Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 26, 2015

Minnesota is one of the Big Ten?s fast-rising programs as Jerry Kill enters his fifth season on the job.

[ MORE: Minnesota team homepage | 2014 Minnesota stats ]

The Golden Gophers are coming off consecutive eight-win seasons with a second-place finish in 2014. Kill will be looking to take the program to an even higher level in 2015.

And he?ll have some talent to work with, including on offense quarterback Mitch Leidner, some emerging receivers (KJ Maye) and three linemen led by tackle Josh Campion. Corners Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray, end Thieren Cockran, tackle Steven Richardson and linebacker De?Vondre Campbell top the veterans back on defense. Stud punter Peter Mortell also is returning after earning consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors.

But some key players are gone, including defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli and center Tommy Olson.

[ MORE: View all of Tom Dienhart's players to replace in 2015 posts ]

Here?s a look at the Top Five Minnesota players who must be replaced.

RB David Cobb. He was a franchise player and workhorse who ran 314 times for 1,626 yards-both school single-season records–in 2014. Cobb?s 2,893 career rushing yards rank seventh all-time in program history. He was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten pick last season in a league loaded with great running backs.

G Zac Epping. He started 47 straight games, helping Minnesota rush for 2,801 yards (215.5 ypg, 6th in Big Ten) and 32 TDs last season. Epping was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media and a second-team choice by the coaches.

S Cedric Thompson. The leader of an underrated defense, Thompson had a knack for making big plays. He was second on the team with 83 tackles to go along with 3.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions.

TE Maxx Williams. He opted to turn pro after playing just two seasons, earning Big Ten Tight End of the Year honors as a redshirt sophomore. Williams led the team in receptions (36), receiving yards (569), receiving touchdowns (8) and was fourth in yards-per-reception (15.8). His 569 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns were a single-season record for a Minnesota tight end. No one will forget him hurdling a Missouri defender in the Citrus Bowl.

LB Damien Wilson. He paced the team with 119 tackles (most tackles by a Gopher since Kim Royston made 123 in 2011) and led Minnesota with 10.5 tackles for loss and tied for the team lead with 4.0 sacks. The former JC transfer was first-team All-Big Ten by the media and second team by the coaches.

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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