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Know thy Opponent takeover 2008: Gopher Nation

I know it is a little late in getting this up, but it actually works out perfectly since this is an incredibly busy week for me. Tom from Gopher Nation has been nice enough to stop by and help me out with some answers about the Golden Gophers for the coming season. Later on this week Brian from MGoBlog will be by with some answers about Michigan, and later on Jeopie from SpartyMSU will share some thoughts on Michigan State. It’s time for Tom to step into the spotlight, however, so take it away, Tom.

Off the Tracks: 2008 was obviously rough if you're a Gopher fan. What can Tim Brewster and company take as a positive after what was obviously a step back?

Gopher Nation: I can give you a long list of successful coaches who were highly unsuccessful in their first year. Make no mistake that 2007 was a total failure on the field, but given Brewster's incoming recruiting class and a year of experience in the new systems for returners there is reason for optimism in the future. There are some talented weapons on the offense and a lot of new athletes on defense. Nobody is counting on a Rose Bowl this year but there should be improvement.

OTT: Glen Mason was a lot like Joe Tiller in that he didn't put Minnesota at the top, but he had them in bowl games every year. How much do people miss him after last year?

GN: I'm not sure the Mason/Tiller comparison is apt. Mason was able to take us to mediocre bowls and only mediocre bowls. Only twice finishing above .500 in Big Ten play, with a best of 5-3. Tiller on the other hand does have a Rose Bowl appearance and a Jan. 01 bowl on his resume (Ed. Note: two actually, in 2003 and 1999). He also has gone 6-2 in conference on four different occasions.

I think Mason's mediocrity is missed only by a few outspoken people. Most are willing to wait and see considering the recruiting success that Brewster had in year 1.

OTT: Adam Weber had a pretty good year last year all things considered, but MarQueis Gray is a tempting target. Is there a quarterback controversy in the Twin Cities?

GN: No, Weber was very good as a redshirt freshman and has an experienced senior to back him up. There is little doubt that Gray will take a redshirt year to fill out, learn the offense and adjust to college life. Maybe next year there will be a controversy but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. I will admit that there are a lot of Gopher fans who are eagerly anticipating watching Gray run the Spread, but nobody is clamoring for him to play as a true freshman.

OTT: How tempting is it to have a complete and utter overhaul of the defense after last season? How much did the injury to a talent like VanDeSteeg affect things?

GN: Not tempting, but a necessary reality. There are a ton of incoming JUCO and true freshmen who will have the opportunity to earn playing time right away. I think two new starters on the line, one in the linebackers and up to three or four in the secondary are a real possibility. Who knows how things will shake out but just about every position on the defense is up for grabs in August.

As far as VanDeSteeg goes, I'm sure the injury affect his individual play but I don't know if a healthy Willie would have done much for the unit as a whole. He had a very nice, surprising, 2006 season but I do not expect he will match that kind of production again in his career. A healthy WVDS will be helpful but we need a lot more than that to be a Big Ten caliber defense.

OTT: Do you think the pieces are in place offensively for Minnesota to have a decent season if the defense even shows marginal improvement?

GN: Yes, I think we have every reason to believe that our offense will be able to keep us in many games. The key in this man's humble opinion is just a reduction in mistakes. Critical turnovers by a rFR QB were directly responsible for two losses. Two interceptions in the 4th quarter at Northwestern let them back into a game we were controlling and then six ugly turnovers down at Florida Atlantic cost us that game as well. You have to expect freshman mistakes and they are in the past, but cutting down on mistakes will lead to a highly productive offense in 2008.

OTT: What else has Minnesota fans hopeful for 2008? Is this generally accepted to be a stepping stone to a big year in 2009 when the new stadium opens?

GN: I think that is a fair assessment. After an absolutely disastrous season in 2007 just showing improvement in 2008 will be accepted by many. The bulk of the roster will return for 2009 and that could be a fun year. The schedule plays out favorably for us in 2007 with home games against Ind and NW so there is a legit chance for 6 wins or so. Getting a couple Big Ten wins would be a nice stepping stone towards 2009.

OTT: Finally, how much are you looking forward to TCF Bank Stadium and how will it help the Gophers as football returns to campus?

GN: If you have ever watched a game in the Metrodome you know it is the worst place to watch college football in the country (Ed note: I went in 2005, aside from losing in Double OT it was alright, but not great). Gopher games have no sense of atmosphere, energy or any traditional excitement you get from games on campuses around the country. I get more excitement when I go see a home game for my DIII alma mater. I think the new stadium's value for recruiting is a bit overdone, but it will be amazing for the fan experience and getting the campus/students behind this team again.

Thanks for the insight on the Gophers for 2008. I’m looking forward to visiting the new stadium once it opens up.