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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3 Comments

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Mike on 8/7/2013 @ 9:46pm EST Said:

This is a poor review.

Minnesota is drastically improved from last season. The bowl game showed that the Gophers had taken big steps Last season the Gophers were extremely youthful, and suffered from the most injuries in the Big Ten. This year Kill has brought in another athletic, talented recruiting class, and the Gophers are much better.

Oh, and remember what Jerry Kill has done in year 3 at his other stops?

That’s right he won 10 games each time.

Best case scenario is 9-10 wins/worst case is 6 wins. Book it.

Remember, Minnesota has one of the best secondaries in the Big, and Ra’shede Hageman is likely the best Defensive Tackle in the entire conference.

Andrew on 8/8/2013 @ 2:49am EST Said:

Mike, I am an absolute diehard Golden Gopher fan. I wish I could agree with you, but I really just can’t.The Gophers are not ready to take the next step yet, they need at least one more season. I say best case 7, worst case 4. There is quite honestly no way we get 9 wins, 8 wins would be an absolute miracle of epic proportions. And about our secondary, it was 12th in the nation last year, but it lost a few key players, it will be interesting to see how it does. Yes, Ra’Shede is a beast, but one star is not enough to propel the defense to stardom.

I appreciate your optimism nonetheless.

Ralph Spew on 8/8/2013 @ 11:41am EST Said:

Mike, the Gophers were young last year, but they just weren’t that talented. That “athletic, talented recruiting class” you referenced was ranked 14th in the B1G (if you count both Maryland and Rutgers). Not sure it’s so talented or athletic. That said, Hageman could be great, but they are so thin. One injury to him, a starting defensive back, or another loss to the offensive line and it won’t be pretty. Not to mention there are major holes/questions are receiver and linebacker. I like Kill, too; but none of his previous stops were in the B1G.