Minnesota endured a coaching change in the middle of last season as former coach, Jerry Kill, decided to retire for health reasons. That brought Tracy Claeys to the helm. The 2016 season will be his first season as head man of the Golden Gophers and he has already made some changes as he brought in Jay Johnson to be the teams' QB coach and the offensive coordinator.
This was big new for a Gopher team that finished 106th out of 128 FBS teams in total points scored per game last season. Claeys also brought in Bart Miller to be the offensive line coach, and Dan O'Brien to be the teams' defensive backs coach.
They finished 6-7 last season and defeated Central Michigan in the Quicken Lanes Bowl. They were coming off back-to-back 8-5 seasons prior to the 6-7 finish in 2015. The Gophers lead the series against the Hawkeyes, 61-45-2, but Iowa has taken three of the last four meetings with the exception being the drubbing in Minnesota in 2014 when the Gophers beat the Hawkeyes 51-14.
The biggest story for the Gophers is senior QB, Mitch Leidner coming back. Leidner is going to be one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the conference considering he has 29 starts under his belt. He was effective last season against a good Iowa defense, he completed 70% of his passes for 259 yards and one touchdown, but Iowa was able to bring home the victory.
Leidner is projected by some to be taken in the NFL Draft next April.
They'll return talented running backs Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, who rushed for 1,379 yards and 9 touchdowns combined as freshman last season. That will likely be the strongest part of the Gophers' offensive game. They lost WR K.J. Maye to the NFL and don't return much in terms of receivers. Drew Wolitarsky, who caught a touchdown pass last year against Iowa, will be the teams number one receiver heading into fall camp catching 39 balls for 524 yards and 3 touchdowns last season.
The offensive line is going to be the biggest question mark for the Gophers. They had troubles last season and lost a lot of offensive linemen. They will, however, bring in a couple JUCO players that could help them on that O-Line.
This was a strong suit a season ago for the Gophers. They had two senior corners that really stood out, but they did lose them to graduation along with De'Vondre Campbell to the NFL. They allowed just 25 points per contest last season, which was good for 45th out of the 128 FBS teams. Look for the interior of the defensive line to be a strong suit for them, considering they return quite a bit and brought in a JUCO All-American in Merrick Jackson.
The linebackers will be solid this year for the Gophers, especially with the addition of Scout Top100 recruit, Carter Coughlin.
The big question will be how they replace Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, two corners that were very effective for them last season.
It is going to be interesting to see what kind of impact the new coaches have on the program. Everything that I've been reading has Tracy Claeys hitting a home run with his hires, but we'll have to give them some time.
Last season, it didn't really feel like anyone was willing to play any defense in this game. Iowa won the game 40-35 in the only night game in Iowa City last year. Leshun Daniels kind of sealed the deal with a 51 yard touchdown run late in the contest last season. Minnesota added a late TD, but it was too little too late for the Gophers.
Iowa used the tight ends a bunch last year in a game that featured no turnovers. They took care of the ball, and really just pounded it with Daniels, who finished with 195 yards on the ground.
For me, this one is going to come down to who turns the ball over less. I think Iowa returns more talent, but the road is a tricky place for teams. I expect Iowa to get out and establish the run and then try and mix in some deep tosses from C.J. Beathard. Minnesota will counter, but I don't think they'll take many deep shots, unless they have to.
I like Iowa in a close game, 30-27.