Submitted by Erin Rynning
Years ago returning starters were largely the gold standard for handicapping early college football. Times have changed however and in today’s betting marketplace there’s a need to go to a much deeper level. The Minnesota Golden Gophers represent an intriguing study this year. They return nine starters on offense – not including highly touted recruit sophomore MarQueis Gray – but just two on the defensive side of the ball.
Last season, the Gophers were positively awful on offense averaging just under 21 ppg which was nearly six point less than what they averaged during the 1-11 season of 2007. Jedd Fisch was the offensive coordinator last year, and it’s tricky to understand what exactly went wrong. Fisch is a young, hard working, bright guy. To me, it seemed that his offense was simply too complicated for a college team to run, especially in their inaugural year. For years, this Minnesota program ran very simple, but effective running plays to beat lesser competition. With Fisher now in the NFL, Minnesota moves forward with Jeff Horton, the school’s fourth offensive coordinator in five years.
Each of the last seven years, the Gophers have returned strong numbers – never fewer than six – on the defensive side of the football. But I think the fact that they all of a sudden bring back only two starters isn’t such a big deal. It wasn’t as if Minnesota had much defensive prowess during a majority of those seasons and we know head coach Tim Brewster has done a solid job in recruiting making this is one of the most talented Minnesota rosters in recent memory. If you have speed and athletic talent, it can go a long way on defense. So the players replacing the starters from last year are in a lot of cases better athletes, which will likely lead to similar or even better numbers than we saw last season (23.8 ppg). And if Minnesota can once against finish in the middle of the pack defensively in the Big Ten, 2010 won’t be nearly as bad as most are predicting it to be.