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TODAY at No. 44: MINNESOTA Coach: Jerry Kill (25-26, entering fifth season; 152-99 overall record) 2014 record: 8-5, 5-3 in Big Ten Conference; tied...

college football pickTODAY at No. 44: MINNESOTA

Coach: Jerry Kill (25-26, entering fifth season; 152-99 overall record)

2014 record: 8-5, 5-3 in Big Ten Conference; tied for second in West Division

Look back: The Golden Gophers opened the 2014 season by winning six of their first seven games, including defeating rival Michigan for the first time since 2005 to earn the Little Brown Jug rivalry trophy. But Minnesota wrapped up the season by losing four of its next six contests, including a 33-17 loss to Missouri in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Offensive starters returning: 5

Offensive starters lost: 6

Defensive starters returning: 7

Defensive starters lost: 4

Key losses: RB David Cobb, TE Maxx Williams, WR Isaac Fruechte, OL Tommy Olson, OL Zac Epping, DE Michael Amaefula, DT Cameron Botticelli, S Cedric Thompson, LB Damien Wilson

Top returnees: QB Mitch Leidner, OL Josh Campion, OL Jon Christenson, OL Jonah Pirsig, WR KJ Maye, CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, LB De’Vondre Champbell, CB Eric Murray, S Damarius Travis, P Peter Mortell

Strengths: Minnesota was one of the stingiest teams in the Big Ten when it came to pass defense. The Golden Gophers allowed just 193 yards per game through the air last season and were tied for fourth in the league with 15 interceptions. Much of that production came from cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who returns this season after leading the team in interceptions (5) and pass breakups (9) last year. The offensive line has a combined 88 career starts, with seven different players earning starting opportunities last season. Guards Joe Bjorklund and Josh Campion and tackles Ben Lauer and Jonah Pirsig all saw time on the line, and Brian Bobek steps into the center role after the departure of Tommy Olson.

Pete Mortell was the Big Ten’s punter of the year last season after leading the league with 45.1 yards per punt. He anchors a special-teams unit that could be one of the best in the conference.

Weaknesses: The team must replace David Cobb (1,626 yards, 13 TDs), who was one of six running backs in the Big Ten to rush for more than 1,500 yards last season.

For all of its success in the ground game, Minnesota couldn’t spark its passing attack. The Golden Gophers ranked next to last in the Big Ten in passing offense with just 142 yards per game through the air while attempting a league-low 248 passing attempts. To make matters worse, quarterback Mitch Leidner had 13 of the team’s 20 turnovers (8 interceptions, 5 fumbles).

Outlook: The Gophers take after their coach, who has coped with epileptic seizures while leading Minnesota out of the Big Ten cellar, and are a hard-nosed football team. Minnesota will need to be with just 48 returning letterwinners and the second-toughest nonconference schedule in the Big Ten.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 TCU

Sept. 12 at Colorado State

Sept. 19 Kent State

Sept. 26 Ohio

Oct. 3 at Northwestern

Oct. 10 at Purdue

Oct. 17 Nebraska

Oct. 31 Michigan

Nov. 7 at Ohio State

Nov. 14 at Iowa

Nov. 21 Illinois

Nov. 28 Wisconsin

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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