Minnesota Preview 2016: Can Tracy Claeys make the Gophers this year’s Iowa?
Minnesota was able to get to four straight bowl games with a good, sound, hard-nosed style, disciplined play, and tremendous coaching.
And almost no talent.
There might have been a David Cobb here, a Maxx Williams there, and a Ra’Shede Hagemen to gum things up, but the Gophers had just eight players selected over the last three drafts and haven’t had the depth, recruiting classes, or margin for error that most good Big Ten teams have. Even so, the program has created a decent niche. Now it has to break through that.
The Gophers played tough in losses to TCU, Michigan and Iowa, and they hung around with Ohio State and Wisconsin, but when they needed that one extra gear that only the truly talented teams seem to have, they couldn’t get there. They won the six games they were supposed to, lost six games they were supposed to, lost the toss-up against Nebraska, and couldn’t seem to find much in the way of consistency.
The same team that pushed TCU in a 23-17 loss needed to survive Kent State in a 10-7 win a few weeks later.
Tracy Claeys now has the job to take Gopher football to another level, going from being Jerry Kill’s right-hand man to the head coach after Kill had to retire. There’s no more uncertainty about Kill’s health issues – at least in terms of whether or not he’ll be fine to coach the team – but Claeys has to make this team his own. Claeys has to win.
A fantastic defensive coordinator, Claeys was always seen as an overdue head coaching prospect who’d shine when given the chance. While he’s from Kansas and could be a perfect fit to take over for Bill Snyder at his alma mater, Kansas State, Minnesota can be a bigger gig, and he’s going to get the opportunity to make the program his.
Recruiting at a higher level is a must, but that’s going to take some time. For now, he has a nice team coming back that should make it a fifth-straight bowl appearance and could do a whole lot more.
The schedule is a dream. If the Gophers don’t gag away any games they shouldn’t and if they can beat Penn State on the road, they might be a home date against Iowa away from going into Nebraska in mid-November 9-0.
Realistically, they’ll be 7-2, but they can still be a player in the Big Ten West race. QB Mitch Leidner is one of the league’s most experienced passers with a veteran receiving corps to throw to. The young backs who got their feet wet last season should be excellent if the line can come together in a hurry.
The D – as always – will be terrifically coached, and it should be solid if it can start stopping the run. The secondary needs to replace most of the top talents, the pass rush needs a whole lot of help, and the overall depth is way too thin, but the Gophers always seem to find a way to produce.
This is a rare opportunity when the expectations might be light, the schedule might be fantastic, and the coaching staff will get a wee bit of a honeymoon period. Minnesota has to take advantage and be this year’s Iowa.