Big Ten Preview – Minnesota
Offense – Returning Starters – 6; Key Departures – WR, Da’Jon McKnight. TE, Eric Lair. RB, Duanne Bennett
No other player in the Big Ten may be as important to its team’s offensive success as senior MarQueis Gray is to Minnesota. Last season Gray threw for 1,495 yards and eight touchdowns, and ran for another 966 yards and six touchdowns. At 6-4 and 250 pounds Gray is a load to handle when he is on the move but has also showed improved poise in finding plays downfield when things break down. Unfortunately for head coach Jerry Kill, this appears to be the only way Minnesota can manufacture offense at this point. Around the league it appears that most defenses will be too stout for Minnesota to play straight with, so taking their best athlete and letting him loose to play backyard football is the scariest weapon. Junior college? tailback James Gillum will likely start beside Gray in the shotgun or pistol and is expected to be an improvement over last year, but even so I find it hard to believe that Minnesota will line up against the likes of Nebraska or Wisconsin and push them around. It’s Gray or bust.
Key – Minnesota will not be competing for a Big Ten Championship, so at the end of the day the goal is to get better. Minnesota will be young at almost all positions and should be working towards the future. In hopes of giving the team some confidence going forward, and giving the team some wins in 2012, they will need to keep quarterback MarQueis Gray healthy.
Defense – Returning Starters – 6; Key Departures – DE, Anthony Jacobs. DT, Brandon Kirksley
The strength of the Minnesota defense lies in the second level with linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper; the bad news is they’ll be expected to make a lot of tackles. Minnesota is replacing two defensive tackles off a defensive line that is less than adequate. Jerry Kill should whip the line into shape, but there is a lack of raw talent on the front. The secondary should be much improved with three returning starters, but without a pass rush it will be tough to shut down the opposition. Minnesota allowed over 30 points per game last year, and needs a couple newcomers to step up and improve upon that number.
Key – Like the offense, Minnesota will aim for improvement. As I detail below, Jerry Kill is known for taking rebuilding projects and turning things around. The progress of this unit will be closely monitored, especially along the defensive front.
And 1 – Minnesota brought Jerry Kill along because of his pension for mounting program revivals. At Southern Illinois he went from 1-10 to 4-8 to 10-2 and an FCS Playoff. The same transformation happened at Northern Illinois where Kill went 6-7 in year one and finished at 10-3 two years later. History is the best predictor, but bringing Minnesota along in a deep and talented Big Ten will be Kill’s largest and most difficult project yet. It’s possible that Minnesota won’t be favored in any Big Ten Conference game this season.
Prediction – 4-8 (1-7)
Northwestern – 8-16-12
Ohio State – 8-17-12
Penn State – 8-20-12
Purdue – 8-21-12
Wisconsin – 8-22-12