Last season, Minnesota headlines were more focused on its newly-appointed Head Coach Jerry Kill’s health problems. In the fourth quarter of its second game of the season, Minnesota was attempting to drive down the football field for a game-tying touchdown, when Kill flailed on the sideline grass with an epileptic seizure.
The Gophers gathered only three victories on the season and only one of those was done in a convincing fashion (the final game against the sliding Fighting Illini.) Minnesota was double-digit underdogs in most of its games and that should remain the same in the 2012 season.
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The 2012 Gophers open their season with the easiest nonconference schedule they’ve had in the last few years, but they will continue to struggle against the mightier teams in the Big Ten.
Kill’s first season as head coach in Minnesota was a tumultuous one, filled with medical issues off the field and disappointment on the field.
Coach Kill often compared the 2011 Minnesota season to his first season at Southern Illinois in 2001 (1-10 record). And by 2003 Kill and his coaching staff turned that team into a 10-win squad. The Big Ten will pose a much tougher task for a turnaround.
Kill’s coordinators have been with him for more than a decade with proven success, but the success of this program will still be a few years away as the staff recruits players that fit their system and the previous regime adapts to their new schemes.
Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten in both Scoring Offense (points/game) and Total Offense (yards/game) only putting up 18.4 points and 310.3 yards per game.
MarQueis Gray is entering his senior year and his second full season as quarterback after playing wide receiver his first two seasons at Minnesota. His arm wasn’t very effective in 2011, completing only 50.7 percent of his attempts for eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.
His legs, however, are a very dangerous weapon. He missed one full game and parts of three others, but he still finished sixth in the conference in rushing. He was second in rushing among quarterbacks, behind only Denard Robinson, with 966 yards (87.8 yards per game).
One of the more intriguing aspects of the Minnesota running game is the large amount of underclassmen it was forced to start on the offensive line. These young linemen have had an opportunity to learn on the field while still developing physically. Kill had to use 10 different offensive lineman in the rotation last season. Eight of those return and they are bringing in two in-state, four-star recruits Isaac Hayes and Jonah Pirsig.
Minnesota will also input two sophomore receivers to try and give a jump start to the passing offense. Marcus Jones (recovering from a torn ACL) and local Minnesotan Devin Crawford-Tufts will be the speedy slot receiver and defensive stretching big man, respectively. Four-star freshman Andre McDonald will try to break into the rotation as well.
The success of the Minnesota offense will fall squarely on the scrambling prowess of the 6-foot-4, 245 pound Gray. The Gophers don’t have many athletes on the roster and Gray is the best of them.
Minnesota lost starting seniors on each level of the defense. Up front, defensive tackles Anthony Jacobs and Brandon Kirksey, sixth year senior Kim Royston at safety and middle linebacker Gary Tinsley, who tragically died this last spring due to an enlarged heart.
On the field, the defense was porous, allowing 31.7 points per game and more than 400 yards per game. With the loss of four senior starters, the Gophers will be dependent on JUCO transfers to stimulate the defense.
One local product on the defensive front, Ra’Shede Hageman, is an extremely athletic player that can lineup at either tackle or end. In limited playing time he was extremely disruptive and finished the season with two sacks against Illinois.
The linebacking corps will be shuffled around with senior Mike Rallis taking over the middle. Senior Troy Stoudermire broke his arm last season and was granted a medical waiver and another year of eligibility. He played only in the first four games, but he led the team with two interceptions.
The Minnesota defense will scramble to find playmakers while Defensive Coordinator Claeys continues to recruit players designed for his system. 2012 will be another season of defensive struggles as the team continues to find an identity with the new coaching staff.
2012 Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Futures Odds
Bovada Sportsbook has Minnesota is a 100/1 longshot to win the Big Ten and this should not come into play this season, but there are a few things that Minnesota can do well.
2012 Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Predictions
Minnesota won’t be in play to win the Big Ten, but with its struggles will come large pointspreads in which wise betters will be able to take advantage.
The Gophers will be large underdogs when facing most Big Ten opponents. Be sure to look at the opponents rushing yards allowed to determine advantage when considering Gray’s running ability and the young offensive line. Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue and Northwestern are all on Minnesota’s schedule and all were in the bottom half of the conference in rushing yards allowed in 2011.
Iowa has to replace starter Mike Daniels (drafted by the Green Bay Packers), has only one returning starter on the defensive line, and a new defensive coordinator. Nebraska has to replace Jared Crick and leading tackler Lavonte David. Northwestern will continue to be porous, losing three starters on the line, and will be forced to start underclassmen. Bettors should beware of Purdue as they have three returning starters, including All-American candidate Kawann Short.
Last season, in Gray’s first season as the full-time quarterback, the totals in Minnesota’s games reached 47.5 or higher in eight of 12 games even though the Gophers only scored 18.7 points per game.
For this season, Minnesota holes on defense will allow opponents to score large totals again. Bettors should watch for opportunities to bet on Gray’s rushing ability against weak rush defenses, as Minnesota will be able to keep the games within hand. In turn, watch for opportunities to bet “over” totals in those games as well.
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