2008 CFN Minnesota Preview
Minnesota DE Willie VanDeSteeg
Minnesota DE Willie VanDeSteeg
Posted May 2, 2008

Minnesota had one of its worst seasons ever, bottoming out with the worst defense in America, but with a huge JUCO class, some good freshmen, and a healthy Willie VanDeSteeg, the Gophers could quickly turn things around. Check out the CFN Minnesota Preview.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Preview 200

By Pete Fiutak

- 2008 CFN Minnesota Preview | 2008 Minnesota Offense
- 2008 Minnesota Defense | 2008 Minnesota Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Minnesota Preview | 2006 CFN Minnesota Preview 

Patience everyone, patience. Remember why Tim Brewster was hired in the first place.

It wasn't like Glen Mason was bad, he got the team to bowl games every year and came up with a few big wins here and there, but it seemed like the program was treading water and wasn't ever near to making that big jump up into being in the big-time. While he might have still been the head man had the Gophers not collapsed against Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl, the program needed a step back to potentially take a big leap forward.

Head coach: Tim Brewster
2nd year: 1-11
Returning Lettermen
Off. 20, Def. 19., ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best UM Players
QB Adam Weber, Soph.
2. WR Eric Decker, Jr.
3. DE Willie VanDeSteeg, Sr.
4. FS Tramaine Brock, Jr.
5. RB Duane Bennett, Soph.
6. LB Steve Davis, Sr.
7. LB Deon Hightower, Sr.
8. QB MarQueis Gray, Fr.
9. OT Dominic Alford, Soph.
10. TE Jack Simmons, Sr.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record:

Aug. 30 Northern Illinois
Sept. 6 at Bowling Green
Sept. 13 Montana State
Sept. 20 Florida Atlantic
Sept. 27 at Ohio State
Oct. 4 Indiana
Oct. 11 at Illinois
Oct. 18 OPEN DATE 
Oct. 25 at Purdue
Nov. 1 Northwestern
Nov. 8 Michigan
Nov. 15 at Wisconsin
Nov. 22 Iowa

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record:

Sept. 1 B Green L 32-31 OT
Sept. 8 Miami U W 45-313OT
Sept. 15 at Fla Atlantic L 42-29
Sept. 22 Purdue L 45-31
Sept. 29 Ohio State L 30-7
Oct. 6
at Indiana L 40-20
Oct. 13 at Northwestern L 49-48 2OT
Oct. 20
N Dakota St L 27-21
Oct. 27 at Michigan L 34-10
Nov. 3 Illinois L 44-17
Nov. 10 at Iowa L 21-16
Nov. 17 Wisconsin L 41-34

Fine, so maybe the Gophers didn't have to take a giant flying leap back and lose to Florida Atlantic, North Dakota State, and Bowling Green on the way to one of the worst seasons in school history (But is wasn't the worst. Some of the early 1990s teams, along with the 1983 disaster, were in the running.), but Brewster was brought to Minnesota because he could recruit. He has done that big-time, but now he has to prove he can coach them.

Brewster went out and got talents like QB MarQueis Gray, WR Brandon Green, and LB Sam Maresh, who all have the potential to be stars right away, but the big coup came from the JUCO ranks getting instant help for the nation's worst defense with Tramaine Brock, Traye Simmons and Simoni Lawrence all likely to start in the secondary from day one, while 300-pound Tim McGee could be the run-clogger on the inside that the D so desperately needs. But while everyone will be hoping for a big turnaround right now, especially with the new stadium ready to open in 2009, there's one thing everyone must remember: Illinois.

While Brewster isn't nearly as hyperkinetic as Illini head coach Ron Zook, he's not far off, and his program is following the same pattern. Illinois was awful for three years under Zook, and then everything clicked and the team went to the Rose Bowl. While Brewster hasn't recruited as well as Zook has, he has the pieces in place to make a good jump in the progression over the next few years.

As bad as things might have been last season, the Gophers, with a slightly better defense, would've beaten Bowling Green, Florida Atlantic, Northwestern, North Dakota State, and Wisconsin, and possibly Iowa and Purdue. Win at least five of those seven, and it's not a stretch to suggest that with any defensive production, Minnesota could've won them all, and it's bowl time again.

