As much as it pains me to preview the Golden Roden.... err Golden Gophers my sense of fairness tells me otherwise. (I kid for any of you Gophers fans reading this). 2010 was supposed to be a season of promise but thoughts of bowl games were quickly erased as they barely escaped from Middle Tennessee State with a win and lost in week 2 to South Dakota, starting a string of 9 straight losses and leading to the firing of Tim Brewster.
2010 Record: 3-9(2-6) Tie for 9th in Big Ten
Head Coach: Jerry Kill (1st year at Minnesota)
Spring Game: was held April 23rd but not a usual “Spring Game”
Returning Starters: 15 (6 offense, 8 defense, 1 special teams)
2011 Outlook: 2011 starts the Jerry Kill era as he heads the Gophers after being a successful HC with Northern Illinois. I know a few Gophers fans and most wanted the “sexy” or “splash” hire of someone like Mike Leach, but honestly I think this is a great hire for a program that needs some toughness back to it. Kill will bring that kind of attitude and recruiting battles between Minnesota and Wisconsin for O-Linemen should be heated and interesting in the coming years.
With that said Coach Kill used the 2011 Spring Game as basically just another practice session with a small scrimmage. To his credit he is trying to build a new philosophy and break in a new, well not to the program, but new QB in Marquies Gray. He was the leading receiver a year ago and has been a QB in the past, so it's been a nice transition by all indications for Gray, especially since he's got an experienced receiving core around him led by Da'Jon McKnight(48rec, 750yds, 10TD's in 2010) and an emerging Eric Lair(39rec in 2010). However talented those guys are they weren't available this spring and it was hard to get a read on just how well the passing game is. Despite that all indications were that Gray looked good and just needs to work on timing. The running game will be of major interest as that's always been a feature of Jerry Kill led teams and the attitude that he wants to bring to this team will manifest itself best in the running game. Leading the way this spring was Duane Bennett who had the lone offensive highlight of the “Spring Game” with a 60 yard scamper.
Defense is really where this team needs the most work and that remains the case even after Spring Practice. Reports out of the Minnesota media tell us that the lone player standing out on the D side of things was CB Troy Stoudermire. He did have a pick in the “Spring Game” and really pestered Gray and the receivers all scrimmage long. Outside of him there really hasn't been anyone else that stands out from a D that gave up under 20 points only once, the 1st game of the year, in 2010.
Nothing huge can be expected from a team that is really near the bottom of the barrel in terms of talent and will take some time to build that back up. One other interesting note was that on the Thursday before the “Spring Game” the practice was open to Students and before a crowd of just over 500 Coach Jerry Kill had to plead with the students, saying, "We need your help. My job is to come here and change some 30 years. It's not going to happen overnight. But I can do that with the help of students. It needs to be a party, a get-after-it atmosphere. There needs to be something going on all the time in the stadium. If you do that, eventually we'll get the product on the field that you want. It will help us be successful and make you proud."
I do have experience with this as a Cyclone when we had new Head Coach Paul Rhoades come in and he really engaged the Students and is a huge fan favorite for it, helping to get this team a huge home field that they haven't had for some time. Additionally I think it'll be a matter of when not if Jerry Kill brings this program back, he's a very good coach and an even better motivator. But, as always... ON WISCONSIN!