Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, May 19, 2015

Jerry Kill embarks on his fifth season at Minnesota. And expectations are high.

[ MORE: Get all of Tom Dienhart's 2015 schedule analysis posts ]

Kill led the Golden Gophers to a second-place finish in the West and a third bowl in a row in 2014. Last year?s postseason trip was the program?s first New Year?s Day junket since the 1961 season.

Minnesota looks primed to make a run at the West Division crown this fall. But to reach the Big Ten title game, the Golden Gophers will have to navigate a difficult schedule that includes seven bowl teams and no FCS foes.

Have a look at my early analysis.

Toughest non-conference schedule: vs. TCU, Sept. 3. Ready or not, TCU is coming to the Twin Cities to open the season vs. the Golden Gophers. After going 12-1 in 2014, the Horned Frogs will be a preseason Top 5 team led by QB Trevone Boykin, who may be the Heisman front-runner for a team with a machine gun offense that has 10 starters back. TCU waxed Minnesota last year in Fort Worth, taking a 30-7 decision. Jerry Kill and TCU coach Gary Patterson are best buds whose coaching roots run deep. That adds spice to what already should be one of the better non-conference games on the Big Ten docket in 2015.

Toughest conference game: at Ohio State, Nov. 7. Minnesota must put on its big boy pants for its trip to Ohio State. How is this for domination? The Buckeyes are 44-7 all-time vs. the Gophers. Minnesota?s last win vs. OSU came in Columbus in 2000. But since a 1966 victory vs. the Buckeyes, the Gophers are 2-37 in the series with the only other win in that span coming in 1981. Minnesota lost to OSU, 31-24, last season.

Who they don?t play: The Gophers miss Michigan State, Penn State, Indiana, Rutgers and Maryland.

Easiest game: vs. Kent State, Sept. 19. A visit from Kent State should be a breather. The Golden Flashes won just two games last season

Rugged stretch: Minnesota faces a tough four-game run from Oct. 17-Nov. 14, when it plays host to Nebraska and Michigan and then goes on the road to play Ohio State and Iowa. Yes, the Gophers beat all of those squads except the Buckeyes last year. Still, it will be daunting to play all four in a row.

Factoid: Minnesota beat Michigan for the Little Brown Jug last season for the first time since 2005 and just the fourth time since 1967. The last time the Gophers won two in a row vs. the Wolverines? It was when Minnesota won four meetings in succession from 1960-63.

Best chance to be upset: at Colorado State, Sept. 12. Going to Colorado State for the second game of the season will be tough. The Rams have one of the better non-Power Five programs in the nation. CSU will be breaking in a new coach, as Jim McElwain left for the Florida job and was replaced by Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Complicating matters for Minnesota is the fact it will be coming off what figures to be a tough, physical opener vs. TCU.

Best chance to pull an upset: vs. TCU, Sept. 3. Typically, the best chance to spring an upset is early in the season while teams are still taking shape and developing. Knowing that, perhaps the Gophers can surprise TCU in the opener. This may be Kill?s best Minnesota squad yet, led by what should be a stout defense. And the Gophers will have revenge on the mind after last year?s drubbing vs. a Horned Frogs? club that has some holes to fill on defense.

Must win: vs. Wisconsin, Nov. 28. If this is going to be a special season, Minnesota needs to beat its rival when it visits in the season finale. The losing to the Badgers has to stop if the Gophers want to get over the proverbial hump in the Big Ten food chain. Minnesota has lost 11 in a row to Wisconsin and has just two victories vs. the Badgers since 1995, going 2-18 in the last 20 meetings.

Bye week: The respite comes after seven games, and the timing is good, too. The Gophers play host to Nebraska-which they have beaten two years in a row-on Oct. 17 before going on a bye. That will give Minnesota two weeks to prep for a visit from Jim Harbaugh and Michigan on Halloween. The Gophers won the Little Brown Jug last season. The Gophers could be 6-1 entering the bye. A 7-0 mark? That may be asking for too much.

2015 Minnesota Schedule
Sept. 3 TCU
Sept. 12 at Colorado State
Sept. 19 Kent State
Sept. 26 Ohio
Oct. 3 at Northwestern
Oct. 10 at Purdue
Oct. 17 Nebraska
Oct. 24 OFF
Oct. 31 Michigan
Nov. 7 at Ohio State
Nov. 14 at Iowa
Nov. 21 Illinois
Nov. 28 Wisconsin


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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