There are still miles to go before Minnesota can realistically think about challenging for anything of significance in the Big Ten, but the team might not be as far off as it seems. The new guys have to kick in right away, the defense has to show up for the first time in a few years, and Brewster has to show that he can start winning, even if everything isn't quite right yet.

What to watch for on offense: The emergence of Adam Weber. MarQueis Gray and JUCO transfer David Pittman were big-time recruits. They were so big that the coach's son, Clint, a top recruit last year, chose to transfer. Even after throwing for 2,895 yards and leading the team with 617 rushing yards, the job was hardly Weber's going into spring ball, and then he showed he was a sharper passer with a better command of the offense. He was already the star of the show, and now he's on the verge of being a special spread quarterback.

What to watch for on defense: JUCO, JUCO, JUCO. For the nation's worst defense, it's possible that at least five instant starters are coming in to upgrade things right away. Junior Tramaine Brock got off the bus and instantly made himself the tone-setting leader of the secondary at free safety. Simoni Lawrence is a top option at strong safety, while Traye Simmons has star potential at corner. Tim McGee will be starting sooner than later at tackle, while 6-5, 250-pound Cedric McKinley will join him on the line.

The team will be far better if … it gets to the quarterback. New defensive coordinator Ted Roof, the former Duke Blue Devil head man, has placed a premium on improved tackling, but the big key will be to generate a pass rush. Senior Willie VanDeSteeg is the player to do it, but he has to regain his sophomore form after playing through a broken wrist last year, and struggling. The secondary needs all the help it can get, so manufacturing a pass rush, even if it means selling out, could be a must.

The Schedule: Considering the problems last year against MAC teams and the losses to North Dakota State and Florida Atlantic, Minnesota can't take anything for granted, but starting off with a non-conference schedule against Northern Illinois, at Bowling Green, Montana State and Florida Atlantic doesn't get too much easier. Payback's a bear with three road games in the first four Big Ten dates going to Ohio State, Illinois and Purdue. The fourth Big Ten road trip is to Wisconsin, and that comes after facing Michigan. Getting Indiana and Northwestern at home should bring at least one conference win, while the Gopher fans have to make sure the regular-season finale against Iowa doesn't turn into a Hawkeye home game. Missing Michigan State and Penn State should help.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore QB Adam Weber. While he's not going to be Tim Tebow, Weber has bulked up this off-season to prepare himself to take more of a pounding as a runner. He'll have more help from a good stable of quick running backs, but in a pinch, the offense will completely fall on his shoulders.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DE Willie VanDeSteeg. After coming up with 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 2006, VanDeSteeg struggled making just one sack and eight tackles for loss. Back to form after getting healthy, he could be the player who makes everything else on the defense work. In a domino progression, if there's a pass rush, the secondary gets more time to work, the linebackers can focus more on the run, and the defense will actually come up with a stop.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore CB Ryan Collado. While there's a chance JUCO transfer Traye Simmons comes in as is the team's No. 1 cover-corner right away, the defense will still rely on Collado to use his experience from getting torched last year to become a better pass defender. He didn't get any help from a pass rush, and he proved to be a great tackler, but the secondary needs playmakers.

The season will be a success if ... the Gophers win six games. Again, nothing can be taken for granted, but the non-conference schedule is soft and home dates against Indiana and Northwestern are winnable. The key for the future will be to get a win from out of nowhere against a big boy. It almost happened against Wisconsin, and if the Gophers can come up with that one win to hang their hat on, the entire attitude of the program could change.

Key game: August 30 vs. Northern Illinois. After losing to Bowling Green in the opener last year, and after finishing with just one win, starting off 1-0 would mean everything. It would allow everyone to exhale and relax just a wee bit, because if the Gophers lose to the Huskies, drastic lineup changes could be made.

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Total offense per game: Opponents 518.7 – Minnesota 407.5
- 4th down conversions: Opponents 11 of 16 (73%) – Minnesota 10 of 23 (43%)
- First quarter scoring: Opponents 128 – Minnesota 51