Wednesday is college football's national signing day, and for the second consecutive year, the Gophers have the lowest-ranked class in the Big Ten, according to Rivals.com.
Still, analysts following coach Jerry Kill on the recruiting trail see signs of progress beyond the team's improvement from 3-9 two years ago to 6-7 last season.
Zach Johnson, who runs GopherIllustrated.com, a Rivals.com affiliate, noted that 63 percent of the players in this year's Minnesota class of prep athletes had confirmed offers from other BCS-level schools, up from 30 percent last year.
Wide receiver Eric Carter, for example, picked the Gophers after originally committing to Cincinnati. And quarterback Donovahn Jones flipped from Missouri to Minnesota, according to a report Tuesday in the Henry (Ga.) Daily Herald. Winning those battles helped compensate for the three defensive backs who committed to the Gophers before flipping to other schools -- Nate Andrews (to Florida State), Keelon Brookins (to Wisconsin) and Nate Godwin (to South Florida).
"I don't think Gopher fans expect Minnesota to compete against helmet schools, such as Florida State, Alabama and Texas, to land recruits," Johnson said in an e-mail. "But competing against other middle- to low-level BCS schools is expected, and Minnesota definitely made progress in that area this year."
Nothing will be official, of course, until players send their signed letters of intent to schools Wednesday. This is Kill's third recruiting class with the Gophers and the second that he can call his own, since the 2011 class was announced only two months after he was hired.
Kill's predecessor, Tim Brewster, hyped himself as a top recruiter and lifted Minnesota's profile in the rankings. In 2008, Brewster's first full class for the Gophers was ranked No. 17 nationally and third in the Big Ten by Rivals.com. That class, headed by four-star recruits including MarQueis Gray, Keanon Cooper, Brandon Green and Sam Maresh, didn't produce a single player that went on to become a first- or second-team All-Big Ten selection.
This year's Gophers class has no four-star or five-star recruits. With a smaller departing senior class, the team had only 18 available scholarships after signing 27 players last year. Kill, who declined a recruiting interview last week and can't officially comment on specifics about this year's class until players sign, has said he has little use for the star-rating system. His three recruiting classes at Northern Illinois ranked 119th, 91st and 83rd nationally, according to Rivals.com. Those unheralded players became a big part of the team that reached the Orange Bowl last season.
Kill's first class with the Gophers -- players mostly recruited by Brewster -- ranked 52nd nationally, and last year's class slipped to No. 72. This year's class ranked 63rd, as of Tuesday evening.
"It reminds me an awful lot of how Northern Illinois recruited," said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. "There are a lot of very good athletes that fit Jerry Kill's style of play."
Lemming also said that after Ohio State and Michigan, he doesn't see much separation among the other Big Ten classes this year. Asked which incoming Gophers recruit excites him the most, Lemming pointed to Chris Streveler, a dual-threat quarterback from Woodstock, Ill.
"He's definitely a big-time quarterback with an arm and running skills and could develop, just like last year when they brought in [Philip] Nelson," Lemming said.
Berkley Edwards, a running back from Chelsea, Mich., drew rave reviews from Josh Helmholdt, Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. Edwards is the brother of New York Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards and the son of former Houston Oilers running back Stan Edwards.
"I've been around Berkley for a long time," Helmholdt said. "He has the work ethic. He's a very humble, hard-working kid. He's not one of these sons of former NFL players who think they're entitled. On top of that, he's got a number of tools that make him physically elite. Number one is his speed. He's one of the top sprinters in the state of Michigan on the track, and he's also built like a running back."
Will that translate to Big Ten success? On national signing day, anything seems possible, no matter how a class ranks.