I know, I know...the Big Ten aficianados all think these guys are gonna suck. They're gonna be bottom feeders yet again. They did nothing with a cake nonconference schedule last year. They lost to a gawddamned FCS school. (A damn good FCS school...) They've got 11 seniors. They play Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio State on the road. They are coming off of a freaking 1-11 season.
Everyone is now probably thinking either a) I'm on something, b) I'm the biggest homer ever, c) I was in a hole last year, probably on something, or d) I have no football knowledge whatsoever...and am most likely on something. But I have some rock-solid reasons why the Minnesota Golden Gophers have a definite shot at winning 7 games this year, going to a bowl game, and giving themselves a great boost towards the opening of TCF Bank Stadium next year.
If you watched any Gopher football last year, which I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume most of you didn't, except for you Buckeye fans who saw your team pretty much destroy us (While we were wearing yellow uniforms that were nearly blinding) on ESPN. But most of the games played were not as bad as advertised by the record. Six of Minnesota's 11 losses were by a margin of 7 points or less and a seventh would have been if not for a cornerback with butterfingers. The point? The Gophers played very well against the competition, despite the fact that they could not win games. Last season's amount of close losses (Northwestern...Miami OH...Iowa) could have only been done by the Minnesota Golden Gophers. It's just what they do.
What else helps their chances this year? The fact that for the most part, they played better at home than on the road. Excepting the Ohio State and Illinois games, where it really didn't matter WHERE the game was, the Gophers were going to get destroyed, the Gophers had four of their close games and their lone victory at the lovable Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. This year, the Gophers have SEVEN, count'em, SEVEN winnable games at home and two, yep, TWO VERY winnable games on the road. The Gophers start off the year with Northern Illinois, followed by that winnable road game at Bowling Green, then a cake game against Montana State.
The Gophers should start the season at 3-0, 2-1 at worst with a possible road loss, before they face Florida Atlantic in week 3. A lot of analysts have been quick to anoint Florida Atlantic as a possible "BCS Buster" from the Sun Belt. This will be the first real test for the Gophers this year, with quarterback Rusty Smith and a talented Owls team. This is one of the two losses that the Gophers can afford from this schedule, other than the preseason ranked teams, to finish with a winning record.
After the Ohio State game, they have a very winnable home game against a down Indiana team, followed by the Illinois game. Then they go to Purdue, where they are taking on a Purdue team who they always play tough. The Northwestern game is interesting too, because a) Those games are almost always good, and b) Northwestern has a chance to be good this year. They then have the Michigan game, where they have a great shot to take the Little Brown Jug back as the game is at home and Michigan looks like it's offense is going to have a down year. The Iowa game is a probable win for the Gophers because again, the Gophers always play the rivalry games tough. The Wisconsin game would be a great game, if it were in Minnesota...The Gophers are TERRIBLE at Camp Randall, and that ain't gonna change this year...
You may be asking why this kid has these crazy ideas now...and the answer to that is actually fairly simple. The Gophers are returning four key players on offense. Adam Weber is back for his sophomore campaign, Eric Decker is back for his junior year, Duane Bennett is back for his sophomore year, and Jack Simmons is a senior. They've got all the pieces in place to have the dominance that they displayed last year on the offensive side last year once again this year.
The defense was terrible last year. Absolutely TERRIBLE. But they did improve this offseason. They've got their anchors back in Willie VanDeSteeg and Steve Davis, two of the better defensive players in the Big Ten, but now they've added talent like Tramaine Brock, who will step in and be a starter right away and some guys who will be key reserves this year. They've got experience on the defensive side of the ball, and it honestly can't be worse than it's been for the last 12 1/2 games.
There. I said it. Start hurling the insults. Start questioning my intelligence. But when it happens, just remember that I told you so....