2011 Minnesota Golden Gophers Football

Big Ten football fans

Minnesota vs USC Football Preview



When the Minnesota Golden Gophers head west to face the USC Trojans to kick off the college football season, two teams will be playing catch-up… not against each other, but in relation to the forces of time.

Both the Gophers and the Trojans are trying to build back things that have been lost. Starting with the visitors from the Big Ten, Minnesota’s new head man Jerry Kill takes over a team that finished 2010 with a 3-9 record. If it weren’t for surprising wins over Illinois and Iowa to end the season, 2010 would have been a disaster in every way possible, including a loss at home to FCS South Dakota. Kill looks to breathe new life into a middling program that was once an annual bowl team under former coach Glen Mason, but then regressed under Mason’s successor, Tim Brewster. Minnesota is going back to square one with Kill, and while the former Northern Illinois coach seems likely to succeed in his new environment, there are no guarantees in this cutthroat profession. Minnesota begins its long climb this weekend, and that climb won’t be easy at all.

USC isn’t where Minnesota is in terms of having a substantial absence of talent; the Trojans have been hit in terms of the depth they’ve been able to bring into the program. USC is undertaking its second and final year of being banned from postseason play after an 8-5 season in 2010 that largely met expectations. The Trojans can’t expect to win big until they dig out of the NCAA doghouse, and moreover, they wouldn’t be able to compete in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game even if they wanted to. If Minnesota is building for 2014 and beyond, USC is trying to build for 2012 and 2013 – the Trojans are moderately more advanced than the Gophers are, but the word “building” hovers over both programs to a substantial extent.

USC quarterback Matt Barkley returns as a junior looking to take his era of Trojan football to the next level. He will be surrounded by talent – leading rusher Marc Tyler returns after posting 913 yards last season, along with promising sophomore Dillon Baxter. Despite a stressed ankle, 2010’s leading receiver Robert Woods should be ready to go as Barkley’s primary target. The offensive side of the ball should be of little concern, but it’s USC’s defense that must show improvement. The Trojans were 84th in total defense last season, surrendering 400 yards per game.

It’s good for USC’s defense that Minnesota was only 77th in total offense and averaged only 23 points per game (89th in the nation). That said, this will be a whole new offense, both in scheme and in terms of the trigger man. The Gophers are turning their offense over to MarQueis Gray, who – despite being last year’s second-leading receiver – will finally get his turn at quarterback. The athletic junior is said to have taken to the new offense quite nicely. Duane Bennett returns in the backfield for Minnesota after rushing for 529 yards last season.

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By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer



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