Five Questions Surrounding the Minnesota Golden Gopher Football Team
It has been awhile since the University of Minnesota football has been at the top of the Big Ten Conference at the end of a season. The last time it finished in the top three of the conference was when it finished tied for third in 1986 in John Gutekunst's first season as the team's head coach.
The Gophers have their third head coach since that time. In order to best Gutekunst's first season, Minnesota will have to answer these five questions.
How Will the Gophers Adjust to Playing Home Games Outdoors?
The Gopher football team will play its first season at TCF Bank Stadium this fall after playing 27 years at the Metrodome.
Adjusting to playing outdoors should not be a problem for the Gophers, as the Metrodome was the only indoor stadium in the Big Ten. Minnesota played at least four games outdoors and usually had one nonconference outdoor game, as well.
Also, TCF Bank Stadium will have field turf, the same surface that was in the Metrodome. The difference is that the turf at TCF Bank Stadium will be softer, because it is not laying on concrete like it was in the dome.
How Will the Gophers Adjust to Two New Coordinators?
Former defensive coordinator Ted Roof left for the same position at Auburn, and former offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar was let go. They are being replaced by co-defensive coordinators Kevin Cosgrove and Ronnie Lee and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.
Cosgrove was most recently the defensive coordinator for the University of Nebraska two years ago. He is teaming with Lee, who was the defensive backs coach last season.
The defensive system and plays should be the same as last season. So there won't be a big adjustment on the defensive side of the ball.
Fisch takes over an offense that is shifting systems from the spread to a balanced system. Tim Davis was added to the coaching staff late last season to be the running game coordinator.
The new system should benefit quarterback Adam Weber, who is better suited to be a passer, rather than a dual-threat quarterback.
Who Will be Eric Decker's Supporting Cast on Offense?
Eric Decker is the leader of the Gopher offense. Adam Weber will get him the ball, but someone else on the offensive needs to step up to pull some of the defense off of him.
Junior college transfer Hayo Carpenter drew rave reviews prior to committing to the Gophers and was impressive in the spring. He will help to even out the secondary.
Other wide receivers in the mix are senior David Pittman; sophomores Xzavian Brandon, Brandon Green, Da'Jon McKnight, and Troy Stoudermire; and freshmen Bryant Allen and Victor Keise. The entire receiving corps should have big years.
Sophomores Duane Bennett, DeLeon Eskridge, Shady Salamon, senior Jay Thomas, and freshmen Hasan Lipscomb will be the runningbacks.
Every one of the them should get some carries. Bennett and Thomas are returning from knee injuries, Eskridge had a breakout freshman year, and Lipscomb is a four-star true freshman.
The Gophers have plenty of weapons at the skilled positions—even at the quarterback position with the junior Weber and a pair of four-star true freshmen, MarQues Gray and Moses Alipate.
Who Are the Key Players on Defense?
The Gophers defense is led by senior linebackers Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence, defensive tackle Eric Small and defensive back Traye Simmons.
Wisconsin transfer and safety Kim Royston is expected to replace Tramaine Brock along side junior Kyle Theret. Senior Marcus Sherels is expected to start opposite Simmons in the secondary.
Four-star cornerback Michael Carter, the cousin of former Gopher Tyrone Carter, is going to get playing time.
The third linebacker spot is expected to be either seniors Rex Sharpe and Nate Triplett or freshmen Keanon Cooper, Spencer Reeves, or Brent Singleton. Sophomore Gary Tinsley and freshman Sam Maresh will get playing time, if healthy.
The defensive line will have a plethora of players shuffling in and out. The biggest question is who will replace Willie VanDeSteeg's pash rushing ability?
The front runner is redshirt sophomore Anthony Jacobs. He was one of the top recruits in Minnesota three years as a runningback and defensive end. He has grown to nearly 290 pounds, so he will stay on the defensive line. His quickness and size make him the perfect candidate to reach double digit sack totals.
How Will the Gophers Finish the Season?
The Gophers should finish at least 6-2 in the Big Ten and 10-2 overall.
They play non-conference games at Syracuse and at home against Air Force, California and South Dakota State.
California poses the most difficult non-conference test for the Gophers, but playing them at home should be a win. The Bears have one of the best running backs in the nation in Jahvid Best, but there is not much else on the that team.
The Gophers will play Wisconsin, Purdue for homecoming, Michigan State, and Illinois at home. Wisconsin and Michigan State are good teams, but should be beaten at TCF Bank Stadium.
The conference road games are at Northwestern, Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa. Penn State and Ohio State are very good teams and on paper are better than the Gophers.
Iowa could be a challenge, as they always seems to be.