killThe Gophers football team won eight games last season, including four consecutive Big Ten contests for the first time in 40 years. The offense was ragged at times, but the defense made huge strides. In the hard to quantify “eye test,” the Gophers looked the part of a Big Ten team for the first time in a while. They were fundamentally sound and rarely made those crushing mistakes that cause fans (and coaches) to rant and rave. It made them enticing to watch, if not always exciting to watch.

As such, Minnesota enters a season with honest momentum for the first time in many years. A lot of established players are back — most notably in the secondary and on the offensive line, two positions that have become even more critical on a football field in recent years — and there are legitimate reasons to think that the team can take another step beyond last year’s progress.

Then again, there are legitimate reasons to think this season could take, at least in terms of achievement, a step back. The schedule is brutal. The passing game is still unproven. And even though the team’s depth looks to be improved, it’s hard to know for sure until the games begin.

As such, this season — which begins tonight with a home game against Eastern Illinois — could become a “defining” season in the tenure of Jerry Kill. If last year was the one that brought the program back to respectability, this one has the chance to either sustain, stifle or perhaps even exceed that.

Ultimately, even with a tough schedule, the year will be defined in a lot of ways by wins and losses. Anything less than seven wins is a step back. Seven or eight wins is a solid holding pattern against this slate. Anything better than that means we can start really getting excited about this program in 2014 and beyond.

Our money is on the solid holding pattern. But decades of Gophers history have told us to expect worse … while a few years of Kill have made us think we could expect even better.