Minnesota's offense should be potent this season. Potent enough that the team, bolstered by a weak schedule, could find itself among the contenders for the Big Ten title. The Gophers have a talented quarterback in senior Asad Abdul-Khaliq with an army of receivers and running backs that have speed and agility. Look for some high-scoring games this season. The offensive line raises questions, as Minnesota lost both of its starting tackles and the interior line, while experienced, is still somewhat young.
If Minnesota's offense can produce numbers like last year's, the team should be in the mid-to-upper reaches of the Big Ten. Numbers such as the 28.9 points per game, the 209.3 rushing yards per game and the 183.8 passing yards per game say a lot about an offense returning most of its starters.
Abdul-Khaliq could be one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the Big Ten, if he puts up numbers like last season's. A versatile quarterback, Abdul-Khaliq threw for 2,190 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for 322 yards and five touchdowns. His name sits among the top five in school history in every major passing statistic. He is fifth in career passing yards with 4,259. With 38 touchdown passes heading into this season, he needs only three to surpass Cory Sauter to become the all-time leader. He is an athletic quarterback who can scramble and play out of the pocket, putting pressure on opposing defenses. Naturally, this quarterback, potentially a first-team, all-Big Ten selection, will start.
Who will back him up? Heading into fall camp, expect senior Benji Kamrath to hold the position. When Abdul-Khaliq injured his ankle and missed the game against Northwestern, Kamrath filled in nicely, leading the Gophers to a 45-42 win with two touchdown passes and 101 passing yards, including a career-long 40-yard pass to wide receiver Aaron Hosack. He will be a reliable backup with a strong grasp of the offense. Watching from the sidelines will be Bryan Cupito and James Payette, two redshirt freshmen.
Running backs analysis
When it comes to the ground attack, this team is loaded. With one of the top running back corps in the conference and probably the nation, the Gophers should be difficult to stop. Leading the talented group of backs into fall camp is sophomore Marion Barber III, who missed most of the season with a hamstring injury. In the two games he played, Barber collected 69 yards on 29 carries and three receptions for 25 yards. He took a medical redshirt the rest of the year but headed into fall camp expected to start. As a freshman in 2001, Barber averaged 6.3 yards per carry, tallying 742 yards and seven touchdowns.
Minnesota fared well, even without Barber last season, as the tandem of junior running back Terry Jackson II and senior fullback Thomas Tapeh created one of the most productive backfields in the country. Minnesota was one of two teams with two running backs with more than 900 yards; West Virginia was the other. Jackson, a powerful back who started nine games and appeared in all 13, ran for 1,317 yards to become one of the Big Ten's top rushers. Tapeh averaged five yards per carry, tallying 906 yards. His 10 touchdowns led the team—eight rushing touchdowns and two receiving.
Like their running backs, Minnesota's receivers should have
defenders quaking in their cleats. Senior Ben Utecht is one of the best tight
ends in the country and is a preseason All-American, according to Athlon
and College Football News. A stress fracture in his foot hindered his
ability slightly but he still put up excellent numbers, with 37 receptions, 480
receiving yards and six touchdowns. Utecht has speed and blocking ability,
averaging 13 yards per catch last season.
Hosack is a deep threat with solid hands that put up solid numbers in his first year as a Gopher. Hosack, a transfer from Mount San Antonio Junior College, started in 11 games and caught 29 catches for 659 yards. His first catch at Minnesota was a 67-yard touchdown reception and while he never quite reached that mark again in the season, he did have nine games with at least one catch for 35 or more yards. He posted four catches for 90 yards against Wisconsin in the Badgers 49-31 win over the Gophers last November.
Joining him are junior Paris Hamilton and senior Tony Patterson, two athletic wide receivers that can burn opposing secondaries. Patterson has the most experience of the two, while Hamilton is a transfer from Tyler Junior College. Although he is a newcomer, expect Hamilton to make his mark on the team; he was the top-ranked junior college receiver available according to JCFootball.com, and his 4.5 40 time was the team's fastest. Patterson brings a wealth of experience to the field and recovered from a hand injury to catch 20 passes for 274 yards during the season.
Offensive line analysis
The talented quarterback and fantastic backs and receivers need a solid line to protect them. The offensive line needs to live up to the challenge and returning all three interior linemen will help. Sophomore center Greg Eslinger has mobility and quickness and he will benefit from gaining 30 pounds of muscle during the offseason. Lining up next to him are left guard Mark Setterstrom, also a sophomore, and senior right guard Joe Quinn, who has provided stability and experience for an otherwise young line.
Then there are the tackles. Junior Rian Melander and senior Matt McIntosh are projected starters at fall camp, replacing departed tackles Jeremiah Carter and Jake Kuppe. Melander and McIntosh both contributed last year as backups but neither have much experience starting. McIntosh's size, at 6-8 and 310 pounds, should serve to his advantage.