Jerry Kill believes this will be his best team in four years with the Gophers, but he also knows this will be his team’s toughest schedule in that span, too.

In his annual preview magazine, Phil Steele ranks each team’s schedule difficulty based on each opponent’s projected strength. So even though Texas Christian finished 4-8 last year, Steele expects a bounce-back season for the Horned Frogs and thus a difficult road challenge for the Gophers.

Steele ranked the Gophers’ schedule as the 22nd-toughest in the nation, up from 53rd last year. The Gophers went 4-0 in nonconference play the past two years, but that won’t be easy this time.

October brings Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois — teams that combined to go 2-22 in Big Ten play last year. But then comes November — Iowa, Ohio State, at Nebraska and at Wisconsin. Those four combined to go 24-9 in the Big Ten last year.

The Gophers likely will be favored in six games, as they were last season when they pulled three upsets (Northwestern, Nebraska and Indiana) and lost as a favorite to Syracuse, finishing 8-5. A closer look at this year’s slate, with my projected point spreads and each game’s upset potential:

Eastern Illinois, Aug. 28

Projected line: Gophers by 17

Chance for upset: Low

About the Panthers: They went 12-2 last year, clobbering San Diego State but losing to Towson in the FCS quarterfinals. But they lost quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who got drafted by the Patriots after breaking Tony Romo’s school passing records. And coach Dino Babers left for Bowling Green, replaced by Kim Dameron. Still, Eastern Illinois should be tougher than the Gophers’ two previous FCS foes. The Gophers whipped New Hampshire 44-7 in 2012 and beat Western Illinois 29-12 last year.

Middle Tennessee State, Sept. 6

Projected line: Gophers by 13

Chance for upset: Low

About the Blue Raiders: They went 8-5 last year and lost to Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl. MTSU is picked to finish second behind Marshall in Conference USA. Quarterback Logan Kilgore graduated after setting the school record for touchdown passes, leaving a three-man battle for this year’s starting job. Ninth-year coach Rick Stockstill has put together back-to-back eight-win seasons. The Blue Raiders defeated Marshall last year and Georgia Tech in 2012.

at Texas Christian, Sept. 13

Projected line: TCU by 6

Chance for upset: High

About the Horned Frogs: TCU went 2-7 in Big 12 play last year, but four of those losses — including to Baylor and Oklahoma — came by a combined 11 points. Gary Patterson’s teams play great defense, but preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields transferred after an alleged assault. The offense sputtered last year. Trevone Boykin and Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel are battling for the QB job.

San Jose State, Sept. 20

Projected line: Gophers by 9

Chance for upset: Low

About the Spartans: The Gophers beat San Jose State 43-24 last year at home. San Jose State finished 6-6 after knocking off then-No. 16 Fresno State. The Spartans must replace prolific quarterback David Fales (a sixth-round draft pick of the Bears) and standout receivers Chandler Jones and Noel Grigsby. The Spartans face Auburn on Sept. 6 and have a bye week before facing the Gophers. Spartans players should be more comfortable with coach Ron Caragher in his second year.

at Michigan, Sept. 27

Projected line: Michigan by 13

Chance for upset: High

About the Wolverines: Michigan has won 22 of 23 meetings against the Gophers, with the lone loss coming at the Big House in 2005. Even last year, when the Gophers had comparable skill, Michigan won 42-13. But Michigan is trending backward under Brady Hoke, whose teams have finished 11-2, 8-5 and 7-6. He hired offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier from Alabama, but the Wolverines had a woeful running game last year, and quarterback Devin Gardner can be a turnover machine.

Northwestern, Oct. 11

Projected line: Gophers by 3

Chance for upset: High

About Northwestern: The Wildcats were 10-3 two years ago and 4-0 last year before losing a heartbreaker to Ohio State. Then, things spiraled into a 5-7 finish. Quarterback Kain Colter graduated, and the Wildcats are less dynamic with Trevor Siemian. The Gophers began last year’s turnaround with a 20-17 victory at Northwestern, but the Wildcats have won three in a row at Minnesota. Former All-America RB Venric Mark is back after a medical redshirt year, although he was suspended for the first two games.

Purdue, Oct. 18

Projected line: Gophers by 10

Chance for upset: Low

About the Boilermakers: Second-year coach Darrell Hazell is well-respected, but Purdue went 1-11 overall and 0-8 in the Big Ten last season. Sophomore QB Danny Etling was a consensus four-star recruit who started seven games for Purdue last year as a true freshman. Running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert are big-play threats. The Gophers should control the line of scrimmage, offensively and defensively. Purdue ranked 114th in the FBS last year in rushing defense.

at Illinois, Oct. 25

Projected line: Gophers by 4

Chance for upset: Medium

About the Fighting Illini: The Illini improved from 2-10 to 4-8 last year, but third-year coach Tim Beckman is 1-15 in the Big Ten and has growing doubters. Illinois must replace quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and leading tackler Jonathan Brown. QB Wes Lunt, a transfer from Oklahoma State, could be a good fit in offensive coordinator Bill Cubit’s scheme, and running back Josh Ferguson is dangerous as a runner and receiver. Illinois ranked 116th in the FBS in rushing defense last year. The Gophers haven’t lost in Champaign since 2001.

Iowa, Nov. 8

Projected line: Iowa by 7

Chance for upset: Medium

About the Hawkeyes: Iowa improved from 4-8 to 8-5 last year and played Louisiana State tough in the Outback Bowl. Iowa lost three senior linebackers, but much of the team returns. With a soft schedule, the Hawkeyes could be 8-0 heading into this rivalry battle. The Gophers upset the Hawkeyes in 2010 and 2011. But Minnesota was 4-0 heading into its past two meetings with Iowa, and the Hawkeyes won those two games by a combined score of 54-20.

Ohio State, Nov. 15

Projected line: Ohio State by 16

Chance for upset: Low

About the Buckeyes: The Buckeyes are 24-0 in regular-season games under Urban Meyer but closed last season with losses to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Braxton Miller is back at quarterback, and the Buckeyes have a terrific defensive line. The Buckeyes must replace running back Carlos Hyde, linebacker Ryan Shazier and four offensive line starters. This could be a trap game after their Nov. 8 rematch with Michigan State, but Minnesota is 2-36 against Ohio State since 1969.

at Nebraska. Nov. 22

Projected line: Nebraska by 9

Chance for upset: Medium

About Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have lost four games in each of Bo Pelini’s six seasons. Longtime QB Taylor Martinez is gone, but RB Ameer Abdullah, DE Randy Gregory and WR Kenny Bell are back. Last year, as a redshirt freshman, Tommy Armstrong Jr. went 7-1 as the starting quarterback. The Gophers defeated Nebraska last year for the first time since 1960, but the Cornhuskers usually are much tougher in Lincoln. Their defense should be better this year, though injuries are mounting.

at Wisconsin, Nov. 29

Projected line: Badgers by 15

Chance for upset: Medium

About the Badgers: Wisconsin went 9-4 in its first year under Gary Andersen and must replace eight starters on defense, including Chris Borland and Beau Allen. The Badgers should have the Big Ten’s best running attack, with Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement working behind an experienced offensive line. With more offense, the Gophers could have won Paul Bunyan’s Axe last November at home, but they haven’t defeated Wisconsin at Camp Randall since 1994.