2007 Gophers Football: A Look Ahead

With a new head coach named and new assistants on the horizon, the Gophers also will have to replace 11 seniors, including seven big contributors.

Minnesota will lose just 11 seniors from this year's crew, but seven of them were crucial contributors and will be missed. Most of those are on offense, where the biggest hole will be at quarterback. Three-year starter Bryan Cupito either set or tied virtually every passing record in the Minnesota book — and he was an iron man in doing so.

That means whoever wins the job — sophomore Tony Mortensen and true freshman Adam Weber are the primary candidates — will learn on the fly along with a fistful of other new starters.

On the plus side, Minnesota's schedule lends itself to a team with such a project. The Gophers open with home games against an unidentified MAC team and Miami (Ohio) before heading to Florida Atlantic for their first road trip. They also get to open Big Ten play at home against Purdue.

The conference schedule as a whole shows Minnesota discarding Penn State and Michigan State while regaining Illinois and Northwestern.

PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2007: Senior-to-be Amir Pinnix didn't start the season as Minnesota's primary tailback, but it's hard to imagine him not being the man when the Gophers line up Sept. 1, 2007 at the Metrodome. Pinnix finished with 1,272 yards and 10 touchdowns.

He'll have some other weapons with him as senior wideout Ernie Wheelwright (17 career TDs) needs just one more touchdown to move to No. 2 in receiving touchdowns in Minnesota history. Tight end should continue to be a strength as Jack Simmons caught seven passes for 134 yards and one TD in the Insight Bowl.

Minnesota's defense could look significantly different next year as the Gophers try to escape the Big Ten's basement, but DE Willie VandeSteeg (10 sacks) figures to be a pillar. MLB Mike Sherels and DB Dominic Jones should lead their respective units.

PRO PROSPECTS: Minnesota had just 11 seniors on its roster, but the NFL paid attention to at least a few members of the group.

TE Matt Spaeth, presuming he proves his recent shoulder surgery was a success, looks like a first-day draft pick. Wideout Logan Payne, who caught 59 passes for 804 yards and nine TDs, could earn a late look or an invite to camp.

ORT Joe Ainslie (6-foot-7, 310 pounds) started 31 games in his career for one of the nation's most balanced offenses, which ought to count for something down the line.

ROSTER REPORT: OLB John Shevlin (foot) played little during the latter half of the season, but he should heal and likely return to the form that earned him starts in the season's first six games.

C Tony Brinkhaus fought through injuries during the latter half of the year, but missed just one game. A healthy Brinkhaus next fall would mean plenty to the Gophers.

Among Minnesota's fistful of redshirts, no arrival on the field is more highly anticipated than that of freshman quarterback Adam Weber. Ranked among the nation's finer prep quarterbacks in the Class of 2006, Weber figures to be the odds-on favorite to become Bryan Cupito's successor in the spring.

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