The Golden Gophers (3-9, 2-6 Big Ten last year) have a long way to go if they want to be competitive in the Legends Division this season.
Under second-year coach Jerry Kill, the Gophers return five players on both offense and defense. However any lingering depth issues can be temporarily assuaged with senior QB MarQueis Gray at the helm.
Gray's multi-threat style forces defenses to stack the line of scrimmage in anticipation of the senior's running ability. Last season he rushed for 966 yards and eight touchdowns while also throwing for 1,495 yards and eight touchdowns. Gray's eight interceptions however, contributed to the Gophers -8 turnover margin, which ranked 100th in the country.
The last two seasons, Minnesota has gone 2-6 in non-conference play despite weaker opponents. Aside from two losses against USC -- one of which the Gophers lost by two points -- Minnesota has been defeated by New Mexico State, North Dakota State, and South Dakota. The key to improving on the Gophers' three wins from a year ago will be capitalizing on their out of conference schedule.
Must-see game: at Iowa, Sept. 29
Last season the Gophers stunned the Hawkeyes with a 22-21 victory at TCF Bank Stadium and the Hawkeyes will be eager to open conference play on a stronger note. The game will also feature two of the league's most polar opposite QBs in pro-style signal caller James Vandenberg vs. Gray.
Upset alert: vs. Purdue, Oct. 27
It's tough to call it an upset when the majority of the teams in your conference are superior but if the Boilermakers visit Minnesota and take down the Gophers, we'll give it the nod. Purdue DT Kawann Short, who had 17.0 tackles for loss last season and 6.5 sacks, will give the inexperienced Gopher offensive line fits.
It's a breeze: August 30 through Sept. 15 – at UNLV, vs. New Hampshire, vs. Western Michigan
Another seemingly negotiable non-conference slate would be the Gophers best chance at a second-year turnaround under Jerry Kill. However, their recent non-conference struggles would suggest otherwise. UNLV was 2-10 last season while Western Michigan lost all three games they played against Big Ten opponents last season.
The Gophers' difficult stretch really extends the last month and a half of the season with games at Wisconsin and at home vs. Michigan but the final two games could tap off a miserable season in general for Minnesota. In games against these two teams last season -- both losses -- the score was a combined 72-38.
Aug. 30: at UNLV
Sept. 8: New Hampshire
Sept. 15: Western Michigan
Sept. 22: Syracuse
Sept. 29: at Iowa
Oct. 13: Northwestern
Oct. 20: at Wisconsin
Oct. 27: Purdue
Nov. 3: Michigan
Nov. 10: at Illinois
Nov. 17: at Nebraska
Nov. 24: Michigan State
For more Big Ten coverage, follow Mike Singer and Dave Carey @CBSSportsBigTen.