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.

hide

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.

    JOE CHRISTENSEN

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Los Angeles - LP: B. Wilson 7 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Grimm 8
Detroit - WP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 2
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 3 FINAL
Oakland - LP: D. Otero 0
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 6 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: C. Capuano 3
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 1 FINAL
Colorado - WP: E. Butler 5
Boston - LP: R. De La Rosa 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: C. Tillman 7
Milwaukee - WP: Z. Duke 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: M. Melancon 0
Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann 3 FINAL
Miami - LP: J. Cosart 2
NY Mets - WP: J. Niese 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: M. Minor 2
Chicago WSox - LP: H. Noesi 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: C. Archer 3
Cleveland - WP: T. House 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: T. May 3
Seattle - LP: C. Young 1 FINAL
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 10
Cincinnati - LP: M. Leake 4 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: J. Motte 8
San Francisco - LP: Y. Petit 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: A. Cashner 3
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 5 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: J. Weaver 8
San Diego 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(21) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
(18) Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
Miss State 34 FINAL
(8) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(14) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(24) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
(22) Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Vancouver FC 0 FINAL
Portland 3
Houston 0 FINAL
Philadelphia 0
New England 0 FINAL
Columbus 1
San Jose 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
Seattle 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 4
D.C. 3 FINAL
Chicago 3
FC Dallas 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent 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.
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close