Big Ten Football Countdown: No.9 Minnesota

ESPN

Minnesota aims for back to back bowl appearance for the first time since the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

Jerry Kill, in only his second season at the helm of Minnesota, has given new life to Golden Gopher football as they earned a bid to the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas last season, their first bowl game in over three years. Minnesota looks to keep the momentum going as they return 18 starters from last season, the 2nd most returning in the Big Ten. Defensive Coordinator Tracy Claeys worked wonders on defense last season for Minnesota, coaching the 45th best defense in the nation in points allowed with about 25 points per game. An easy slate of non conference games should provide the Golden Gophers with three or four wins, only requiring Minnesota to win two or three conference games to be bowl eligible once again. Although, Minnesota has the coaching and returning talent to post a winning conference record for the first time since 2003.

2012 Record: 6-7 (2-6)

Returning Starters: 18 (10 OFF, 7 DEF, 1 ST)

Key Losses on Offense: WR A.J. Barker (577 yds. 7 TD)

Key Losses on Defense: DE D.L. Wilhite, LB Mike Rallis, LB Keanon Cooper, CB Troy Stoudermire

Head Coach: Jerry Kill : 9-16 (3rd Year)

Strength: Offense

Minnesota could have one of the Big Ten's most volatile offense as they return ten offensive starters from last season. Minnesota returns all five starters on the offensive line, which should create space for running backs Donnell Kirkwood (926 yds. 6 TD) and Rodrick Williams Jr. (261 yds. 2 TD). Philip Nelson (873 yds. 8 TD-8 INT) will be the main main at QB as Max Shortell (853 yds. 6 TD-5 INT) is no longer at Minnesota. Nelson will have a plethora of receivers to throw to including WR Derrick Engel (375 yds. 1 TD), WR Isaac Fruechte (256 yds. 2 TD) and WR Devin Crawford-Tufts (189 yds. 1 TD).

Weakness/Questions: Linebacker

Minnesota could have a slight weakness as linebacker this season as LB Aaron Hill (74 TOT) is the only returning starter coming back. It is assumed that JUCO Linemen Damien Wilson (122 TOT at Jones County J.C.) and De'Vondre Campbell (83 TOT at Hutchinson CC) will fill those two spots. Minnesota will make up for this weakness with their backfield, that returns three starters to a pass defense that ranked 12th in the nation with only 186.6 yards passing allowed per game. Though, in the "rush happy" Big Ten, that almost means nothing.

Projected Record: 6-6 (2-6)

Bowl Game: Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

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