DCfW - Big10 Preview #5 - The Minnehaha Golden Gophers
Now that we have the sentimental part of the review completed, let's get down to business.
Minnesota has followed a formula for its season progression, since Mason took over the program in 1997. This has basically been the scheduling of patsies in the early season, which generally will get the squad to a 4-0 or 5-0 record before entering Big10 play. At this point, media pundits will start make some noise that Minny is ready to take on the Big10. Generally, this will start the tailspin for Minnesota, as it will face an OSU or Michigan and get its ass handed to them. This starts the downspin that generally leads to a Bowl Game where Minny will let down the conference and lose to a team that it should have beaten by about 2 touchdowns(See Virginia).
The one thing you could always count with Minnesota is a stout running game, which in the past has produced Marion Barber, Laurence Maroney, and Gary Russell (if he could only keep his grades up). Last year, the Gophers lead the Big10 in rushing and points scored per game, while only punting 23 times for the entire season.
Last season, the Gophers started off the season well with a 5-1 record and were fortunate enough to finally get that Michigan monkey off of its back. It exploited the chronicled late game displays of stupidity where Michigan would regularly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. However, according to plan, Minnesota would lose games to Purdue, Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa...and eventually lose again in the Music City Bowl.
I have been nothing but negative in my other previews for the first four Big10 teams, and I dont see this getting any better. If you really want to get an idea of the upcoming season for Minnesota, realize that Coach Mason has just moved a 260lb LB to take reps at running back. Oh yeah...good times in the Metrodome are on-deck.
The Gophers will be led by 5th Year Sr QB Brian Cupito, who seemed to hit his stride against the Buckeyes last year, in a 45-31 loss. Cupito finished 5th in passing efficiency in the conference, primarily because of the presence of Rimington winner Center Greg Eslinger and Guard Mark Setterstrom. The offensive line loses three starting lineman for ths year's team, including Eslinger and Settertrom.
WRs Ernie Wheelwright and Logan Payne will give Cupito significant targets, as well as all-world TE Mark Spaeth. If Cupito has a bad year, it will surprising, but the new starters on the offensive line will dictate a lot of Cupito's success this season.
For team that depends on the run as Minnesota does, its running back situation is dreadful. As mentioned above, Alex Daniels (Columbus Brookhaven) has moved over from the LB position to take some reps with the offense. Amir Pinnix was thought to be the shoe-in replacement for Maroney and grade-casualty Gary Russell (Big Walnut), but his spring and summer performance has motivated Mason to open up the competition for the position.
Simply stated...the Minnesota running back situation would be the same as OSU having one punter on the squad that happened to be missing both legs...OMG...Not Good..
Jesse "The Body" can rock, wrestle, and govern, but can he run the football? Glen has Jesse on speed dial slot #2 (Slot #1 is saved for rotating NAIA schools that have an open slot for 2008).
The Minnesota defense was "Hit or Miss" last season. It was very good in some of its games, such as the UM game where they only gave up 20 points and 250 yards on the road. Unfortunately, there were some other games on the schedule (ie Penn State, OSU, and Iowa) where the defense looked very "Sieve-ish" and gave up about a gazillion yards.
Linebackers will be the strength of Minnesota's defense this season. John Shelvin and Mario Reese will anchor the linebacking corps for Minnesota, but will have three new faces on the defensive line, as the only returner is sophomore Steve Davis.
The secondary has minimal losses, but this group causes much concern, as it cannot seem to stop anybody other than Chad Henne from moving up and down the field. Three starters return this year, while a new face will inhabit one of the corner spots. This new CB looks to be freshman Keith Massey, which will make a lot of experienced QBs in the Big10 happy to see him out on an island by himself.
Sieve...it's not only a good descripter of OSU Goaltending.
Two sophomores will lead the special team units into battle this season. PK Jason Giannini was 13-19 last season and P Justin Kucek carried a serviceble 39.4 yard average. Jason should be kicking a lot of field goals this season, if there isnt a suitable running back in the Mason Stable. Justin will probably be able to save his strength again this season...for what? I dont really know.
Season Outlook: Well, Minnesota should start out 1-0, but the issue is the 2nd game of the season against California. That's right California...not California School of Culinary Arts, but California or Cal. This will be a for sure loss. Sorry, I just dont give Minny a chance on this one. Overall, Minnesota should be competitive in most of its games, and Cupito is poised to have a big senior season. However, this is Minnesota here, and the prospect of Minny pulling out a 10-win season are minimal. Minnesota will most likely have to keep up with its opponents on the scoreboard, as it looks there will be a bunch of high scoring games for the Gophers. Without an established running game, all of the teams on the Gopher schedule will scheme to force Minny to run the ball. One more thing...Why in the hell is Minnesota traveling to Kent State for a non-conference game? Must be the big "gate admissions" check waiting for them to help pay for that new stadium.
North Dakota State
“Fa Show” Wins: Kent State, Temple, North Dakota State, Indiana
Could Go Either Way: Purdue, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin
“Fa Show” Losses: California, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa
Projected Season Record: 7-5(4-4)
Bottom Line: There are running game question marks, but the Gophers will still be able to score points in bunches this season. The real question is...Will they be able to stop anybody from scoring. Temple, Kent State, North Dakota State...Man 'o man does that feel like Mason football or what?
Team Song for 2006: "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt" by DJ Shadow
***Update: Corrected a massive typo on Coach Mason's start date. Thanks to "Anon" for the heads up.
Labels: Big10 Football