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2012 football preview

August 26, 2012


MarQueis Gray.

The Gopher offense is led by senior quarterback MarQueis Gray, who last year led the team in passing with 1,495 yards and rushing with 966.

Photo: Rick Moore

Gophers hope to climb the Big Ten standings

By Rick Moore

When new head coach Jerry Kill arrived a year ago, he stopped short of promising any instant success for the Gopher football team. But as the 2012 season approaches, there is a definite sense of increased hope—among coaches, players, and certainly fans—even given Minnesota’s relative youth (only 10 seniors on the team).

One source for the optimism is last year’s season finale, when the Gophers dismantled Illinois 27-7 at TCF Bank Stadium, dominating a bowl team (albeit one on a five-game losing streak) thoroughly on both sides of the ball.

Another, of course, is Kill’s habit of winning at each step of his coaching career, most recently at Northern Illinois (23-16 record and three bowl appearances in three years) and Southern Illinois (55-32 in seven seasons).

"Going into our second year here at Minnesota, we're excited about our program, which I imagine all the coaches are throughout the country at this time of year," Kill said recently at a Big Ten media session. "I certainly feel like we've taken great strides. …

"I think we're in a huge transition but a positive one, and our kids have been through some adversity, some tragedy through the past year. I think it's brought us closer together. … I think we're a bigger, stronger, faster team than we were a year ago, and we're looking forward to seeing what we can do."

The tragedy, of course, was the sudden death of linebacker Gary Tinsley on April 6. Remembrances of Tinsley are evident all around the football complex, and Minnesota football jerseys have a small patch that reads, “GT 51”—Tinsley’s number.

In addition to Tinsley, there is much to play for. The Gophers hope to erase the memory of back-to-back 3-9 seasons and start winning consistently at home and in the Big Ten Conference Legends Division.

Their leadership comes from a number of key veterans, including senior linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper, senior cornerback Troy Stoudermire, junior offensive lineman Ed Olson, and senior quarterback MarQueis Gray.

Gray has proven his ability to give defenses fits. In addition to passing for 1,495 yards last season, he ran for 966—averaging nearly 100 yards per game—and his game-winning touchdown scamper against Iowa last year is a textbook example of how useless a textbook would be in helping defenders corral a player who’s 6’4” and about 250 pounds.

The key will be how well Gray’s supporting cast can play, and whether or not the defense can significantly improve from a year ago, when it surrendered nearly 32 points per game, second worst in the Big Ten.

It all kicks off in the desert, when the Gophers travel to Las Vegas to take on UNLV on Thursday evening, August 30. The Gophers then return to Minnesota for a three-game non-conference homestand against New Hampshire, Western Michigan, and Syracuse before opening Big Ten play at Iowa on September 29. After a bye week, Minnesota will then host Northwestern on October 13 for Homecoming.

To keep in touch with Gopher football all year long through the eyes of a road-tripping fan, visit Season Pass: A Gopher football fan blog. There you'll learn about diehard fans, tailgating rituals, and places of interest in other Big Ten towns.

Tags: Athletics

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