- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Minnesota helps kick off the college football season on Thursday. And the Gophers are opening the year in what has become a familiar but unwelcome role: as the visiting team.
The team plays at UNLV on Thursday night, marking the fourth straight season in which Minnesota has begun the season on the road. Only one other Big Ten team -- Northwestern, which plays at Syracuse -- is opening the season with a true road game, while two others -- Michigan and Iowa -- are playing at neutral sites.
Since 2009, the Big Ten has played a total of seven road openers, and Minnesota has appeared in three of them. Starting the season away from home clearly isn't the way the Gophers want to go about rebuilding their program.
"It's not easy," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill told ESPN.com. "Certainly I've talked to our administration. We need to do that. We've been on the road way too much the first game.
"But at the same time, you get an opportunity to spend some time with your players on the road. You learn a lot about them on the road, and you try to turn it into an advantage to where you can get them locked in and focused. Sometimes at home, it's a little bit different."
Minnesota actually played its best game of the first half of the season last year at USC, losing just 19-17 at the Coliseum. The Trojans are ranked No. 1 to start this year. The Gophers won their first games on the road in 2009 and 2010.
And opening at UNLV isn't quite like playing USC. The Running Rebels were 2-10 last season after a 2-11 mark in 2010. Wisconsin opened the '10 season by winning 41-21 at UNLV.
Still, Kill would much rather be opening this year at the friendlier confines of TCF Bank Stadium. The good news is this, as Marcus Fuller points out: Minnesota is scheduled to play its opener at home from 2013-16, all against non-BCS AQ teams.
16hJosh Moyer and Mitch Sherman