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2015 season preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers

8/12/2015

Previewing the 2015 season for the Minnesota Golden Gophers:

2014 record: 8-5 (5-3 Big Ten)

Key losses: RB David Cobb; TE Maxx Williams; LB Damien Wilson; DT Cameron Botticelli; DE Michael Amaefula; S Cedric Thompson

Key returners: CB Eric Murray; CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun; QB Mitch Leidner; DE Theiren Cockran; WR KJ Maye; LB De'Vondre Campbell; P Peter Mortell

Instant-impact recruit: Minnesota has done a nice job blending in a few junior college prospects in the recruiting classes to help fill immediate needs. The staff did that once again in 2015 with defensive back Ace Rogers, who was previously at Iowa State. Because of his past college experience, he should be able to give the Gophers help in the secondary. -- Tom Van Haaren

Class of '16 update: Minnesota's 2016 class could be one of the more sneaky classes in the Big Ten. You get the sense that the staff is putting together a group of commitments who could be big-time contributors down the road. With 14 total commitments, the class is led by ESPN 300 receiver Dredrick Snelson, who is ranked No. 98 in the country. The Gophers were also able to reel in four-star lineman Sean Foster as well as in-state defensive lineman Jovanny Garcia and linebacker Carter Coughlin, an exceptionally athletic prospect. -- TVH

Biggest question mark: Can the Gophers' offense keep up with the better opponents on its schedule? Last year's team relied heavily on Cobb, who set a school record with 1,626 rushing yards, and the athletic Williams, who left for the NFL after his redshirt sophomore campaign. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover is hoping a slew of young receivers can make contributions to an often stalled passing attack. The running game might be more of a committee approach, though Rodrick Williams assumed the lead in the race for carries during the spring. Minnesota has also been experimenting with a no-huddle offense, though its bread and butter should remain a physical offensive line.

Most important game: The season finale against Wisconsin. Though games against TCU and Ohio State carry more national interest, the Axe game has been a sword in the Gophers' side the past decade-plus. Coach Jerry Kill has talked often this summer about how important it is for Minnesota to get past the Badgers if they want to win the West Division. Wisconsin has to come to TCF Bank Stadium this season, so it could be the Gophers' best chance in a while.

Upset special: Colorado State in Week 2. Coming off what should be an emotional and taxing opener against TCU, the Gophers have to travel to Fort Collins to play a team that won 10 games last season. Beware.

Key stat: Minnesota allowed only 193.5 passing yards per game last season and has arguably the Big Ten's best cornerback tandem in Murray and Boddy-Calhoun, along with experienced talent at safety. The secondary should be the strength of the team.

Prediction: 8-4. The Gophers have gotten better every season under Kill and could well do so again in 2015. However, the final record may not indicate it, as those games against TCU and Ohio State present monumental challenges. Throw in the program's historic struggles against Wisconsin and the opportunity for an upset because of the lack of an explosive offense (remember, Minnesota lost to Illinois last season and nearly got picked off by Purdue), and an 8-4 repeat feels about right.