I've gotten a couple of emails on the order (or lack thereof) of these previews. I'm simply posting them in the order I receive them. There's no rhyme or reason to it beyond that. I'll post my thoughts on the upcoming season once these are done.
Tomorrow, we'll take a short break from the Big Ten preview for some very exciting breaking news and a few links for your perusal.
Our Gopher preview is from Charlie at Paging Jim Shikenjanski, the unquestionable king of blogs about football teams named after common vermin.
MINNESOTA PREVIEW by Paging Jim Shikenjanski
A new era is set to begin in Minnesota. We have a savior, fresh off a stint as tight ends coach for the Denver Broncos. His name is Tim Brewster, who has come into Minneapolis, spoken to fans and reporters with bravado and raised expectations. "We're going to take Gopher Nation to Pasadena" Brewster said during his introductory press conference, where he wowed Minnesota fans who were frantically trying to figure out exactly who this guy was.
Personally, I think Brewster is smoking some really good hashish, but I respect the man's positive nature. Pasadena? Gophers? We haven't won a B10 title since 1967. Brewster has no head coaching experience above the high school level. He doesn't even have experience as a coordinator. He was hired as a recruiter (claim to fame: recruited Vince Young at Texas, among others) and as someone who has energy to instill in the typically uninterested fan base. That's worked. Brewster is off to a good start for his 2008 recruiting class, and the fan base has taken to his energy and enthusiasm.
The Glen Mason era was both good and bad. It was a vast improvement over the Jim Wacker era. Mason took our fierce rodents to six consecutive bowls. But fans wanted to see Mason--who didn't have the knack for public relations that Brewster does--take the program to a New Year's Day bowl and compete in the top 1/3 of the Big Ten, not in the middle of the pack.
Brewster is saying what Gopher fans want to hear. Should he live up to his word and take "Gopher Nation" to Pasadena, we'll erect a statute in his honor at the new outdoor stadium set to open in 2009.
WHY BREWSTER WILL BE AN IMPROVEMENT: He has a pulse. That alone has endeared him to Gopher fans. He hasn't coached a game yet, nor a practice, but his intensity comes through in television and newspaper interviews. He has promised his teams will play with passion and intensity (something Mason's teams didn't always do). Mason's team's made a habit of pulling defeat from the jaws of victory (the most recent example was the Insight Bowl debacle last year against Texas Tech). Brewster has been promised the Gophers will finish games stronger and play with more heart and passion. That'd be a good start.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: DE Willie Van DeSteeg finished last season with 10 sacks, 14.5 tackles for a loss and felt he had plenty of room to improve. Now a senior, Van DeSteeg will lead a Minnesota defense that is primed to be more aggressive under Everett Withers.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER: RB, Amir Pinnix surpassed 1,000 yards as the primary ball carrier last year. Pinnix is one of just five returning starters on offense. Gophers coaches have promised not to forget about the run, and Pinnix should get his fair share of opportunities in and out of the backfield.
MOST IMPORTANT CAMP BATTLE: The Gophers lost three-year starter and the school's all-time leading passer Bryan Cuptio and will look to either junior Tony Mortensen, redshirt freshman Adam Weber or, as a longshot, true freshman and the head coach's son, Clint Brewster, to take control of the offense. Brewster ran an offense similar to offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar's spread offense in high school, and as a 4-star quarterback recruit, the coach's son might be the most talented quarterback on the roster.
OVERLOOKED NEWCOMER: While most of the media has paid attention to Clint Brewster's decision to back out of his committment to Illinois and follow his father, the younger Brewster may not have the biggest impact of any newcomer. DE Raymond Henderson, who sat out last season after transferring from Tennessee, should play opposite of Van DeSteeg. Henderson was forced out of Tennessee after what is described as minor incident at a restaurant. He had scholarship offers from LSU, Nebraska, Notre Dame, UCLA and Iowa.
POSITION WEAKNESS: Wide receiver. And that's not good when you want to run the spread offense. Senior Ernie Wheelright, who has had slippery hands from time to time, has the talent to be a No. 1 receiving threat. He'll be joined by sophomore Eric Decker in the starting lineup. But after that, the Gophers will be relying on a junior college transfer and some true freshmen to step in.
DON'T BE TOO SURPRISED IF: The Gophers lose to that other border rival, North Dakota State, in an October tilt with the Division I-AA school. Last year, the Bison missed a field goal as time expired to come just feet short of pulling off the upset of the year. The Gophers survived 10-9, and became bowl eligible because of it at 6-6.
FORECAST: Gopher fans expect Brewster to take that step Mason couldn't, if not this year, in the near future. Mason didn't leave the cupboard bare, but it will be an uphill task for Brewster to even take the team to a no-name bowl game. Mason had Minnesota known for a power running game, that featured great backs and a better offensive line. Under Brewster, and offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar, the Gophers will switch to the spread offense. Personnel issues will make the switch difficult.
The Gophers can go 4-0 in the non-conference schedule, but most major publications question if Brewster can even win one game in conference play. The winnable games are on the road (at Indiana, at Northwestern, at Iowa) but the Gophers won't likely be favored away from the Metrodome. But the team's talent hasn't disappeared. The Gophs have been consistently decent, not great, and should be that again. The Gophers go 3-5 in conference and return to a mediocre bowl. The third and final win comes at Iowa as the Gophers retain the coolest trophy in college sports, the Floyd of Rosedale.