Best Case/Worst Case: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Best Case/Worst Case: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota could be poised for a breakout in Year Three under Jerry Kill, who got the program to its first bowl since 2009 last season. Playing in the rigorous Legends Division will make Kill’s task difficult with the likes of Nebraska, Michigan, Northwestern and Michigan State looming, but Kill continues to improve the talent on the roster. Here’s my look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Golden Gophers this season.

MINNESOTA

Best case: Minnesota eases into the schedule with five winnable games—four of which are at home. In fact, the Golden Gophers should be favored in each game—and win each one to open 5-0: vs. UNLV, at New Mexico State, vs. FCS Western Illinois, vs. San Jose State, vs. Iowa. In fact, Minnesota has beaten the Hawkeyes the last two times in the Twin Cities. The Gophers come back to reality the next three games in losses at Michigan, at Northwestern and vs. Nebraska. The Gophers get back on track at Indiana. And Minnesota also takes care of visiting Penn State, whose depth is compromised. The Gophers continue to roll with a stunning upset of visiting Wisconsin in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. But the season ends on a downer during a trip to Michigan State. Still, Minnesota finishes 8-4 and is off to a bowl for a second consecutive season, as the progress continues in Dinkytown.

Aug. 29: UNLV – W
Sept. 7: at New Mexico State – W
Sept. 14: Western Illinois – W
Sept. 21: San Jose State – W
Sept. 28: Iowa – W
Oct. 5: at Michigan – L
Oct. 19: at Northwestern – L
Oct. 26: Nebraska – L
Nov. 2: at Indiana – W
Nov. 9: Penn State – W
Nov. 23: Wisconsin – W
Nov. 30: at Michigan State – L
8-4 overall; 4-4 Big Ten

Worst case: The Golden Gophers have one of the softest non-conference schedules in the nation. Go ahead and pencil in a 3-0 start. A visit from San Jose State—which won 11 games last season–proves to be dangerous, as star QB David Fales is too much for Minnesota. The Gophers dispatch Iowa. But, that’s Minnesota’s last taste of victory. The Gophers fall at Michigan. Since losing six of eight to Minnesota from 1960-67, the Wolverines have gone 38-3 vs. the Gophers. Nebraska has beaten the Golden Gophers 16 times in a row. Northwestern has taken 10 of the last 15 encounters with Minnesota. The Gophers have won in Bloomington just one time (2005) since prevailing in 1985, going 1-8 at Indiana during the stretch. The Golden Gophers have lost the last four meetings with the Nittany Lions. Minnesota has lost nine in a row to Wisconsin and is just 4-18 vs. the Badgers since 1991 in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. The misery ends with a loss at Michigan State, which has won three in a row vs. Minnesota. So, the Golden Gophers lose their last seven games to finish 4-8 and miss a bowl for the third time in the last four seasons, taking a step back from the progress of 2012.

Aug. 29: UNLV – W
Sept. 7: at New Mexico State – W
Sept. 14: Western Illinois – W
Sept. 21: San Jose State – L
Sept. 28: Iowa – W
Oct. 5: at Michigan – L
Oct. 19: at Northwestern – L
Oct. 26: Nebraska – L
Nov. 2: at Indiana – L
Nov. 9: Penn State – L
Nov. 23: Wisconsin – L
Nov. 30: at Michigan State – L
4-8 overall; 1-7 Big Ten

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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