Minnesota Preview 2006

Posted Aug 6, 2006

Minnesota head coach Glen Mason got the contract extension after it turned into an issue late last year, an on-campus open air stadium is finally being built, and the program has gone to four straight bowl games. So why does it feel like something's missing?

Offense | Defense | Depth Chart | Further Analysis

Two years removed from a ten-win season that was supposed to be the stepping stone in the Mason era, the program didn't take advantage of the momentum and despite returning 16 starters, appears in for a bit of a rough year.

Where are the stars? There are some nice players to get excited about like defensive end Steve Davis, receiver Ernie Wheelwright, and All-America caliber tight end Matt Spaeth, but overall, there aren't enough horses to realistically dream about a Big Ten title unless some crazy things happen and all the breaks fall the right way.

Yes, the offense will be effective like always. There might not be a Marion Barber III or Laurence Maroney running the ball, or even a Gary Russell, but you could be a threat for 1,000 yards in this attack. Minnesota has the best game going in college football right now when it comes to offensive line play and running the ball. While there have been some talented players in the mix, it's not like the Gophers have had a who's who of prep All-Americans and yet they still can run the ball on just about anyone. After paving the way for 3,277 rushing yards, 34 touchdowns, and allowing a mere three sacks, it's time to give the Minnesota system and the O line its due.

Head coach: Glen Mason
10th year: 58-50
21st year overall :117-114-1
Returning Lettermen
Off. 12, Def. 15., ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best UM Players
1. TE Matt Spaeth, Sr. 
2. DE Steve Davis, Soph.
3. RB Amir Pinnix, Jr.
4. QB Bryan Cupito, Sr.
C Tony Brinkhaus, Jr.
6. OT Joe Ainsile, Sr.
7. SS Dominic Jones, Soph.
8. LB John Shelvin, Jr.
9. WR Ernie Wheelwright, Jr.
10. WR Logan Payne, Sr.

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 5-7

8/31 at Kent State
9/9 at California
9/16 Temple
9/23 at Purdue
9/30 Michigan
10/7 Penn State
10/14 at Wisconsin
10/21 North Dakota State
10/28 at Ohio State
11/4 Indiana
11/11 at Michigan State
11/18 Iowa

2005 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2005 Record: 7-5

Preview 2005 predicted wins

9/3 at Tulsa W 41-10
9/10 Colorado State W 56-24
9/17 Florida Atlantic W 46-7
9/24 Purdue W 42-35 2OT
10/1 at Penn State  L 44-14
10/8 at Michigan W 23-20
10/15 Wisconsin  L 38-34
10/29 Ohio State L 45-31
11/5 at Indiana W 42-21
11/12 Michigan State W 41-18
11/19 at Iowa L 52-28
12/30 Music City Bowl
Virginia L 34-31

However, the defense continues to be a big issue. It simply hasn't had the talent to come through with the big stop needed in key games against top teams, and when the floodgates open up, like they did in the loss to Iowa and Penn State last year, Minnesota can look downright awful.

This year's team has a nice starting 11 on both sides of the ball with just enough experience and skill to get back to a bowl game if everyone plays as expected, but there isn't enough depth and, not to beat this into the ground, a lack of big-time playmakers, especially on defense. The D line isn't all that big, the back seven isn't all that fast, and the overall defensive athleticism is lacking compared to other Big Ten teams.

On offense, Amir Pinnix is the main man with Russell out after problems with the academic side of the college life. Bryan Cupito is a solid, veteran quarterback who'll be better than anyone will give him credit for. The offense will put up numbers, but it's not an attack equipped for the firefights it'll get into with some of the top teams.

Mason and his staff are going to get the most out of this group, but after nine years, the fan base is ready for more. Playing in a pro town like the Gophers do, there are expectations for success. This isn't going to be the year Mason gets the team to a top bowl, but a fifth straight post-season appearance would be nothing to sneer at.

The Schedule: The non-conference schedule would be a total joke if it wasn't for the tremendous test at California sandwiched in between scrimmages against Kent State and Temple. The Big Ten schedule could be tougher than it might look if Michigan State and Purdue rebound and really are better than last year. Going on the road to face Wisconsin and Ohio State are brutal, while a stretch of Michigan, Penn State, and the trip to Madison will make the North Dakota State game a godsend. The Gophers get a bad break by missing Illinois and Northwestern.

Best Offensive Player: Senior TE Matt Spaeth. He might not catch enough passes to be a serious Mackey Award candidate, but there are few better blocking tight ends. The 6-6, 270-pound senior has the hands to be used more in the passing attack.

Best Defensive Player: Sophomore DE Steve Davis. While he's a bit undersized at 6-2 and 230 pounds, the outside linebacker/end will be the team's top pass rusher. He had a strong first season as one of the few bright spots when it came to getting into the backfield, and he'll have to be even better this year as the only returning starter up front.

Key player to a successful season: Junior RB Amir Pinnix. With Laurence Maroney leaving school early to be an NFL first round pick, and Gary Russell having a problem getting to class, Pinnix will be the main man in the high-octane Gopher running attack. He has the quickness and the trust of the coaching staff, but he'll have to prove he can be durable enough to carry the offense.

The season will be a success if ... Minnesota wins seven games and goes to another bowl. There are enough layups to have a nice base of four wins, and then there need to be some home upsets and an upset on the road at someplace like Purdue or Michigan State.

Key game: Nov. 18 vs. Iowa. No matter how good the Gophers have been in recent years, the regular season has ended on a sour note against the Hawkeyes. With five straight losses in the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy, bottoming out with a 52-28 loss in Iowa City last year, Minnesota needs to come up with the win in the dome.

2005 Fun Stats: 
- Sacks: Minnesota 15 for 83 yards - Opponents 3 for 17 yards
- Minnesota opponent first quarter scoring: 58 - Minnesota opponent fourth quarter scoring: 116
- Minnesota rushing attempts: 610. Lost fumbles, 6

The Last Time Minnesota…
…played in a bowl game…2005 (Music City Bowl vs. Virginia)
…missed a bowl game…2001
…pitched a shutout…2004 (Illinois)
…was shutout…1997 (Iowa)
…scored 50 points…2005 (Colorado State)
…went undefeated…1941
…won a conference title…1967 (share, Big Ten)
…had a 3,000-yard passer…never
…had a 1,000-yard rusher…2005 (Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell)
…had a 1,000-yard receiver…2000 (Ron Johnson)
…had a first-round draft choice…2005 (RB Laurence Maroney)

Related Stories
Minnesota Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 6, 2006
Minnesota Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 6, 2006
Minnesota Preview 2006 - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 6, 2006

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