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#52 Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview
Spring practices are in the books and fall camps will be here before you know it, so that means you’ll be getting an early jump on the 2006 NCAA football season. Knowing your teams now will save you time in August, and Met Fargo is here to help. to understand what you can expect this year. We go from worst to first in this 2006 college football preview.
#52 – Minnesota Golden Gophers 7-5 SU; 7-5 ATS
Fargo’s Take One of the best rushing teams in the country could turn into a very average rushing team. Minnesota has averaged at least 200 ipg on the field in each of the last five years, including at least 257 ipg in the last three, but that will change this season. NFL running back Lawrence Maroney, the fourth in the last four years to eclipse 1,000 yards. Fourth on that list is Gary Russell, who rushed for 1,130 yards last season as a backup but is academically ineligible so the Gophers are hurting. The passing game will take center stage, but it’s the defense that needs to start picking things up as it has increased its points allowed in each of the last three seasons. Minnesota has been bowled in each of the last four seasons and it will take an all-out effort to repeat that in 2006.
Returning starters on offense – 6 The loss of running backs is tough to overcome, but the offensive line had a lot to do with that success, and the departure of four-year starting center Greg Eslinger is huge. Two starters on the line return as does Matt Speath, one of the best blocking tight ends in the country, so if Amir Pinnick can emerge as another Gopher threat, things could be good again. Quarterback Brian Cupito will be in his third season as the starter and having improved each of the last two years, he could be in for a big year. He completed over 59 percent of his passes last year after a 47 percent completion rate in 2004. He also threw just 16 interceptions over the past two seasons. His top three receivers are back and if the line approaches the minuscule three sacks allowed last year, the offense could thrive again.
Returning starters on defense – 6 This is the side of the ball that will determine Minnesota’s postseason fate. The defense allowed an unforgivable 29 points last year, 80th in the nation, while total defense finished 90th in the nation. He allowed over 34 points per game in Big Ten action with five teams scoring at least 35 points. The Gophers have returned at least seven starters over the past four years, but only six return this season with plenty of youth involved in the game. The defensive line is extremely young and inexperienced with only one starting back, and he is a sophomore. As many as three sophomores or freshmen are expected to be in starting spots this season, so it will be up to the limited veterans to take over the defense and improve in all areas. However, that is easier said than done.
The Schedule The schedule is extremely tough, but that’s nothing new to playing in the Big Ten. The non-conference slate is a joke as always with games against Kent St., Temple and North Dakota St. The Gophers have to travel to California for the second game of the season, but that’s the only non-conference challenge. The Big Ten slate is as tough as usual with four road losses at Purdue, Wisconsin, Ohio St. and Michigan St. The only safe win at home is against Indiana, who are an improved team and cannot be taken for granted. The other three games are against Michigan, Penn St. and Iowa. That equates to seven likely or at least possible losses, so some upsets have to happen for the Gophers to go bowl. Illinois is off the schedule, bad break.
You can bet … Minnesota will have more passing yards than rushing yards for the first time since 2000 as it will be up to Cupitto to take control of the offense moving forward. He can definitely do that, but it’s up to his defense to be able to make stops, something it didn’t do last season. The Gophers are 0-4 ATS over the last four seasons as a home underdog and they’ll be in that spot when Michigan comes to town for their Big Ten opener. What’s worse is that the Gophers handed the Wolverines a three-point loss at home last season, so Michigan will be looking for some payback. It was Minnesota’s first win in 16 years and could be its last in 16.
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