PART 1 of 8 of the New Golden Gopher Era -
What Can We Expect in 2007 - Football
Well, this is my 2nd attempt at writing Part 1. Attempt #1 turned into a lengthy 2007 Gopher Football preview. That's not exactly what I want to do with this series. I don't want this post to be about 9 returners on defense or who will be QB or breakdown the schedule game by game.
I want to take a look at what will be different from 2006 because of the new coaching staff. And will these differences really affect us in the W/L columns right away. Obviously Coach Brewster and his staff had precious little time to make a dent in recruiting for 2007 (although they seem to be working their tails off for 2008), so the 2007 Gophers will be 100% Glen Mason returners and recruits, with Clint Brewster and HS teammate Kyle Theret being the only 2 exceptions. Here are 4 questions I'm going to attempt to answer on the 2007 season.
1. What can Brewster do to affect change right away? - Due to the timing of TB's hire, it will take him until 2008 to affect the talent level of the program. And really 2008 recruiting class won't pay dividends until 2009 or 2010. So how can TB affect change in 2007? I think the biggest thing he can do is change the mindset of the program. It has always seemed a foregone conclusion that Minnesota could hope for a 5-3 or at best a 6-2 season and maybe finish 3rd in conference. Pasadena? That's just crazy talk. Previous coaching staffs would tell you about all of the obstacles facing the program and how they made the Rose Bowl a near impossibility. We were constantly reminded how bad it used to be and we should be happy with mediocrity.
This wasn't just rhetoric to keep the expectations of Gopher Nation at bay, but this also had to seep into the mindset of the players. How could they not believe that we were at best a 2nd tier Big Ten team? That has been the upper limit for years, we HAVE been a middle of the road Big Ten team. But that's not good enough for TB.
I am thrilled that TB has come into Minnesota and immediately started raising the bar of expectations. His first meeting with the team he had them chanting "Rose Bowl!" He had actual turf from the Rose Bowl delivered to him and he has it on display for the team. Are these hokey? Yes. Can they be affective? I think so. Mason's teams played like they had a better shot at going to the moon then Pasadena! Brewster puts it out there front and center, this is the goal and we can get there.
The interesting thing is that TB is putting added pressure on himself. Mason managed expectations by lowering them at every turn, this added years to his tenure. If TB is able to raise expectations and he fails to live up to them he will be gone. But I respect that he seems to be putting it out there and he embraces it and believes it himself.
Now I get back to talent. Obviously the 2007 Gopher team does not have the talent to beat the Michigans and Ohio States, the talent level just isn't there. TB can't change that in the few months he's been on the job. But along with the talent level he has to change the mindset of the program. Team's that are used to losing tend to continue losing, teams that traditionally win tend to act like winners. The mindset of Gopher Nation has to change.
2. Is duplicating a Glen Mason season good enough this year? - I'm going to cop-out on this one. The answer is yes AND no.
YES - with current talent level and the schedule we have this season finishing 4-4 or even 3-5 in conference is acceptable.
NO - just winning 3 or 4 games can't simply be enough. There have to be 2 immediate changes. 1. Mason's ultimate downfall was his unique ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (TexTech-06, Wis-05, Mich-03). 2. We have to be competitive even in defeat. I don't care how good Ohio State is, losing 44-0 is unacceptable. We are a Big Ten school and we should act like it. OSU was clearly the class of the conference but it was obvious that we went into that game having already lost. Losing to Michigan State 31-18 is unacceptable. Losing to Wisconsin 48-12 is unacceptable.
So in summary duplicating Mason's end results is acceptable (it is his talent after all), but duplicating the efforts and execution of his teams is not.
3. How successful can the spread offense be with Mason's personnel? - I don't want to get into too much X's and O's discussion at this point, but I think this is a very interesting question. OC-Mike Dunbar was brought in to run his high octane, spread passing offense. Glen Mason was very good at recruiting for and then executing the most dominating run game in the country over the last several seasons. How does Dunbar flip the switch with a roster full of players suited for Mason's run game. We have an OL with players adept at pulling and downfield blocking. We have skilled RBs but inexperienced and slow WRs. We don't have an experienced QB to rely on.
I think this will be a major struggle in 2007. Who will play QB, who will catch his passes and how effective will our best offensive weapon (Pinnix) be?
QB - Brewster and Dunbar will have 1 of 2 options. First, he can go with Mortensen who has a little experience and has shown flashes of a nice arm. Or he can go with the freshman route. Start Weber or Clint Brewster now. Take our lumps in 2007 and groom either of them to be your leader for the next 3 seasons when he'll have a deeper and more talented WR core around him. This will be a TOUGH call and I don't want to touch it at this point.
RB - Pinnix could be a home run threat every time he touches the ball. A poor man's Maroney. Will he get that opportunity? Will the 2007 offense be a hybrid so we can utilize Pinnix? Then it will expand into more passing when we get the right personnel?
WR - I am a big fan of Wheelright and I think Decker is solid. But after that we have NOBODY. This will be an issue. Somebody will have to step up and have a break out season. Who will that be? Trey Herndon-he's fast but small. Mike Chambers or Jack Simmons are your only other options. None of them get me all tingly but somebody will have to step up. Wheelright is going to have a monster year but the spread offense needs several talented WRs and we just don't have that.
4. Finally, what is a successful season? - I think 4 things will define Brewster's initial season.
- This is the obvious and tangible one. Record. We have 4 non-conference games that are all must wins. Don't give me rhetoric that Miami(Ohio) or Bowling Green are two of the best in the MAC. They are in the MAC and there is no reason you should not beat them. Win those games then you have to win a few in the Big Ten.
- 9-3 would make Gopher Nation ecstatic, but don't hold your collective breath
- 8-4 is doable
- 7-5 is realistic
- 6-6 is OK but we'll need to see something next year
- 5-7 means a 1-7 Big Ten season and that will be very disappointing
- 4-8 is a disaster and inexcusable, we are not devoid of any talent.