The Golden Gophers went just 3-9 in coach Jerry Kill's first season as he suffered severe health issues. But Kill is back and ready this season to try to lead Minnesota to its first bowl game since 2009. The team added some talent and several junior college players in the offseason and senior quarterback MarQueis Gray has the potential to be one of the most dynamic players in the league this season.
But it will take a little luck for the Gophers to be headed to a bowl game and not home for the holidays.
Best-case scenario: Minnesota has a very forgiving non-conference schedule that could result in four victories, including UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse. A win in Sin City to start the season could propel the squad to a 4-0 start heading into Big Ten play. The conference schedule starts with a difficult trip to Iowa, followed by games against Northwestern and Wisconsin. If the Gophers get out of those games healthy and with Gray still leading the offense, they have a legitimate shot at wins against Purdue, at Illinois and a home finale versus Michigan State – all teams that have potential for quarterback issues. That would put Minnesota at 7-5 and earning a berth in a bowl game.
Worst-case scenario: A road upset at UNLV to start the season would get things off on the wrong foot. Wins against New Hampshire and Western Michigan still look good, but Syracuse remains a tough matchup, even during a home night game. If Gray gets hurt or struggles to improve his completion percentage the offense could sputter greatly and result in a winless Big Ten season. If a bowl berth is the team's ceiling, then a 2-10 finish is a realistic floor.
Most-likely scenario: The Gophers finish their non-conference schedule 3-1 but struggle against several Big Ten powers to start the league season. The team is a lot tougher behind Gray and impressive junior college running back James Gillum. That helps Minnesota earn two more wins during the league season, but it's still not enough to overcome a below-average defense and special teams. A realistic record is 5-7 for an improved team that falls just short of a bowl berth.
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