Will The 2010 Gophers Be the Big Ten's Worst Team?

Kristopher FieckeCorrespondent IJune 6, 2010

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 31:  The Minnesota Golden Gophers run out onto the field before the Insight Bowl against the Iowa State Cyclones at Arizona Stadium on December 31, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The transition into summer means new and exciting things are on the horizon.  The kids are out of school, the swimming pools and water parks are open for business, and the preseason college football magazines are on the shelves.

Fans are often filled with optimism when they pick up these shiny periodicals.  It's exciting to get the first glimpse of what the "experts" think of your squad.

It's not so exciting if people in the know rip your favorite team to shreds, however.

Such is life for Golden Gopher fans.  Looking at the "experts" Big Ten predictions, things don't exactly look rosy for the Gophers and Tim Brewster in 2010.  The Sporting News, Athlon's and Lindy's all pick the Gophers to finish dead last in the Big Ten.

Looking at it objectively, I can see why the Gophers aren't viewed with a lot of esteem around the country.  The offense was downright awful the last two months of the season, save for one outburst against the Michigan State Spartans.

The defense was respectable, but the Gophers will be replacing at least nine starters on that side of the ball.

The 2010 schedule is brutal.  Opening on the road against a directional school should be a cakewalk, but not when that directional school is Middle Tennessee State, coming off a 10-win season and being led by dual-threat quarterback Dwight Dasher.

USC and Northern Illinois make for troublesome non-conference opponents and the Gophers' Big Ten home schedule includes highly-regarded Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa, all of whom figure to finish at the top of the conference.

Most Gopher fans who look at the schedule realistically aren't predicting this team to win 10 games or more, but I don't think the vast majority of the fanbase figures 2010 is going to be a repeat of Tim Brewster's 1-11 debut as Gophers' head coach.

Where most of the experts see holes in this squad, I see some optimism.  Adam Weber took the brunt of the criticism (probably more than he deserved) for the Gophers' offensive struggles in 2009.  For better or worse, this year's offense won't resemble last years very closely.  If Weber struggles even a little, Marquis Gray is waiting in the wings, eager to get his shot.

Gone is the complex, elaborate playbook of wunderkind Jedd Fisch.  Fisch left for the NFL and was replaced by Jeff Horton, a Big Ten veteran who has implemented a simple, easy-to-learn offense that should eliminate a lot of the confusion in the huddle.

The offensive line struggled mightily last year, but they return largely in tact.  Should problems on the line occur, there is depth in the underclassmen who could push some of the returning starters for playing time.

Despite losing Eric Decker to the Denver Broncos, the wide receivers are deep and talented.  Decker and tight end Nick Tow-Arnett leave big shoes to fill, but the Gopher roster contains plenty of viable options to fill those holes.

The running back position is a concern.  Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge provide some veteran leadership and three talented freshman will likely push for playing time.  Someone needs to emerge this summer for the running game to progress.

For all the problems that the Gophers had on offense last year, the defense seems to be a major concern for outside observers of the program.  Granted, the Gopher starting lineup will feature a new front seven, but those seven players aren't exactly green behind the gills.

The Gophers' starters in 2010 don't have many starts under their belts, but they have plenty of game experience.  The projected starters on the defensive line have more experience than the stats lead you to believe.

Replacing three senior linebackers normally would be a cause for concern, but despite some offseason legal troubles and departures due to academics, the position still is pretty deep.

The main concern for the Gopher defense lies in the secondary.  Kim Royston and Kyle Theret were adequate at safety in 2009, but Royston is battling back from a broken leg while Theret is faced with having to answer for some offseason legal troubles. 

Michael Carter will step right in for Traye Simmons at one corner and there will be little to no dropoff.  Carter is as good as a sophomore as Simmons was as a senior.  The other spot will be manned by the experienced Ryan Collado or upstart Kyle Henderson.  As long as the Gophers develop some sort of a pass rush, the secondary will be just fine.

I have no idea where these changes leave the Gophers, but I'm relatively certain it doesn't leave them in last place.  They don't catch any breaks with the schedule, but there's more than enough talent to pull an upset or two. 

I'm sure I'm influenced by my desire to see the team do well, but I just don't see one or two wins as a very likely outcome.  The "experts" think this team will be dreadful.  I think they'll be average.

Somebody has to be wrong in this scenario.  I hope it's not me.