As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each Wednesday over the summer. Next is Minnesota, who SU will play in Week 4.
Syracuse will continue its non conference schedule in Minneapolis on Saturday, Sept. 22 against Minnesota. In preparation for the game, we spoke with Rob Litt from the popular Minnesota blog GopherHole to get a scouting report on the Golden Gophers.
The Juice Online: Tell us about GopherHole.
Rob Litt: GopherHole has been the leading online home for passionate Gopher fans since 1996. We are a 100% independent and free site producing free recruiting interviews, profiles of former Gopher athletes, game previews, and commentary on college basketball, football and hockey. We have a very passionate fan base that populates our active message boards and we continue to break year-over-year records for number of posts and site traffic. We have a mix of long-time contributors, new-comers, media members, former Gophers, parents of current Gophers and more who actively post on the boards.
TJO: What are the expectations of this year’s team?
RL: I think most Gopher fans have moderate expectations for this year, with the hope of seeing measurable progress over last season, which was the first with Coach Kill and his staff at Minnesota. We had been a revolving door of position coaches and coordinators the previous 5-6 years, so this past year it was very comforting across the board to not have a single coach leave. We are one of only a handful of BCS programs to have 100 percent continuity on the coaching staff, and that is Coach Kill’s formula throughout his career. We are also a year into the Kill system so the learning curve shouldn’t be nearly as steep as it was a year ago, our guys have had a year-plus now with the heightened expectations on weight room performance. In addition, our non-conference schedule is a bit easier than it was last year where we started the season off at USC. With all due respect to Syracuse, many Gopher fans expect to start the season off 4-0 in non-conference play, and then if we can match what we did last year in the Big Ten it would put us at 6-6. If we can build off the improvement we showed towards the end of the season, I think think we can get to 3-5 in Big Ten play/7-5 overall which most Gopher fans would view as a significant step forward and solid season in year two of the Kill era.
TJO: Who should we be watching out for?
RL: On offense, it’s definitely QB MarQueis Gray. He’s crazy athletic and built like a linebacker. He played WR and took some rare snaps as a back-up QB earlier in his career, but he was recruited as a QB and finally became starter last year as a junior. He showed improvement throughout the season both running and throwing the ball and he absolutely emerged as the program leader this off-season. We’ll go as far as he takes us and Gopher fans are really pulling for the kid. He’s the type of kid every coach wants in his program. On the defensive side of the ball keep an eye on Ra’Shede Hageman. He’s a man amongst boys on the D-line and if he can put it all together physically and mentally, he has the potential to play on Sunday’s. It’s been forever since we’ve had a dominating defense in Minnesota and we’re still aways away from achieving it. But he’s the type of guy that we need to build around to take that next step.
TJO: What are your predictions for the game?
RL: Gophers fans view this game as a winnable game that most of us would feel disappointed with if we lost. I imagine there are some Syracuse fans that view it as a winnable non-conference road game as well, and you know what, they should view it that way too. We haven’t established a true homefield advantage in our three years in the new TCF Bank Stadium, but this non-conference slate with three winnable games is a step in that direction. It will be our first night home game of the year which should make for a fun atmosphere and the chance to hopefully start the season 4-0 would be a huge boost for the program. We say it will be a close game for 2.5 quarters and the Gophers pull away in the last 20 minutes of the game and win 27-13.