Gophers junior safety Cedric Thompson grew so exasperated watching Michigan State outplay Ohio State in this month’s Big Ten Championship Game, he took to Twitter with a bold prediction:
The enthusiasm inside the football program is palpable, as the Gophers have improved from 3-9 to 6-7 to 8-4 in the first three years under Jerry Kill. This Friday, they play Syracuse in the Texas Bowl, with a chance to reach nine victories for only the second time since 1905.
The question now is, will this success continue? Are the improved records under Kill part of a trend that can eventually lead to 10, 11 even 12 wins? Kill’s staff and his players clearly believe the answer is yes.
But Gerry DiNardo, the former Indiana coach now an analyst for the Big Ten Network, is far more measured. DiNardo believes that Kill already has the program pushing against Minnesota’s ceiling, not unlike the results of former coach Glen Mason’s tenure from 1999 to 2006.
“Mason was where they are now for quite a few years,” DiNardo said in a telephone interview. “I always anticipated that under similar leadership they could be a six-, seven-, eight-win team.
“When you have your nonconference [schedule] the way it is, you have a chance to win six to eight games. I mean, that’s the Minnesota job — four wins in nonconference and two more, four more [in the Big Ten]. This is the formula.”
But how can the Gophers take the next step?
“I think the equation would have to change significantly with resources,” DiNardo said. “You know: facilities, [more] recruiting personnel, private planes. I don’t think they’re on course to be a [Big Ten title] challenger unless the rest of the West [Division] doesn’t maximize their resources.”
Facilities lag behind
DiNardo tours the entire Big Ten twice each year — during spring practice and preseason camp — giving him a firsthand look at what the Gophers have compared with their competition.
“You can make a case that they’re 12th of 12 [teams] when it comes to resources in the conference,” DiNardo said. “Facilitieswise, it’s not even close.”
By that, DiNardo means the indoor practice facility, weight room and nutrition areas. He said it’s nice for Minnesota fans to have 5-year-old TCF Bank Stadium but notes that players spend about 10 days per year there, counting spring practice. They spend almost every other day on campus in the training facilities, and those aren’t helping recruiting, DiNardo said.