Five story lines that could define the Gophers' season:
1 GRAY MATTER
MarQueis Gray wasn't happy with how he played last year, which makes the Gophers happy about this year. The unquestioned leader of the team looks like a far more confident passer, and more patient in the pocket, but now he must prove the improvement is real. Ramping his completion percentage above 50 percent would be a great start.
2 GET A BACKBONE
The Gophers were the second-worst Big Ten team at stopping the run, and the problem began right up the middle. Now they have two new defensive tackles, a new middle linebacker and two new safeties, all with the responsibility of bottling up the run. Show a little more containment, and perhaps Minnesota can cut down opponents' 44 percent third-down conversion rate.
3 SOMEBODY HELP HIM
Gray is the triggerman, but he can't move the ball by himself. Trouble is, the Gophers don't quite know who -- if anyone -- will emerge as an offensive force. Only Brandon Green has ever scored a TD among the receivers; only Donnell Kirkwood has ever gotten into the end zone among the tailbacks. Adding to that number, among a raft of candidates, is a priority.
4 FASTER IS BETTER
The Gophers lacked speed and experience in a number of defensive positions, so they shuffled their lineup to juice their quickness. Cornerbacks-turned-safeties Brock Vereen and Derrick Wells undoubtedly make the secondary quicker, and former safety James Manuel makes a swift linebacker. The Gophers hope they are as fast at learning a position as they are at running.
5 EXPECT MORE
Confidence was a problem after a rough start last year, when the Gophers dropped winnable nonconference games, then got steamrolled by their first three Big Ten opponents. It showed in particular in the first quarter, when they were outscored 106-38. These Gophers appear more confident, but are they still fragile? A fast, successful start, to the season and to each game, would help a lot.