Things are not looking up for Minnesota this year. Most Big Ten projections have them at or near the bottom of the conference in a year that coach Tim Brewster needs to show improvement. Because of this dicey situation, I spoke with Tom over at the Daily Gopher about what is going on in Minneapolis. Here is what he had to say:
Hammer & Rails: Minnesota was awful running the ball last year, except against Purdue. Should we expect more of a running game once again?
The Daily Gopher: I think so, but I thought so last year and the year before that. In 2008 the Gophers finished last in the Big Ten in rushing. That prompted an offensive system change from the spread to a pro-style offense. The mantra heading into the season was "Pound the Rock". When all was said and done the Gophers actually had one fewer carry in 2009 than they did in 2008. So I expect that will be a priority, but I'm not sure what we will see on the field. By all accounts the new offensive coordinator has simplified the offense and I expect you will see a more ball-controlled offense with more running and a short passing game.
H&R: Most projections have Minnesota taking a big step back after two straight bowl seasons. How do you refute this?
TDG: I'm not sure why everyone is assuming that the sky will be falling on TCF Bank Stadium. Yes we are losing 9 starters on defense but we are also replacing them with guys who are mostly faster, more athletic and were guru approved when coming out of high school. It is not uncommon to see guys come into their own between their sophomore and junior seasons, especially when they were seeing quite a bit of action in 2009. To be honest I really like a lot of our defensive starters, what scares me most is our lack of depth. But the defense will not be as bad as many are expecting. Secondly we have a brutally difficult schedule this year. Our home games are against very good teams and any team we feel we have a fighting chance at beating is on the road (Purdue and Illinois are perfect examples). Coming to TCF is Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State and USC. The schedule is not in our favor. And finally we lost our one offensive weapon that Big Ten defenses feared. That is true but I think you'll see a balanced offense that will do a much better job of executing and keeping defenses on their heels a little.
I realize that this is a much more difficult year for all of the reasons listed above. But this team is far more talented than it has been in recent years and it isn't like we a bottom feeding team the last couple years. Mediocre, yes. Terrible? No. I find it hard to believe we'll drop to another one or two win season.
H&R: Is it a good thing or a bad thing that you have Adam Weber as one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big Ten?
TDG: Depends on who you ask. There are a lot of Gopher fans who feel that you've seen enough from Weber to know that he will usually do more harm than good. Others will say that he struggled last year because of no running game and the worst offensive line in the conference. I personally will take a senior, four-year starter who holds nearly all Gopher passing records as my starter over a young guy who is living on his star rating out of high school. The fact is that Weber was really bad last year and MarQuies Gray was unable to take snaps away from him. Weber isn't perfect and he won't be All-Big Ten but he is a good leader and he will be far more productive with a better run game, better protection and a better called game from his coordinator. He needs to improve as well, he clearly shoulders some responsibility for the offense being so weak last year. But a last place run game and an offensive line that led the league in sacks allowed didn't do him any favors.
H&R: With USC pretty much being emasculated by the NCAA do you still look at that game being a marquee win?
TDG: Absolutely, wouldn't you? This team is still a premier program that is stocked with talent at every position. That win would be a signature win for Brewster who's current signature win is probably beating Northwestern on the road last fall. Hopefully, with the sanctions and new staff they'll still be adjusting when they roll into town and we can sneak out with a big W.
H&R: Finally, do you see Tim brewster lasting another season? What will it take for him to return in 2011?
TDG: I don't know what it will take to stay alive but a disaster season (like 2 wins) will likely be the nail in the coffin. And getting to 6 or 7 wins will likely keep his job. It is that area in between (where we may very well finish) that will make for debate among Gopher fans. Really wins and losses shouldn't be the deciding factor. What we need to see is some sort of progress, a sign that the program is in fact moving in the right direction. Beating a rival would be a great start. Beating someone you aren't supposed to beat would also go a long way towards making people believe. In three seasons Brewster has beat exactly 1 BCS team that ended with a winning record (Northwestern last year). The schedule is not kind so this team will likely not have a lot of wins. But being competitive against the likes of USC, OSU and PSU would be nice. Beating Iowa or Wisconsin would be huge. And getting a couple road wins like Purdue, Illinois and/or Michigan State would also be very nice. I think this team will be slightly better than the pundits believe and I believe Brewster will be there for 2011.