- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Most Big Ten teams are on the practice field, and it's football season at long last. To get you ready, we're analyzing every Big Ten team's complete 2013 schedule.
Next up in our series: the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Nonconference opponents (with 2012 records)
Aug. 29: UNLV (2-11)
Sept. 7: at New Mexico State (1-11)
Sept. 14: Western Illinois (3-8)
Sept. 21: San Jose State (11-2)
Legends Division games
Sept. 28: Iowa
Oct. 5: at Michigan
Oct. 19: at Northwestern
Oct. 26: Nebraska
Nov. 30: at Michigan State
Nov. 2: at Indiana
Nov. 9: Penn State
Nov. 23: Wisconsin
Gut-check game: The Gophers haven't won Paul Bunyan's Axe since 2003 and lost the last nine games to Wisconsin by an average of more than 16 points. The rivalry has become way too one-sided, and Minnesota needs to make it more competitive this year when the Badgers visit TCF Bank Stadium.
Trap game: Minnesota has no business losing to a downtrodden program like New Mexico State at this point in Jerry Kill's tenure. But the game is, for some odd reason, on the road, and the atmosphere might not exactly resemble the Super Bowl. While the Gophers should have a big edge in talent, we can't forget that they lost to New Mexico State at home two years ago.
Snoozer: Western Illinois isn't just an FCS team -- it's a bad one. The Leathernecks averaged fewer than 10 points per game last year. The tailgating will be more interesting than the game for this one.
Noncon challenge: Don't sleep on that San Jose State game. The Spartans won 11 games and finished No. 21 last season, and they've got a potential NFL first-rounder in quarterback David Fales. Despite changing coaches in the offseason, San Jose State can still give Minnesota a lot of trouble.
Telltale stretch: The first four games of Big Ten play should tell us whether the Gophers are ready to take a step up this season. It begins with a visit from Iowa in the Floyd of Rosedale game and continues with difficult road games at Michigan and Northwestern. Minnesota closes out October with a visit from Nebraska. By then, we should know whether Kill's team is a Legends contender or pretender.
Analysis: This looks like a schedule designed to get Minnesota back to a bowl game, but six wins aren't guaranteed. And the Gophers have some major work to do if they want this to be a breakout year. A 4-0 nonconference mark for the second straight year is quite possible if they can hold off San Jose State at home. Kill has said his team needs to score a marquee win this year, and there are opportunities galore in the conference schedule. Missing Ohio State on the crossover schedule is nice, but going to Indiana may be harder than it appears, and Penn State and Wisconsin will make formidable visiting opponents. Minnesota will likely have to handle Indiana and Iowa and then pull off at least one major upset to get past the six-win mark.
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