Gophers have better team, but face bigger clashes

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 31, 2014 - 11:50 PM

To show improvement, the U must contend with a tougher schedule.


One advantage the Gophers have over last year: Mitch Leidner is the acknowledged starter at quarterback.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune file

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

With a view from atop the same conference, coming off last year’s Big Ten football title, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has seen the work Jerry Kill has done and views Minnesota as another program on the rise.

Dantonio is a no-nonsense coach who doesn’t dish out empty praise, and there was no mistaking his sincerity this week as he spoke about the Gophers.

“The University of Minnesota is one of the fastest-improving programs in this conference,” Dantonio said at Big Ten media days in Chicago. “I think [Kill’s] an excellent coach and motivator, and I think his players love him. I think they’ve really got things going like this.”

Dantonio finished the thought with an upward hand motion, and that’s exactly what Kill wants as his fourth year as Gophers coach begins with Friday’s first practice.

After winning three, six and eight games in Kill’s first three years, the Gophers would love to increase that total again. But they face a tougher schedule, and they need to replace NFL draft picks Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen, along with quarterback Philip Nelson.

But Dantonio referenced something that transcends individual players, a toughness factor the Gophers showed in their 14-3 loss in East Lansing last year — Michigan State’s closest Big Ten game of the season.

“Their tailback did a nice job running the football; is he back?” Dantonio said, nodding after being told David Cobb does indeed return after rushing for 1,202 yards as a junior. “He’s a good player. The offensive line was very physical. They’re very well-coached.”

After spending three years in the Legends Division with Michigan State, the Gophers have moved to the Big Ten West with Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue. Throw in inter-divisional games against Ohio State and Michigan, and Kill wasn’t surprised his team was a preseason pick to finish fifth in the West.

“People look at our schedule, and they probably say they’ve got one of the tougher schedules in the Big Ten, if not the [toughest],” Kill said. “Last year, there wasn’t anybody in the country who figured we were going to win eight games. So you’ve got to continue to earn respect.”

Fans appear to have more respect for this year’s squad. According to the Gophers, they’ve sold 3,611 student season tickets (up from 2,138 at this time last year) and the non-student season ticket total is 28,152 (up from 27,981 last year).

Kill made it clear the goal is to win the team’s first Big Ten title since 1967, and Cobb said the players aren’t joking when they say they can go 12-0.

Last year, the Gophers were picked last in their division but reeled off their first four-game Big Ten winning streak since 1973, including victories over Nebraska and Penn State. Minnesota was 8-2 before the offense sputtered in losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State. The season ended with a thud, as the favored Gophers lost to Syracuse 21-17 in the Texas Bowl.

“Our biggest motivation is losing that bowl game,” quarterback Mitch Leidner said. “Guys have been hungry going into this offseason. We’ve watched a lot of tape of a lot of teams, and we can compete with anybody in the Big Ten.”

So much hinges on Leidner, who started four games and relieved Nelson in six others last year as a redshirt freshman. Nelson left the program in January, decluttering the quarterback picture, but Leidner will need some receiving targets to emerge beyond tight end Maxx Williams.

The Gophers expect another potent rushing attack behind a veteran offensive line. Besides Cobb, they have Berkley Edwards ready to provide a speedy change of pace.

On defense, the Gophers need to replace five starters. They ranked 25th in the country last year in points allowed (22.2), but even without Hageman and Vereen, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said there’s enough talent to improve.

“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t play better this year again,” Claeys said. “We’re going to have more kids this year than ever who already have two years or more of experience. So the depth is going to be there, and we’re getting better athletically.”

The Gophers have four weeks to fine-tune things before their Aug. 28 opener against Eastern Illinois. Then, the difficulty builds with road games at TCU and Michigan and this November slate: Iowa, Ohio State, at Nebraska and at Wisconsin.

Dantonio might be right, and the Gophers could be better, but it’s going to be tough proving it this year in the win column.

  • related content

  • Chart: Start of Gophers football practice info

    Thursday July 31, 2014

    The Gophers will have four sessions open to the general public — practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (at 5:15 p.m.),...

  • Gophers football coach Jerry Kill

  • check them out

    The Gophers will have four sessions open to the general public — practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (at 5:15 p.m.), and a scrimmage Aug. 9 at TCF Bank Stadium (4:40 p.m.). Here are a few things to watch:

    Offense: The biggest questions involve the passing attack. Will QB Mitch Leidner find consistency? Will TE Maxx Williams get even better? Will WRs Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones build off last year’s experiences as true freshmen?

    Defense: The Gophers feel very strong about their secondary, led by senior S Cedric Thompson. Senior MLB Damien Wilson was steady if unspectacular last year. Junior DE Theiren Cockran had 7½ sacks last year, but others will need to help add pressure.


