In the running: Gopher football 2004 preview
By Chris Coughlan-Smith
From eNews, July 22, 2004
If you believe the buzz around the Gopher football program, last year's record-setting season could be just a prelude. The CNN-Sports Illustrated preseason poll puts Minnesota among the 10 best in the nation, while College Football News predicts the Gophers will challenge for a Big Ten title. Even head coach Glen Mason, normally hesitant to make such pronouncements, says, "We've got a good, solid football team. We should be very, very competitive in the Big Ten Conference."
The reasons for the optimism are easy to understand: Minnesota returns most of the Big Ten's best offense. The defense largely has been together since 2002 and looks ready to move up from the middle of the Big Ten pack. The Gophers have an unflappable kicker who made two game-winning field goals last year. And the entire coaching staff returns after eight- and 10-win seasons highlighted by two consecutive bowl wins.
The season will open with a few concerns, however. The defense needs to get more sacks and turnovers. The kick coverage team allowed almost as many yards as the talented return men gained for them. And the Gophers have a starting quarterback who has thrown one pass in college. But with four returning starters on the offensive line and the best running back duo in the nation--junior Marion Barber III and sophomore Laurence Maroney--Minnesota will have to develop just enough of a passing attack to keep opponents honest.
"Everywhere I go people are aware of the success we've had the last two years," Mason says. "There's no doubt in my mind that there's a different level of anticipation with Gopher fans for this season. . . . We've got a good group of kids with an outstanding attitude, and what they've been able to accomplish in 2002 and 2003 has made their determination solid for the things we can accomplish in 2004." For more from Mason, plus a profile of kicker Rhys Lloyd, comments from "Cannon Man," and a stadium update, read the July-August issue of Minnesota.