The Minnesota Golden Gophers football program is entering a new era in 2011.
Jerry Kill is the new head coach, and he has fans and players excited for the future.
Excitement does not bring immediate success, however, and 2011 may turn out to be more of a transitional year with limited success.
Let's take a look at 11 dream scenarios for the Maroon and Gold in 2011.
The kicking situation has yet to be determined for the 2011 seaosn.
Chris Hawthorne, a transfer from North Carolina State, seems to be the front-runner for the starting position.
Whoever earns the job needs to do better than Eric Ellestad did over the past two years.
Two years ago, Ellesatd converted over 76 percent of his kicks, but he only attempted 17 and most of them were from short distances. Last year, he was an ache in the offensive's side, as he only nailed 11 out of 17 attempts, while missing a number from chip-shot range.
This year, the winner of the job will likely have more attempts due to inexperience on the offensive side of the ball. Minnesota's kicking game needs to turn into a strength this season, and an 80 percent field goal rate would be a solid goal.
Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge have had every opportunity to succeed as a featured Minnesota running back.
Both of them have tossed the starting job back and forth like a hot potato. This season, they will provide leadership for the three redshirt freshmen tailbacks in Donnell Kirkwood, Devon Wright, and LaMonte Edwards.
If Minnesota wants to find success in 2011, they need one of these freshmen to pull away as a front-runner for the 2012 starting position. Whether it is Kirkwood, Wright, or Edwards, one of these three needs to push Bennett and Eskridge for playing time.
Not only will this boost the motivation of the two seniors, but it will bring more firepower to the offense.
Ideally, a freshmen will have a big enough impact to surpass 500 yards this season.
Minnesota's pass rush was one of the worst in the country last season.
The defense accumulated only nine sacks all year, despite rotating in a number of fresh players throughout the season.
D.L. Wilhite, a junior defensive end from Kentucky, will look to make an impact this season under Jerry Kill's direction.
Wilhite struggled last year, but is known as a fast under-sized defensive end that can get up the field.
Hopefully, he can provide the boost the team needs to get to an acceptable sack rate like two per game.
Defeating Iowa may have been the highlight of the entire 2010 Minnesota Gophers football season.
The team rallied behind interim head coach Jeff Horton to pull off one of the biggest upsets of 2010 in the Big Ten.
This year, the Gophers will face the Hawkeyes yet again in a Halloween weekend battle.
Hopefully, unlike last year, Minnesota will not be out of bowl contention when they face off against Iowa for the Floyd of Rosedale.
They will likely be underdogs again, but beating Iowa two years in a row could be a highlight for a program that has been through a tough couple of years.
MarQueis Gray enters the 2011 season as the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. He came here to be the face of the program, and his time has finally come.
As a junior, Gray has already had some on-field experience. He played spattered amounts of quarterback the last two years, but featured at wide receiver as a sophomore.
It is clear that he is truly a physical specimen. Gray is the player that everyone watches in warm-ups. His body is built to play football. Still, injury will be a concern due to his style of play.
Gray will likely scramble quite a bit, especially early on as he adjusts to the playbook and speed of the college game from the quarterback position.
It will be ideal if Gray can last the entire year. For those that have seen him in person before, it may seem very realistic to think that he and his 230 pound body can survive an entire season.
The Gophers have a nice mix of opponents on the non-conference schedule for 2011.
Minnesota faces two teams they are expected to beat at home in New Mexico State and North Dakota State. The third home non-conference match is against a solid Miami (OH) team that went 10-4 last season. Then, of course, they start the year on the road against USC.
A prime situation would entail three home wins after a close loss at The Coliseum.
This might be a lot to ask for from a team that won three games all of last year.
Still, it can be done. They have three home games that they will go into expecting to win.
A 3-1 record is not all that difficult to achieve if this team plays up to expectations.
The Minnesota Gophers have only one guaranteed trustworthy option at receiver for 2011.
With the transfer of Bryant Allen and position change for MarQueis Gray, Da'Jon McKnight is the lone wolf on the outside for Minnesota.
Still, there are a number of potential contributors prepared to make an impact for the 2011 season.
Ge'Shun Harris, a transfer from Arizona Western College, may be the most primed candidate to contribute this year.
He is a solid possession receiver that will be a nice complement to the versatility of McKnight on the other side.
If Harris can grab 40 balls out of the air this year, it will be a sign that the Gophers offense exceeded expectations.
Minnesota had a lead against USC in the 2010 contest.
USC then proceeded to return the next kickoff for a touchdown, and they would never look back, winning 32-21.
It was not a terrible performance from the Gophers. This year, playing at The Coliseum, Minnesota would be glad to have a lead at any point in the game.
They need to fight to remain in the game for all 60 minutes. It is the first game on the schedule and a strong performance will build momentum while a poor one will kill every bit of momentum the hiring of Jerry Kill has developed.
A nice goal for the team is to remain within seven at USC. This might be a dream scenario, but fans might say it is not an impossible thing to achieve.
Minnesota has a pretty tough road conference schedule this season.
During the Big Ten season, the Gophers will hit the road to take on Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, and Northwestern.
It is not unrealistic to think that this team can steal two of those games.
Michigan could turn out to be a contender in the Big Ten, and Michigan State is already expected to contend for a repeat title. Still, Minnesota has proven to be on par with the likes of Purdue and Northwestern in the past few years.
They should expect to win one or two of these games. Winning three, although it seems highly unlikely, would put them in serious bowl contention.
We have established that MarQueis Gray is now the face of the program for the Minnesota Gophers.
This could go two ways. Gray could turn all of his potential into production and the team makes bowl games in his two seasons as a starter. On the other hand, he could take too long to adjust, lose his job, and turn into a full-time receiver again.
2011 will be crucial in deciding his fate. Completion percentage is a useful stat to monitor the comfort of a quarterback. A comfortable quarterback can turn a broken play into a dump pass completion that gains four yards rather than an incompletion or interception.
If Gray can complete 58 percent of his passes, fans will be extremely happy with the success he finds as the face of the program.
Most onlookers outside of Minnesota would laugh at the thought of the Gophers making a bowl game in 2011.
However, from everything Jerry Kill has said and done so far, it is clear that he is not going to waste any time. He wants to win right now.
There is no doubt that this team is talented. It is almost as if they already possess the puzzle pieces to a six-win team, but the pieces are lying scattered on the floor.
Hopefully, Kill can pick them up, and arrange them into a bowl-contending team.
It is not beyond practicality. Here is one way the season could turn out:
- Loss at USC
- Win vs. New Mexico State
- Win vs. Miami (OH)
- Win vs. North Dakota State
- Loss at Michigan
- Win at Purdue
- Loss vs. Nebraska
- Win vs. Iowa
- Loss at Michigan State
- Loss vs. Wisconsin
- Loss at Northwestern
- Win vs. Illinois
Final record in this scenario: 6-6. That makes them bowl eligible, and even the casual college football fan can look at this and say that every outcome in this scenario is completely possible.
It may be a dream scenario, but the Gophers have a bowl game in their sights for 2011.