The 2012 Minnesota Golden Gophers football team took a step forward in head coach Jerry Kill's second season in the Twin Cities. After finishing 3-9 in 2011 with bad losses to New Mexico State and also to North Dakota State, the Gophers finished the 2012 season 6-7, losing by a score of 34-31 to Texas Tech University in the Meineke Car Care Bowl played in Houston, TX on Dec. 28.
While the Gophers posted a good win at home against Syracuse in 2012 they also finished a dismal 2-6 in Big Ten Conference play and remained far behind the rest of the Legends Division, not coming close to winning a single division game. Wins against Purdue and Illinois from the Leaders division gave the Gophers their two wins in Big Ten play. That said the Gophers avoided any bad losses in non-conference play and did enter the Big Ten portion of their schedule with a record of 4-0.
Offensively the Gophers are a mixed bag for 2013. The good news is that they are returning their entire starting offensive line and starting quarterback Philip Nelson will only be a sophomore. Wide receiver is a position that is not a stable one for the Gophers, however, and offensively they will rely heavily on how well they are able to run the football in 2013.
Derek Engel, Isaac Fruechte and K.J. Maye will return at wide receiver for the Gophers in 2013. Their running backs will be led by junior Donnell Kirkwood.
Defensively the Gophers will have a secondary that is faster and more athletic than any they have had in more than 40 years. While that sounds good, those who have watched the Gophers try to play defense over the last 40 + years can tell you that is a very low bar to get over. But progress is progress and in 2012 the Gophers more than doubled the number of takeaways (20) they had over what they had in 2011 (9).
The Gophers will also have a stronger and more athletic defensive line in 2013, bolstered by the return of defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman who has not only all-conference but all-American potential. The Gophers biggest question mark on defense will be at linebacker where solid 2012 starters Keanan Cooper and Mike Rallis were seniors. Replacing them will not be easy.
How will the Gophers fare in 2013? Time will tell but while they took a step forward in 2012, they may take a smaller step forward in 2013. Some of their key schedule dates are Sept. 28 vs Iowa, Oct. 5 at Michigan, Oct. 19 at Northwestern and Nov. 23 vs Wisconsin. If the Gophers prove unable to run the football and control the clock on offense they will take a step backward in 2013. If they are able to do so they should finish the regular season with a 7-5 or 8-4 record and should make it to a low or mid-tier bowl game.
The Gophers will open the season this coming Thursday, August 29 at home against UNLV. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 PM CDT and the game can be seen on Big Ten Network.