Does Ohio State Play Notre Dame In Football This Year #52 Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview

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#52 Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview

Spring practices are in the books and camps will be here before you know it, meaning an early jump into the 2006 NCAA football season. Knowing the teams now will save you time in August, and Matt Fargo is here to help you understand what to expect this upcoming year. We go from worst to first in this 2006 college football preview.

#52 – Minnesota Golden Gophers 7-5 SU; 7-5 ATS

Fargo’s Tech could turn one of the best running backs in the country into a very average running back. Minnesota has averaged at least 200 ypg on the ground each of the last five years, including at least 257 ypg the last three years but that will change this season. Lawrence Maroney is playing in the NFL, fourth in four years to eclipse 1,000 yards. Fourth on that list is Gary Russell, who rushed for 1,130 yards as a backup last season but is academically ineligible, hurting the Gophers. The passing game will take center stage but it’s the defense that needs to start picking things up as each of the last three seasons has increased the points allowed. Minnesota has been to the bowl game in each of the last four seasons and will need an all-out effort to return in 2006.

Returning starters on offense – 6 back losses are tough to overcome but the offensive line had a lot to do with that success and the departure of four-year starting center Greg Eslinger is huge. Two starters return, as does Matt Spieth, one of the best blocking tight ends in the country, and things could pick up again if Amir Pinix emerges as another Gopher threat. Quarterback Brian Cupito will be in his third season as the starter and could be in for a big year as he has improved over the past two years. He completed more than 59 percent of his passes last year after a 47 percent completion rate in 2004. He has thrown just 16 interceptions over the past two seasons. Its top three receivers are back, and if the line can come close to the three sacks it allowed last year, the offense could once again thrive.

Returning starters on defense – 6 is the side of the ball that will determine Minnesota’s postseason future. The defense allowed an inexcusable 29 ppg last year, 80th in the nation while total defense ranked 90th in the nation. It allowed more than 34 ppg in Big Ten action and five teams scored at least 35 points. The Gophers have returned at least seven starters from each of the past four years but only six return this season, and there’s plenty of youth in the mix. The defensive line is extremely young and inexperienced with only one starter back and he is a sophomore. Three sophomores or freshmen are expected to be in starting slots this season so it will be up to a limited number of veterans to lead the defense and improve in all areas. Easier said than done.

The schedule The schedule is tough but playing in the Big Ten is nothing new. The non-conference slate is a joke, as always, with games against Kent St., Temple and North Dakota St. The Gophers have to travel to California in their second game of the season but that’s just a conference challenge. The Big Ten slate is as tough as ever with four loseable road games at Purdue, Wisconsin, Ohio St. and Michigan St. The only sure win against Indiana is an improved team and that can’t be taken for granted. The other three games are against Michigan, Penn St. and Iowa. That equates to seven potential or at least potential losses so the Gophers need some upsets to bowl. Illinois is off schedule, a bad break.

You can bet … Minnesota will have more passing yards than rushing yards for the first time since 2000 as it will be up to Cupito to take control of the offense and thrive. He can certainly do it but it’s up to his defense to be able to make some stops, something he didn’t do last season. The Gophers are 0-4 ATS as home underdogs over the past four seasons and will be in that spot when Michigan comes to town for their Big Ten home opener. Making it worse is that the Gophers had a three-point home loss to the Wolverines last season so Michigan will be looking for some payback. It was Minnesota’s first win in 16 years and could be the last for 16 more.

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