1. Always the question
Any mention of Gophers football invariably leads to Jerry Kill’s health. The Gophers coach has had a much-publicized struggle with seizures, and this season he missed the Michigan game and the second half against Western Illinois. Kill took a midseason leave of absence, then coached the latter part of the season from the press box. Winning four consecutive Big Ten games took the spotlight off his health, but he doesn’t want another season in which seizures force him to leave the team.
2. Rebuilding the foundation
The Gophers rank 27th nationally this season in scoring defense (22.3 points allowed per game), and the defense was a major reason for the team’s success. But it will lose key seniors: All-Big Ten performers Ra’Shede Hageman at defensive tackle and Brock Vereen in the defensive backfield. Big-play linebackers Aaron Hill and James Manuel also will depart, leaving some major holes to fill.
3. Receivers needed
The Gophers’ lack of depth and a deep speed threat at wide receiver were season-long problems. Senior Derrick Engel was largely responsible for making the passing game adequate, but he was lost an ACL injury before the Wisconsin game, one reason the team didn’t score an offensive TD in the final 10 quarters of the regular season. With Engel gone next year, Minnesota must upgrade its receiving talent if the offense is going to improve.
4. Nelson or ???
Philip Nelson looked like the answer at quarterback during the Gophers’ four-game Big Ten winning streak. But that streak was followed by losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State in the final two games, during which Nelson completed only 13 of 41 passes for 160 yards, with two interceptions and no TDs. Such inconsistency could put Nelson in a QB battle next fall with returnee Mitch Leidner and newcomer Chris Streveler, who was redshirted this season.
5. New faces
The Gophers’ ability to maintain the momentum generated by this season will depend in large part on help from the freshman class that was redshirted this season. Linebacker De’Niro Laster, who looked like a candidate to play before an August knee injury, could help ease the losses of Hill and Manuel. Safety Daletavious McGhee is a big hitter out of Georgia. On offense, Streveler, running back Berkley Edwards, wide receiver Eric Carter and 6-9 tight end Nate Wozniak are among those who could help.