I know it is the easiest selection and I know it is the safest selection. But for the 2016 Minnesota Golden Gopher football team it is also the correct decision.
The Gophers will have a redshirt senior quarterback this fall in Mitch Leidner, a quarterback who is clearly the face of this program and a quarterback that is clearly the leader of his team. Leidner’s ability to perform at a high level in 2016, as well as stay on the field, will easily be the most important aspect of the upcoming season.
Why? Two key reasons. First, Leidner’s leadership skills have been noted from early on in his Gopher career. As early as his sophomore season Minnesota coaches were praising Leidner for his ability to lead and inspire his teammates. Second, there is nobody else behind him on the depth chart with any meaningful experience at the major college level. If Leidner were to go down for any significant period of time things could get interesting.
Leidner’s play has been inconsistent at best over the course of the previous three seasons, but his performance has been trending in a positive direction and many expect him to explode during his senior season at Minnesota.
While he may not look like a dual-threat quarterback Leidner is capable of being a force with his ability to make a big throw, as well as pick up tough yards on the ground. Going into his final campaign at Minnesota he is already second in school history for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 23 career scores, and has 1,129 career rushing yards. Leidner is also moving up the school record books for his passing ability. He is currently seventh in career passing yards (5,118), tied for sixth in passing attempts (722), sixth in passing completions (407), fifth in completion percentage (56.4%) and eighth in passing touchdowns (28).
Despite all those numbers and the talent Leidner brings to the table, the most impressive stat, when you consider the way Leidner plays the game, is his ability to punch into work every Saturday. Over the course of the last two seasons it is almost a miracle that Leidner has started 25 of Minnesota’s 26 games. The only game Leidner missed due to injury was a home game against San Jose State during his sophomore season of 2014. Since then, Leidner has made 22 consecutive starts including all 16 Big Ten games.
Many Gopher fans have plans for a breakout season in 2016 due to the talent returning, key staff changes and most importantly a soft schedule. All of that gets erased and panic will set in if anything happens to Mitch Leidner and he were forced to miss any significant time.
Leidner is a hard-nosed kid and the state of Minnesota would find it easy to rally around their senior signal caller from Lakeville if he were to go out in style. I look for that to happen. I firmly believe Leidner will have his best season in Maroon and Gold and will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in recent memory. I put Leidner on 3,000+ passing yards, 250+ rushing yards and a 27 total touchdowns.
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