Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, December 23, 2013

Minnesota was one of the best stories in the nation in 2013, showing resiliency in the face of adversity as the team dealt with health issues to Jerry Kill that forced him to leave the program at one point. The reins were handed to defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who thrived as the acting head coach in keeping the team on course with Kill tending to the seizures that are brought on by his epilepsy.

When Kill returned, he worked from the press box on game days. And behind a tough, physical offense and improved defense, the Gophers kept winning en route to a second bowl appearance in succession.

The eight victories are the most for the program since it won 10 in 2003 under Glen Mason. And just think: most picked Minnesota to finish last in the Legends Division. Amazing.

[ MORE: Final B1G standings | Minnesota's 2013 results | 2013 stats ]

Record: 8-4 overall; 4-4 Big Ten

Bowl: Texas Bowl vs. Syracuse

High point: Want a signature win? Minnesota's 34-23 win over Nebraska was exactly that. The victory snapped a 16-game losing streak vs. the Huskers and was the Gophers' first in the series since 1960. Want more? The win made Minnesota bowl eligible for the second consecutive season, and still with four games remaining on the slate. Another great moment: Minnesota's 24-10 victory over Penn State, marking the team's fourth Big Ten victory in a row, a feat the program last achieved in 1973.

[ MORE: See all of Dienhart's 2013 Big Ten season reviews ]

Low point: Jerry Kill suffered a seizure Saturday morning, Oct. 5, which is when he planned to travel to Michigan to coach. Alas, Kill remained in the Twin Cities and the Gophers got drubbed, 42-13, by the Wolverines in the battle for the Little Brown Jug. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys assumed command of the team. It was Kill?s fifth game-day seizure in three seasons at Minnesota, and the second of 2013. He did not coach the second half vs. Western Illinois on Sept. 14, the third game he wasn't able to finish because of a seizure. Kill returned for the next two games. The loss in Ann Arbor was the second in a row for Minnesota after a 4-0 start. And now the status of Kill was unknown. What direction would the team go?

Offensive MVP: RB David Cobb. He began the season as the third-stringer but got a chance to excel when injuries struck Donnell Kirkwood (ankle) and Rodrick Williams (toe). The junior became one of the Big Ten?s most underrated backs, running 219 times for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns to become the program?s first 1,000-yard rusher since Amir Pinnix in 2006. Cobb eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark six times, including in five of the last six games.

Defensive MVP: T Ra?Shede Hageman. The giant Hageman (6-6, 311 pounds) eschewed the NFL to return for his senior season. And, it paid off. Hageman earned All-Big Ten honors, notching 11 tackles for loss and nine passes defensed (a high number for a DT) for a Golden Gophers defense that was No. 5 in the Big Ten in scoring (22.3 ppg). Not bad for a guy who arrived on campus as a tight end.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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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