Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Second-half outlook: Minnesota
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Remaining schedule: at Ohio State, vs. Michigan State, vs. Illinois, vs. South Dakota State, at Iowa
There should be a strong sense of urgency for Tim Brewster's squad in the second half. Minnesota is the Big Ten's most experienced team, and the Gophers will lose their best offensive player (wide receiver Eric Decker) and their terrific linebacking corps (Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett and Simoni Lawrence) after the season. So it's critical that the Gophers get back to the postseason and finish stronger than they did last year, when they dropped their final six games. The defense has made obvious progress, and all three linebackers rank among the league's top 15 tacklers. Minnesota must do a much better job of getting off the field as it ranks last in the Big Ten in third-down defense (50.9 percent). But the offense is certainly the top priority as the Gophers try to establish some consistency from their running backs as well as quarterback Adam Weber. The system is no longer new, and Minnesota needs its offensive line to step up and create room for Kevin Whaley, DeLeon Eskridge and Duane Bennett. The Gophers also need to take care of business at home, given their tough road slate.
Best-case scenario: The offense starts to click, holes open in the running game and Weber recaptures the form he showed at times the past two seasons. Minnesota sweeps its three home games and manages to pull a big road upset to finish 8-4 and reach a warm-weather bowl game in Texas or Florida.
Worst-case scenario: Weber continues to struggle and the run game never gets going as opposing defenses do everything they can to take Decker out of the equation. The defense doesn't improve on third down and begins to get tired down the stretch. Minnesota drops its final four Big Ten games and misses the postseason at 5-7.
Prediction: Bowl game. Minnesota finishes 6-6 or 7-5.