0|
|Hendrick Ekpe||DE||6'5, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8167||13||7.5||1.0%||2.5||2.5||0||2||0||0|
|Julien Kafo||DE||6'4, 265||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7882||2||2.0||0.3%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jerry Gibson||DE||6'3, 245||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8151|
|Gary Moore||DT||6'4, 295||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7994|
|Winston DeLattiboudere||DE||6'3, 240||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8348|
|Merrick Jackson||DT||6'2, 320||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8352|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Cody Poock||LB||6'2, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8069||12||77.5||10.4%||5.5||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Jack Lynn||LB||6'3, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8264||13||59.0||7.9%||11.0||1.5||0||2||1||0|
|Jonathan Celestin||LB||6'1, 220||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7982||13||33.0||4.4%||4.0||0.0||0||1||1||0|
|Julian Huff||LB||6'0, 225||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8035||13||16.5||2.2%||3.5||2.5||0||1||0||0|
|Nick Rallis||LB||5'11, 235||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8342||13||14.5||2.0%||3.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Everett Williams||LB||6'1, 235||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8079||7||8.5||1.1%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Blake Cashman||LB||6'2, 225||So.||NR||NR||11||3.5||0.5%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ray Dixon||LB||6'3, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8287|
|Jaylen Waters||LB||6'3, 255||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8364|
|Carter Coughlin||LB||6'4, 220||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9528|
|Kamal Martin||LB||6'3, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8518|
|Thomas Barber||LB||6'1, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8425|
7. Now just force opponents to pass
The strengths and weaknesses of the Minnesota defense were out in the open last year. It was pretty clear, pretty quickly, that the Gophers were struggling to defend the run; meanwhile, they had a top-20 pass defense. So what would you have done? Run, and run often, of course. Opponents did just that.
So I guess that makes the prescription pretty easy too, huh? The Gophers won't be able to exploit what should still be a decent pass defense if they can't stop the run better. Step one toward improvement up front: health. Ten linemen averaged at least half a tackle per game, but only three played in all 13 games. Tackles Scott Ekpe and Yoshoub Timms made it barely half the season, and Minnesota had to dip a little too far down the depth chart to find contributors.
In theory, the result of this is experience. Almost every tackle is back this year, including Richardson, Ekpe, and Timms, and while the top two tacklers at end are gone, quite a few return. Simple continuity will do this defense favors because the better the line can eat up blocks, the more linebackers Cody Poock, Jack Lynn, and Jonathan Celestin can flow to the ball. The three combined for 19 non-sack tackles for loss even despite the line issues. A sturdy line could bump that total about 25.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|S||6'2, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7000||13||49.0||7.2%||3.5||0||2||5||1||1|
|Adekunle Ayinde||S||6'0, 205||Jr.||NR||NR||13||35.0||4.7%||2.5||0||0||5||0||0|
|Duke McGhee||S||6'1, 205||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7983||13||32.0||4.3%||1||0||0||2||0||0|
|Jalen Myrick||CB||5'10, 205||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8151||10||22.5||3.0%||3.5||0.5||3||3||0||0|
|Antonio Shenault||CB||5'11, 180||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8285||12||13.0||1.7%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|KiAnte Hardin||CB||5'10, 175||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8083||13||11.0||1.5%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Ace Rogers||S||6'1, 210||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8535||3||10.0||1.3%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Eric Amoako||S||5'11, 195||Sr.||NR||NR|
|Jacob Huff||S||5'11, 205||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8156|
|Dior Johnson||S||6'2, 210||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8574|
|Ray Buford||CB||6'2, 200||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8463|
|Coney Durr||CB||5'10, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8375|
8. Turnover and continuity
That the defense did as well as it did despite having to provide quite a bit of run support, and despite losing an excellent safety in Damarius Travis, plus an early-season contributor in Ace Rogers, was awfully impressive. And it could set the table for another strong performance this year.
Continuity is generally important in the secondary, and losing your top three tacklers is the opposite of continuity. But getting Travis and Rogers back, along with corner Jalen Myrick (last two years: 4.5 tackles for loss, 14 passes defensed), will help immensely. And some of the youngsters who had to take on larger roles last year -- junior safeties Adekunle Ayinde and Duke McGhee, sophomore corners Antonio Shenault -- could be ready to shine, as well. If the run defense improves, the pass defense will be able to do its part even if there's a little bit of regression.
|Ryan Santoso||6'6, 250||Jr.||58||59.7||27||6||46.6%|
|Ryan Santoso||6'6, 250||Jr.||31-31||10-10||100.0%||7-11||63.6%|
|Jalen Myrick||KR||5'10, 205||Sr.||12||21.4||0|
|KiAnte Hardin||KR||5'10, 175||So.||11||24.3||0|
|KiAnte Hardin||PR||5'10, 175||So.||9||6.8||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||4|
|Field Goal Efficiency||16|
|Punt Return Success Rate||112|
|Kick Return Success Rate||12|
|Punt Success Rate||29|
|Kickoff Success Rate||55|
9. Santoso is fantastic
Minnesota got almost nothing out of punt returns but thrived in basically every other special teams department. Losing punter Peter Mortell hurts, but the return of kicker Ryan Santoso should assure another solid special teams grade. He's accurate inside of 40 yards and nails a good portion of his longer kicks, too. He could stand to bump that touchback rate up a bit, but he's good. And with the return of both Jalen Myrick and KiAnte Hardin in kick returns, the Gophers seem well suited to shootouts this year. The more kickoffs, the better the special teams advantage.
(No, I don't expect a lot of Gopher shootouts. But I'm just saying.)
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|1-Oct||at Penn State||28||-7.7||33%|
|Projected wins: 7.5|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-1.1% (63)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||53 / 58|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-4 / -4.3|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||+0.1|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||66% (84%, 48%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||6.2 (-0.2)|
10. A fast start is quite conceivable
For all we know, it's going to take Claeys a year to get used to calling the shots. Granted, he got a head start last fall, but his team also lost a couple of games it should have won. Maybe the same thing will happen in 2016. And maybe the pressure from first-round hype leads to more mistakes from Leidner. This could obviously all go wrong.
But if the Gophers have their house in order from the beginning of the season, and if they're at least decent at closing out games ... well ... an 8-1 start is at least on the table.
Per S&P+, they have a below-50 percent chance of winning in only one game in the first nine games, and while there are a few tossups (and you probably can't expect to win all of those), if they handle their business in September, October could have quite a bit of magnitude. And if Claeys is able to skate through this schedule and stick a nine-win total or something on the board, then I'm really curious where his recruiting goes from there.
There's nothing saying his tenure is going to raise the ceiling that Kill established, but you can at least see the path for such a thing. And that's all Minnesota can ask for at this stage.