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May 19, 2011One of the teams Nebraska will get very familiar with in their transition to the Big Ten Conference is Minnesota. The Huskers and the Gophers are both in the Legends Division and will compete against each other on an annual basis.
As HuskerOnline.com continues our in-depth look of NU's opponents coming out of the spring, today we caught up with GopherIllustrated.com publisher Zach Johnson to get his thoughts and perspective on where first-year Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill has his team heading into summer workouts.
What can you tell me about Jerry Kill and what he's brought to Minnesota since taking over earlier this year?
"I think the one thing you get with Kill is a guy the fan base can trust because he's a football coach. He's not a salesman, he doesn't seem to hype the team and make promises he can't keep. He's an X's and O's guy who's known as a football coach and the sort of a guy Minnesotans can relate to just because he worked his way up the ranks. He started at the smallest possible level and just gradually worked his way up. He earned his shot at a Big Ten job."
How hard is it going to be to replace Adam Weber?
"It depends on who you ask. Like most quarterbacks, you either love them or you hate them. Weber put up a lot of big numbers those four years, but he never really had that breakout season that many where expecting, especially his junior and senior years when you had a third and fourth-year starter back-to-back years.
"I think a lot of Gopher fans were expecting Weber to do more than he did. When you look at his junior year he led them to 6 wins and last year to only 3. I think the one thing they are going to miss though is durability. Weber always showed up every Saturday to play, especially in some years when there was really nothing behind him. It was key that he was on the field. I think from that aspect you are going to lose some leadership and just the durability that he provided."
What is the biggest strength for the Gophers coming out the spring?
"I would say their biggest strength is quarterback MarQueis Gray and wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight. I think what they are hoping high end with Gray is for him to sort of mimic the Cam Newton factor a little bit. That's the type of player he is and he's the same size. I hate to use that comparison, because there's no chance in hell he's going to lead them to a national championship or a perfect season, but I think he's obviously the key to the season.
"I don't think you are going find very many better receivers in the league than McKnight. He's an unbelievable athlete, he goes up and gets everything he wants to. I think Gray and McKnight will work well together, so I think those two are the strengths to the team.
"They'll do a lot of what Kill did at Northern Illinois which is a little bit of pistol and a little bit of spread. I think the quarterback will run a lot. They ran some option read in the spring game. I don't think they're going to chuck around. I think they're going to use Gray to their advantage."
What is the biggest question or concern?
"I think it has to be the fact that they are running a whole new system. I think with football your best teams are your solid year after year programs where the guys are recruited to that system. That's part of the reason Iowa is so good or Wisconsin. They run the same system every year, so I think the biggest concern is 'another system.' It's the second coach that most of these kids have been working with, but it's also their third, fourth and fifth offensive coordinator for some of these guys. With Tim Brewster they were changing offensive coordinators every year and the defensive coordinator got changed a lot.
"One reason Kill is here I think is that staff continuity that he has, but for Minnesota it's still his first year. I think that and the defense. Minnesota hasn't had a good defense in ages. Just getting used to a whole new coaching staff and system right now has to be the biggest concern in my eyes."
In general, what is the reaction amongst Minnesota fans of Nebraska joining Big Ten and playing them now on an annual basis?
"When I look at it myself as someone that has followed the Big Ten from birth is I really feared the idea of Rutgers and expanding up east. I remember when I heard the Big Ten was expanding and my first thoughts were Missouri and Nebraska. I honestly think it's a good match though. I think they did screw up though when they didn't do the conference East-West. You've got Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota. I think those four schools belong together. As far as Minnesota fans go, I think they love the addition of Nebraska. It's more of a natural rivalry. I know a lot of Gopher fans obviously have a sour taste in their mouth when Nebraska beat them like 84-13 in the 80's.
"If you look just at the history of college football though, I know Minnesota has played Nebraska more times than they've played Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State. I think it's a great addition."
What are the realistic win-loss expectations for this team in 2011 coming out of the spring?
"The good thing is they get all their rival schools at home this year, but the bad news is they get all their rival schools at home this year. The way I look at it, I think it's better to play your winnable games at home. When you look at the schedule this year they should obviously go 3-1 in the nonconference. If they don't that's a red flag right away. They open up at Southern Cal. That would be a shock if they pulled off that one. If Minnesota goes out to Southern Cal and beats them on September 3, you better give Kill an extension right away.
"When you look at their Big Ten schedule you get Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska all at home along with Illinois. I think they can go 2-2 in those games if you are looking at the best case season. If you can figure then how to beat Purdue or Northwestern on the road you can get 6 or 7 wins at the best. I think the best case scenario is 7 wins and the worst case would be 4 wins. If Jerry Kill can get Minnesota to 6 or 7 wins in his first season Gopher fans would be more than delighted."