2004 Golden Gophers Football Season Preview

<b>Head Coach:</b> <A HREF=[PlayerNode:1034239]>Glen Mason</A> (34-37 at <A HREF=http://minnesota.TheInsiders.com>Minnesota</A>) <br><br> <b>Last Season's Record:</b> 10-3 (5-3, T-4th in Big Ten) <br><br> <b>Last Bowl Appearance:</b> 2003 Sun Bowl (31-30 win over <A HREF=http://oregon.TheInsiders.com>Oregon</A>) <br><br> <b>Key matchup(s):</b> Oct. 9 @<A HREF=http://michigan.TheInsiders.com>Michigan</A>, Nov. 6 @<A HREF=http://wisconsin.TheInsiders.com>Wisconsin</A>

Star Power: Laurence Maroney, RB, So. 5-11, 200; Marion Barber III, RB, Jr. 5-11, 215; Greg Eslinger, C, Jr. 6-3, 285

Notable Additions: Adam Ernst, QB, Jr. 6-2, 210; Paris Hamilton, WR, Sr. 6-1, 195.

Notable Subtractions: Asad Abdul Khaliq QB (graduation), Ben Utecht TE (graduation), Aaron Hosack WR (graduation), Ben West LB (graduation), Eli Ward S (graduation), Justin Isom S (graduation)

Notable Returnees: Jared Ellerson WR, Darrell Reid DE, Terrance Campbell LB, Kyle McKenzie LB.

09/11/04Illinois State
09/18/04@Colorado State
10/02/04Penn State
10/16/04@Michigan State
Offensive Overview: The past few seasons have been a marathon with the Gophers. They have run the ball long and hard, and with great success. While junior Marion Barber III is considered a Heisman Trophy candidate, sophomore Laurence Maroney is every bit as good. They each had more than 1,000 yards rushing last year, and with the loss of quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq to graduation, Gophers followers are expecting more big numbers from the talented running back duo. Bryan Cupito may have the early lead to succeed Abdul-Khaliq as the starting signal-caller because Cupito was with the team last year. However, junior college transfer Adam Ernst looked just as solid in the spring game. The Gophers have one of the most talented offensive lines to run and throw behind, led by Lombardi Watch List center Greg Eslinger. The loss of Ben Utecht at tight end is bound to hurt, but talented wide receiver Paris Hamilton coming back from an injury-riddled junior season should help the starting quarterback's options in the passing game.

Defensive Overview: The Gophers haven't enjoyed tough defenses in recent years, but they have been busy adding speed on the defensive side of the ball over the past few seasons. They also are hoping one full year under defensive coordinator Greg Hudson will help the unit improve in 2004. Darrell Reid and Mark Losli will lead the defensive line with their experience, and they have a relatively experienced group of linebackers in Terrance Campbell and Kyle McKenzie to help stop the run. The big question remains the Gophers' pass defense, which has been erratic in the past and will have to replace the two starting safeties from last year, Eli Ward and Justin Isom. Justin Fraley brings some experience at strong safety, but free safety will be manned by an inexperienced athlete.

Special Teams Overview: Rhys Lloyd led a very solid special teams effort last year, kicking game winners in two big matchups — a 35-yarder as time expired to beat rival Wisconsin and a 42-yarder in the final minutes of the Sun Bowl to give the Gophers a 31-30 win over Oregon. He also did a solid job punting. The biggest question on special teams will be replacing long snapper Peter Prudden.

The Gophers have been criticized for padding their schedule with weak non-conference opponents in the past, but... this year they will have some measure of early proving to do with top-25 Toledo right out of the gate and a decent Colorado State team before entering the Big Ten schedule. Last season, the Gophers' Big Ten title hopes fell apart with a second-half collapse against Michigan in the Metrodome, followed by another loss to Michigan State. They will get their chance at revenge with those two squads with back-to-back October road games (in 2003 it was back-to-back October home games). It should be the pivotal point in the Gophers' season — either helping them build upon an improving program or throwing them out of contention for one of the top spots in the Big Ten.

TheInsiders.com 2004 College Football Preview
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