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Progress made, but can Minnesota take next step?

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 13, 2014 at 4:17 pm •  Published: August 13, 2014
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For the first time since coach Jerry Kill took over, Minnesota has made significant progress.

In 2013, the Gophers doubled their Big Ten victory total of the previous two seasons. The eight wins were the most the program has had in a decade.

Oh, but taking that next step can be tough. Minnesota must find a way to improve an offense that went 13 straight quarters last year without a touchdown until a couple of late scores in a bowl loss to Syracuse. Three starters from the defense are currently in NFL training camps.

Then there are those trips to TCU, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin plus back-to-back November home games against Iowa and Ohio State. But the Gophers believe the confidence gained last season set the foundation for greater success, which Kill told the players after the Texas Bowl they should be "starving" for.

"Our team last year set the tone of where we need to go and where we need to be. However, that's in the past. Now we're in the future. New team. New situation," Kill said.

Here are five things to know about the upcoming season for the Gophers:

QUARTERBACK QUANDARY, NO MORE

Philip Nelson left the program, so sophomore Mitch Leidner was given the reins. While Nelson and Leidner were switched often last year, even in games when both of them were healthy, Kill said the coaching staff made a mistake by rotating them too much and creating instability.

With clarity established at quarterback, at least four games of starting experience for the five projected offensive linemen (Ben Lauer, Zac Epping, Tommy Olson, Foster Bush and Josh Campion) and assumed improvement by a raw group of wide receivers, the Gophers have the building blocks of a more-productive offense after ranking next-to-last in the conference last season with an average of 343 yards per game.

"This year it's just a different foundation. We know Mitch is our guy," running back David Cobb said.

RUNNING MEN

Cobb rushed for 1,202 yards last season, ending a streak of six straight years for the Gophers without a 1,000-yard guy.

With fellow senior Donnell Kirkwood and bruising junior Rodrick Williams toting combined career totals of 1,975 yards and 14 touchdowns behind him, there's as much depth in this backfield since NFL players Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney shared carries 10 years ago. Berkley Edwards, a prize of the 2013 incoming class who severely sprained his ankle in practice and took a redshirt season, is also in the mix.

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