By Mike Gallagher
68 teams, 34 bowls, lots and lots of corporate sponsorships and money being thrown around.
Clearly, college football has gotten money-based to the point of any true sports fan being nauseated, as more than half of FBS teams make it to a bowl.
Obviously this makes for a lot of meaningless football, and December 31st’s Insight Bowl was, without a doubt, no exception.
Minnesota’s 14-13 loss to upstart Iowa State, however, did help re-affirm the question marks that some supporters had coming into the game.
But instead of throwing everyone from head coach Tim Brewster to freshman 6th string cornerback Lucas Duppler under the bus, because it is extremely tempting to do it after a season like this, I decided to answer some of those questions in a more positive light, as it is the start of a brand new year and a chance to turn the page.
Those questions can be answered in a very simple way, New Year’s resolutions. Whenever the new year comes around, no matter how many pieces your life, or in this case program, is broken in to, it’s a glimmer of light and hope for the 365 days ahead.
2009, get out of our sight, you only brought the Gophers hardship. 2010, please, be gentle….
NEW YEAR’s RESOLUTION #1: OVERHAUL THE OFFENSE. Where do you start?! It’s a catastrophic mess from top to bottom.
Starting at the top is the only way to go, sorry Adam Weber. Obviously he’s a three-year starter and benching him going into his senior year would be harsh, but look at the facts. In a conference full of mediocre QB’s (none ranked in the top 20 in the nation in QB rating), Weber finished last in rating by a full twelve points, completion percentage by four percent, threw the most interceptions, threw the second fewest touchdowns, took the most sacks (38, 11 more than the next closest QB), and was under center of the conference’s lowest scoring offense. It’s about that time. The problem here is that Marqueis Gray, Weber’s backup, showed very little progress the entire season, even when not throwing the ball. In the Insight Bowl, Gray was in for a total of five plays, the last being a fumble inside the Cyclones’ 20 when the Gophers were charging down the field to take the lead in the fourth. Some would argue Gray should’ve replaced Weber long ago, myself included, but it seems obvious that if he was ready for the job, he would’ve. He might not be the answer, which means you have to look to incoming freshmen or transfers for options. The only possibility that jumps out is Bloomington Jefferson’s Moses Alipate, who ranks as the 11th best QB nationally in the ESPN U rankings and committed to the U in 2008. Him starting seems like a longshot, however, as displacing a three-year starter as a freshman is highly irregular.
Let’s not blame it all on Weber, though, the offensive line is in horrible shape. Getting some stability up front would help matters a lot, but with senior center Jeff Tow-Arnett, the rock of the shaky offensive line graduating and the Gophers fading fast in the Seantrel Henderson sweepstakes, it’s hard to imagine too much improvement. The Gophers do have Jimmy Gjere coming in from Irondale High School, who’s ranked as the 17th best offensive tackle nationally by rivals.com, so perhaps that will provide some semblance of order up front. After all, it couldn’t get much worse with the conference worst 38 sacks given up and league low 99.5 rushing yards per game (ten less yards than any other Big Ten team).
The running game is the one part of the offense that doesn’t look like a complete disaster in the future, even though it WAS a complete disaster this year. No RB got over 400 yards on the season, while the high YPC average out of RB’s was 4.2 by Kevin Whaley. While he’s not going to remind anyone of Marion Barber (OK, except for the dreads) or Laurence Maroney, he looks as if he will be the answer going forward. As a freshman he showed flashes of being an explosive runner, and if given the opportunity to be the feature back instead of the Gophers wasting their time with Duane Bennett and Deleon Eskridge, could produce some good numbers. Gray helps in the running game but obviously can’t be relied on as a consistent threat out of the backfield considering his playing time, and the Gophers have nothing to speak of coming in recruiting for running backs. Again, an aspect that can’t get any worse, as the Gophers did not have any one person run for over 81 yards in a game this year.
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION #2: FIND PLAYMAKERS. Considering Eric Decker’s graduation, this is going to be hard. He was their main playmaker and without his big play ability, this offense could really struggle.
You have to find more of Marqueis Gray somehow and make him a bigger part of the offense. End arounds, option plays, mixing him in at QB, you have to give the defense something to think about, because the offense was way too vanilla this year.
At the wide receiver position, it looks pretty grim. Brandon Green’s status as a four star recruit out of college must not have accounted for his inability to catch the ball, because the man has sticks of butter for hands. Da’jon Mcknight is the only ray of light there appears to be, as the sophomore wide receiver came on after Eric Decker’s injury to average a team best 18.6 yards per catch, including a 124 yard performance in the Insight Bowl. The offense will sorely need that heading into next year, especially with the sure handed reliability of TE Nick Tow-Arnett graduating.
Although no spectacular wide receivers are coming to the aid of the Gophers, there are a few do-it-all types coming the U next year. Lamonte Edwards of Woodbury High School is a four star guy, and Bryant Allen out of Maplewood, Missouri could add some spice as freshmen next year.
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION #3: RE-BUILD DEFENSE: The Gophers ranked around the middle of the pack in team scoring defense (54th) and yards per game allowed (63rd), but will be graduating their front seven as well as two starters from the secondary. That means Tim Brewster’s recruits are going to have to do something they haven’t, step up. Kyle Theret and Kim Royston with Ryan Callado helping out will have to lead the secondary, while Gary Tinsley and Keanon Cooper, who both appeared in every game this year, will be asked to jump into starting spots, which shouldn’t be too much of a transition. The Gophers can not get bullied up front next year like they did this year or they’ll follow up their 22 sack and 151.7 yards per game given up on the ground with an even worse performance in 2010. Anthony Jacobs and Brandon Kirksey saw plenty of playing time this year at the defensive tackle spot, while the defensive end positions are up in the air. Someone on the roster as of this moment will have to fill it, as it is a barron landscape of nothingness as far as recruits on the d-line are concerned.
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION #4: STOP OFF FIELD ISSUES: Although no major contributors to the team are being affected by off field problems, there have been entirely too many situations that Gopher football players have been involved in this year. From the brawl early in the season outside of a house in front of the Gophers athletic complex, to backup safety Tim Dandridge getting kicked off the team a little over a week ago, to sophomore center Ryan Wynn being arrested after the Insight Bowl loss for drinking underage, the list goes on. In order to improve on field performance, you have to have smart, discipline, focused kids in your program. At this point, the Gophers don’t have it.
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION #5: KEEP YOUR RECRUITS AND MAKE THEM PEODUCTIVE: Touched on this a little earlier, but there has been no production from the Gophers recruits the last three years. No excuses for Tim Brewster this upcoming year, it’s all about his guys. Eric Decker and your entire defense are gone, so Glen Mason’s holdovers can’t help you now, Tim. From former four star receiver Vince Hill to his son Clint Brewster, the head coach just can’t seem to keep his recruits in house. He needs to get some guys in the program that will stick around AND contribute. Even getting one of the two is a task right now.
Since the Gophers aren’t going to get what they really need, which is a coaching change, they’re going to have to suffer through with what little they have in the way of a coaching staff.
These five resolutions are a recipe for success, but then again, success hasn’t exactly been this regimes strong su