Impact Freshmen: Rivals has coach Jerry Kill's first class ranked ninth in the Big Ten, while Scout has it ranked 11th. This is not quite equivalent to what Tim Brewster did in his four classes, but Brewster was, if nothing else, a good recruiter. Overall, Kill brought in about what one can expect of a first class during a transitional year.
Obviously, one area where the Gophers will be looking for an immediate impact player will be at rush defensive end. Minnesota signed three end prospects in this class.
The most likely impact player of the bunch could be Arlington, Texas' Michael Amaefula, though it might depend on what his actual weight is. Rivals lists him as 6'2", 218 lbs., while Scout lists him as 240 lbs. Needless to say, an extra 22 lbs. will make a huge difference in terms of his ability to make a difference on the field.
Steven Montgomery is a player that could be a huge special teams contributor and make an immediate splash in the defensive backfield. As his senior year game tape attests, he is a physical player that loves making big hits.
Finally, receiver Quentin Gardener is a speedster that could come in and fill out the depth chart at receiver, as well as take over punt return duties.
Intangibles: I believe I've been forthright as regards my decidedly negative feelings for Tim Brewster. I also think I've been forthright regarding my decidedly positive feelings regarding the hiring of Jerry Kill.
No matter how I feel about the changing of the guard, a transition still has to take place, and transitions are not always smooth. Even if the team takes to Kill, said team still has to move past certain bad habits that they may have picked up from Brewster.
In fact, calling them "bad" habits might be unfair. Players simply get used to giving a coach what he wants. If a new coach comes along, said coach will inevitably ask for different things.
In short, a new coach brings new and unpredictable intangibles with him.
Moreover, it is entirely possible that MarQueis Gray might be the most indispensable player in the Big Ten, and that's saying something.
Needless to say, "success" is a relative word, and success for Minnesota would be abject failure for Ohio State. Still, in order for the 2011 Minnesota Gophers to be successful (which, for this team, will be six wins), the entire offense rides on Gray's shoulders.
Certainly, Denard Robinson is extremely valuable to Michigan and Nebraska is hoping for a big year out of Taylor Martinez, but in my opinion, there is no individual player that is as singlehandedly responsible for his team's fortunes as MarQueis Gray.
That is partly because of Gray himself and partly because there is nobody behind him. Regardless, Gray's health is of primary concern to Jerry Kill.
Sept. 3: At Southern Cal. Minnesota is the heavy underdog.
Sept. 10: New Mexico State. Minnesota is the favorite.
Sept. 17: Miami (OH). Toss-up.
Sept. 24: North Dakota State. Heavy favorite.
Oct. 1: At Michigan. Underdog.
Oct. 8: At Purdue. Slight underdog.
Oct. 15: Open
Oct. 22: Nebraska. Heavy underdog.
Oct. 29: Iowa. Underdog.
Nov. 5: At Michigan State. Heavy underdog.
Nov. 12: Wisconsin. Underdog.
Nov. 19: At Northwestern. Underdog.
Nov. 26: Illinois. Underdog.
MarQueis Gray lives up to expectations. He is not a great passer, but as previously mentioned, he doesn't have to be.
Meanwhile, the defense is middle-of-the-pack, which is a substantial improvement over last year.
The Gophers lose to Southern Cal, but it is a lot closer than many anticipate. They win the rest of their out-of-conference.
In conference, they beat Purdue handily, pull out one substantial upset (perhaps Iowa or Michigan) and close out the year with smaller upsets against Northwestern and Illinois.
At 7-5, they get invited to a lower-tier bowl, but with Gray returning in 2011, Kill has his Gophers poised for a big run.
Gray struggles with his accuracy. He barely hits 50 percent of his passes and has a big problem reading coverages, which leads directly to interceptions.
Meanwhile, the defense is better than last year but still at the bottom of the conference.
Minnesota gets shellacked by USC and loses by 10 points to Miami (OH). It goes into the Big Ten season with a 2-2 record.
A loss to Michigan is followed by a close loss to Purdue, after which the wheels come off the cart.
Despite a bye week, the Cornhuskers destroy the Gophers, and Iowa also empties the bench by the fourth quarter.
A loss at Michigan State ends the Gophers' chances at a bowl bid, and Wisconsin adds insult to injury by taking the Axe for the eighth year in a row.
At 2-10, Jerry Kill takes his team into the offseason and tries to figure out what went wrong.
I like the Minnesota skill set for Jerry Kill's offense. Furthermore, I think Kill's attitude is a nice antidote to Tim Brewster's GO! FIGHT! WIN! nonsense.
I think there might be a very nice future for Kill in Minneapolis.
Unfortunately, I don't like the lack of cohesiveness on the offensive line; I don't trust Gray to become an adequate passer (this year); and while I do think the defense will make palpable improvements, especially in the back seven, I don't trust it will improve enough.
If any of these things do come to pass—particularly Gray's improvement as a passer—the Gophers will have a good chance to reach six or even seven wins. But I'm not going to predict it.
I have Minnesota going 3-9 (1-7 in conference) with a second straight upset over Illinois. Moreover, I think teams should be on upset alert, particularly in the Gophers' late-season games. By that point, Gray and the line are likely to have made substantial improvements.