  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Denver 28 4th Qtr 3:14
Cincinnati 30
Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Carolina 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Green Bay
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Denver 82 FINAL
Charlotte 110
Portland 95 FINAL
Houston 110
Utah 97 FINAL
Memphis 91
Toronto 120 FINAL
Chicago 129
Atlanta 105 FINAL
Dallas 102
LA Clippers 118 FINAL
San Antonio 125
Sacramento 46 2nd Qtr 1:18
Golden State 60
Ottawa 1 FINAL
Washington 2
Nashville 5 FINAL
Columbus 1
Pittsburgh 3 FINAL(SO)
Florida 4
Arizona 0 2nd Prd 5:32
Vancouver 5
San Jose 0 2nd Prd 2:54
Anaheim 1
Calgary 0 2nd Prd 20:00
Los Angeles 2
Ark-Little Rock 64 FINAL
Bradley 54
Brown 67 FINAL
Central Conn St 55
Stetson 59 FINAL
Florida State 63
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
Northwestern 63
Ohio 49 FINAL
George Washington 77
Southern Utah 61 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 70
Elon 67 FINAL
Kennesaw St 65
Dartmouth 49 FINAL
Penn State 69
Green Bay 70 FINAL
UC Irvine 72
DePaul 68 FINAL
Colorado 82
Lewis & Clark 49 FINAL
Portland 71
SC State 59 FINAL
Abilene Christian 65
Manhattan 71 FINAL
Fordham 57
Truett-McConnell 57 FINAL
Ga Southern 90
Citadel 56 FINAL
Michigan State 82
Miami-Ohio 55 FINAL
Ohio State 93
Gardner-Webb 89 FINAL
Purdue 84
Idaho 68 FINAL
Northern Ky 81
Fairfield 66 FINAL
Albany 77
North Dakota St 61 FINAL
Alcorn State 50
UT Martin 37 FINAL
Butler 64
SE Louisiana 65 FINAL
UCF 70
Oakland 60 FINAL
Clemson 70
Florida A&M 57 FINAL
East Carolina 75
Eastern Ky 66 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 69
IUPU-Ft Wayne 43 FINAL
Illinois State 68
Norfolk State 74 FINAL
James Madison 71
Binghamton 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 69
Towson 56 FINAL
Navy 61
Long Island 73 FINAL
New Hampshire 72
Northern Ill 66 FINAL
Notre Dame 91
William & Mary 62 FINAL
Old Dominion 69
Liberty 47 FINAL
Princeton 65
Delaware 81 FINAL
Robert Morris 84
MD-Eastern Shore 82 FINAL
St Bonaventure 80
Colgate 43 FINAL
Syracuse 78
Kansas 52 FINAL
Temple 77
Mercer 54 FINAL
Tennessee 64
East Tenn St 60 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 84
Va Military 74 FINAL
Virginia Tech 87
Bucknell 53 FINAL
Wake Forest 60
Alabama A&M 62 FINAL
Western Mich 71
New Orleans 59 FINAL
Indiana 79
Columbia 65 FINAL
Connecticut 80
Long Beach State 49 FINAL
St Johns 66
Wofford 44 FINAL
West Virginia 77
Southern U 66 FINAL
Baylor 70
Chattanooga 83
Char Southern 54 FINAL
Colorado State 75
North Florida 70 FINAL
Iowa 80
NC Central 67 FINAL
Jackson State 64
Rice 72 FINAL
Lamar 79
Central Mich 89 FINAL
McNeese State 56
Coppin State 56 FINAL
Michigan 72
Furman 76 FINAL
Minnesota 86
SE Missouri St 51 FINAL
Ole Miss 82
Weber State 51 FINAL
Oklahoma 85
Grambling St 39 FINAL
TCU 80
Loyola-Chicago 62 FINAL
Texas Tech 44
Incarnate Word 47 FINAL
Tulsa 76
Penn 50 FINAL
Vanderbilt 79
Chicago State 38 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 63
Simpson 62 FINAL
Drake 84
Tenn Tech 81 FINAL
Murray State 83 FINAL
Southern Ill 71
Oral Roberts 45 FINAL
Missouri State 52
Jacksonville St 65 FINAL
Air Force 66
Milwaukee 54 FINAL
Arkansas 84
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
California 56
Coll of Charleston 47 FINAL
LSU 71
North Dakota 54 FINAL
Marquette 67
Northern New Mexico 39 FINAL
New Mexico St 78
UC Santa Barbara 78 FINAL
Oregon 82
Miami-Florida 62 FINAL
Providence 76
Northeastern 68 FINAL
St Marys-CA 72
Kent State 75 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 78
UC Davis 73 FINAL
Northern Colorado 63
Lewis-Clark State 81 FINAL
Eastern Wash 87
Walla Walla 52 FINAL
Portland State 94
TX A&M-CC 47 2nd Half 10:00
Cal State Fullerton 55
Marshall 40 2nd Half 10:07
Nevada 68
Boise State 31 2nd Half
Houston 22
UC Riverside 11 Delayed 10:26
San Diego St 14
Tulane 23 1st Half 6:41
Washington 17
Loyola Marymount 14 1st Half 8:14
Wichita State 24
Nebraska 12/23/14 12:00 AM
Memphis 55
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
Holy Cross 78
Temple 59 FINAL
Villanova 64
Georgia Southern 68 FINAL
Southern U 52
Xavier 60 FINAL
Kennesaw St 61
Eastern Michigan 52 FINAL
Michigan 81
Brescia 56 FINAL
Marshall 127
(21) West Virginia 54 FINAL
Ohio State 96
MD-Eastern Shore 78
Cornell 79 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 61
St Bonaventure 70 FINAL
Georgetown 64
New Hampshire 63 FINAL
Northeastern 62
Eastern Washington 67 FINAL
Florida 56
Rice 63 FINAL
Texas Southern 69
Butler 72 FINAL
Illinois State 60
UC Davis 59 FINAL
(16) Stanford 71
Washington St 87 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 60
Sacramento St 94 FINAL
San Jose St 97
SIU-Edwardsville 74 FINAL
Oakland 92 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 84
Belmont 43 FINAL
(14) Georgia 62
George Mason 83 FINAL
Longwood 61
Kansas 81 FINAL
Creighton 84
Abilene Christian 53 FINAL
Kansas State 68
UT Martin 65 FINAL
Missouri 74
Hampton 67 FINAL
DePaul 86
Florida State 65 FINAL
Tulane 54
Murray State 44 FINAL
Illinois 64
Fla Gulf Coast 74 FINAL
Arkansas State 68
Utah State 58
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters


Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon




question of the day

Poll: What's your favorite Gophers football uniform colors?

Weekly Question