2007 Minnesota Preview

Posted Jul 16, 2007

Minnesota wasn't really that bad last year, but when you choke away the biggest lead ever in a bowl game, heads will roll. Now the Tim Brewster era begins, and he has a decent team of veterans returning led by pass rushing terror Willie VanDeSteeg.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Preview 2007

By Pete Fiutak

- 2007 UM Offense Preview | 2007 UM Defense Preview
2007 UM Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Minnesota Preview 

Had Texas Tech’s Alex Trlica missed a game-tying 52-yard field goal as time ran out in the Insight Bowl, or had the Golden Gophers won in overtime, Glen Mason likely would still be the Minnesota head coach. The kick was good, the Red Raiders scored a touchdown in overtime to answer the Gophers’ field goal, and the Tim Brewster era is now underway in Minneapolis. 

While many Gopher fans were ready for a coaching change and were waiting with joyful hope for a big, program-lifting splash, Brewster wasn’t the name-brand star expected to take over (that was left for the basketball program). Even so, he might be exactly what Minnesota needs to break out after years of being good, but not fantastic, under Mason.

Head coach: Tim Brewster
1st year
Returning Lettermen
Off. 18, Def. 23., ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 12
Ten Best UM Players
1. DE Willie VanDeSteeg, Jr.
2. RB Amir Pinnix, Sr.
3. SS Dominique Barber, Sr.
4. LB Mike Sherels, Sr.
5. WR Ernie Wheelwright, Sr.
6. CB.KR Dominic Jones, Jr.*
7. TE Jack Simmons, Jr.
8. C Tony Brinkhaus, Sr.
9. OT Dominic Alford, RFr.
10 OT Steve Shidell, Sr.
*Currently suspended from team

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 6-6

Sept. 1

Bowling Green

Sept. 8

Miami University

Sept. 15

at Florida Atlantic

Sept. 22


Sept. 29

Ohio State

Oct. 6

at Indiana

Oct. 13

at Northwestern

Oct. 20

North Dakota St

Oct. 27

at Michigan

Nov. 3


Nov. 10

at Iowa

Nov. 17


2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 5-7

2006 Record:
Preview 2006 predicted wins

8/31 at Kent State W 44-0
9/9 at California L 42-17
9/16 Temple W 62-0
9/23 at Purdue L 27-21
9/30 Michigan L 28-27 OT
10/7 Penn State L 28-27 OT
10/14 at Wisconsin L 48-12
10/21 North Dakota St W 10-9
10/28 at Ohio State L 44-0
11/4 Indiana W 63-26
11/11 at Michigan St W 31-18
11/18 Iowa W 34-24
12/28 Insight Bowl
Texas Tech L 44-41 OT

Unlike Mason, who came across as a corporate, CEO type of coach, Brewster is more fire and brimstone. More rah-rah, more animated, and certainly fired up to prove that he was the right hire. He’s also a fantastic recruiter, making a name for himself among college football circles by being a main force for some of Mack Brown’s better talent hauls at Texas. While Mason seemed resigned to the belief that Minnesota couldn’t bring in the top prospects, Brewster plans on thinking big. If nothing else, Minnesota is undergoing a total change in attitude.

Of course, it’s going to take a few years for Brewster’s recruiting classes, if they’re any good, to make a big difference, and it’s not like Minnesota was horrible under Mason. The program isn’t starting from scratch, so Brewster has to tread water for a year, start to improve in 2008, and hope to have things fully rocking by 2009 when the new open-air, on-campus TCF Bank Stadium opens.

Brewster’s early goals have to be a bowl appearance (a must), a win over at least one big-name team (something Mason pulled off occasionally, suggesting the team could be doing a lot more), and to build expectations for the future. Oh yeah, and don’t blow a 31-point lead in a bowl game.

What to watch for on offense: Minnesota has been a factory for cranking out great tight ends in recent years (Ben Utecht, Matt Spaeth). Considering that Brewster was a tight ends coach and helped make Antonio Gates a superstar, that trend should continue with Jack Simmons and Troy Reilly. Offensively, don’t expect a big overall change from the Mason era. Brewster wants to be physical and run the ball, but he’ll do it with a spread offense that might take a while to get rolling.   

What to watch for on defense: With ten starters returning, experience won’t be an issue. Being better in pass defense is job one after getting carved up by everyone, but new defensive coordinator Everett Withers has experience with the secondary after coaching defensive backs for the Tennessee Titans. Expect several players from both sides of the ball to offer to pitch in to make things better. The coaching staff will be open to suggestions all season long.

The team will be far better if … it wins the close games. 2006 was supposed to be a bit of a down year leading up to a big 2007, and this can be a tremendous season as long as the defense is a bit better, the offense is a bit more consistent, and the team comes through in the tight spots. Minnesota lost to Penn State thanks to a horrendous pass interference call, dominated Purdue in a strange loss, and had a perfect storm of bad things happen in the loss to Texas Tech. Basically, the Gophers were three plays away from being 9-4.   

The Schedule: Minnesota is taking it nice and easy with the non-conference slate, playing Bowling Green, Miami University, at Florida Atlantic and North Dakota State. Missing Penn State is always a break, but it’d be nice to have Michigan State on their Big Ten schedule. There can’t be any complaining about getting Indiana and Northwestern on the road in back-to-back games in early October. Closing out at Michigan, Illinois, at Iowa and Wisconsin will be tough.

Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Amir Pinnix.  After biding his time for years behind some terrific Gopher backs, Pinnix finally grabbed the torch in 2006, running for 1,272 yards and ten scores on 252 carries.  Quicker than he is fast, he’s a savvy member of the Minnesota system, who’ll wait for his blocks to develop before exploding through a hole.    

Best Defensive Player: Junior DE Willie VanDeSteeg. One of the Big Ten’s top pass rushers, VanDeSteeg was consistently in the opposing backfield making ten sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season. With the coaching staff emphasizing aggressiveness, he should have even more opportunities to make the big play.   

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Tony Mortensen and/or redshirt freshman Adam Weber. One of these two has to run the spread successfully. Unfortunately, each throws a good enough bounce pass to get Tubby Smith interested. Mortensen looks the part of the big gunslinger, but he’s mobile and has to work on his accuracy. Weber’s a runner who fits the spread to a T. Now he needs experience.  

The season will be a success if ... the Gophers win eight games. Starting 3-0 is a near lock, and playing North Dakota State, forgetting the issues of last year against the Bison in a 10-9 win, makes it four almost-certain wins. The offense will be strong enough to beat the lesser Big Ten teams, while the experienced defense might be improved enough to beat teams like Purdue and Iowa.

Key game: Sept. 22 vs. Purdue. The Gophers outplayed, out-gained, and out-executed the Boilermakers in West Lafayette last year, only to lose 27-21. With Ohio State coming up the following week, and a relatively easy three-game stretch to follow, a win over Purdue could possibly mean a 7-1 start, if everything works out well.

2006 Fun Stats: 
- Rushing yards per game: Opponents 158.2; Minnesota 154.4
- Fumbles: Opponents 28 (lost 15); Minnesota 10 (lost 3)
- Fourth down conversions: Opponents 8 of 22 (36%); Minnesota 18 of 28 (64%)



Related Stories
2007 Minnesota Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 16, 2007
2007 Minnesota Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 16, 2007
2007 Minnesota Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 16, 2007

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