phil.miller@startribune.com

The Gophers open their season Saturday on the same Los Angeles Coliseum field that was the site of the first Super Bowl. And to hear the respect-my-opponent coaches tell it, Minnesota and Southern California might be unleashing quarterbacks just as talented as Bart Starr and Len Dawson were that day.

The Trojans' Matt Barkley is a "first-round draft pick," according to the Gophers' Jerry Kill. "He's as good as some of the guys that came out this year."

First round? Slacker. How about top three overall?

That's the sort of ability USC's Lane Kiffin sees in Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray. He's another Vince Young, Kiffin said, referring to the Texas quarterback who denied the Trojans a national title in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

"A smooth athlete that could really run and make people miss," said Kiffin, who was USC's offensive coordinator at the time. "That was a nightmare for us back then. This preparation for Saturday has been similar to that -- we've got to tackle this guy, gang-tackle. We'll come out with the box all loaded up and stop the run and try to make him beat us throwing the ball."

There isn't much tape of Gray at quarterback, Kiffin said, so the Trojans have been studying Northern Illinois game film, and letting their imagination run wild.

"You can see him with the ball in his hands as a receiver last year, how dangerous and explosive and quick and powerful he is, and so it's very scary for us," Kiffin said. "Here's a guy that people had a hard time handling [when] he was getting the ball six or seven times a game, and now he's touching the ball on every snap."

The Gophers have more experience defending against Barkley, since the quarterback, then a sophomore, passed for 192 yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota in USC's 32-21 victory at TCF Bank Stadium last September.

But that's not the same QB the Gophers will see now. "He got better and better and better," Kill said. "I give him his respect. He's got some nice receivers ... but he gets the ball out quick. Smart, well-coached -- they do a good job with him."

Fatherhood awaits

Gray said he's thinking about nothing but football these days, but admitted that will change at season's end, when he becomes a father. His girlfriend is pregnant with twin boys, Gray said, due in early December.

"Twin sons and starting quarterback -- I say it's a blessed year," Gray said.

The additional responsibility already is having an effect, Gray said. "Being a quarterback, you've got to grow up in a hurry anyway. Now that I have two little ones coming, I have to be mature, be a man," he said. "It's another leadership role on my part."

Etc.

• Linebacker Keanon Cooper had surgery on his sore right wrist last week, Kill said Tuesday, but the junior pass-rusher already has returned to practice and will play Saturday.

• Kill released his first depth chart, with only a handful of surprises. Malcolm Moulton is the starting wide receiver opposite Da'Jon McKnight, and also will be the first choice at slot receiver, ahead of freshman Marcus Jones. Another freshman, Ben Perry, has won the first-team job at defensive end, and senior Shady Salamon will start at safety. Freshman Max Shortell will back up Gray at quarterback.

Of the 69 players on the two-deep roster, 20 are freshmen and 16 are sophomores.