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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Minnesota Has the Scheme, Needs Talent

Minnesota’s big-picture problem lies more with the Jimmies and the Joes, less with the X’s and the O’s. In terms of overall talent, Jerry Kill had much more to work with at Northern Illinois — Chandler Harnish, Chad Spann, Jasmin Hopkins and Martel Moore, among others — than he currently does with the Gophers, who are still bringing in the sort of athletes needed to run Kill’s system.

The Huskies had the players and the scheme; the Gophers are still learning the scheme. Even if the system was in place, this team lacks the weapons to run the offense at full capacity.

What’s puzzling — and I noted this in the team preview — is that contrary to his reputation, Tim Brewster did not do a good job recruiting solid talent into the program. This has left Kill attacking issues on two fronts, implementing his system while searching for players who can make it work.

And it’s not easy for Kill and his staff to out-recruit the rest of the Big Ten. For starters, it’s always difficult for the Gophers to bring in major talent. Minnesota is not a talent-rich state; in addition, when the state does produce a highly-ranked prospect, the region’s premier programs — Michigan, Wisconsin, Notre Dame — often come in and steal the Gophers’ thunder.

Kill has done a nice job keeping the talent in-state over the last two years, though Minnesota has not produced a Michael Floyd-like talent since Kill’s arrival following the 2010 season.

In 2011, despite filling out a class on the fly, Kill signed five of the state’s top nine prospects. This past February, the Gophers inked seven of the state’s top nine, though Stanford came in and signed offensive lineman Nick Davidson, the state’s top recruit.

The question: Can Kill recruit the sort of talent he needs to bring Minnesota back into annual bowl contention? I think he can. Can he sign recruits capable of making the Gophers a title contender — Big Ten or national? No. But Minnesota will never win with talent; when the Gophers win, it will be thanks to a system with a proven track record of results.

I think we’ve seen Kill’s recruiting plan over the last two years. In the most part, Minnesota will dive into the high school ranks. This is doubly true at several positions, like at quarterback and the offensive line — two spots where Kill wants to develop talent and depth over the span of a four-year career.

The Gophers will also use JUCO prospects to bridge the gap. We saw this February, when Kill signed James Gillum to step right in at running back, Roland Johnson to do the same at nose tackle and Martez Shabazz to take over at cornerback.

All three are expected to start from day one. Gillum’s the biggest addition: Kill needs him to increase the team’s production at running back.

So where does Minnesota’s offense stand heading into 2012 when held against the rest of the Big Ten? I’d rank MarQueis Gray as the seventh-best starter in the Big Ten, behind — in no particular order — Denard Robinson, Braxton Miller, Nathan Scheelhaase, James Vandenberg, Danny O’Brien and Taylor Martinez.

The other position groups fare worse in comparison to the rest of the league. The receiver corps is the league’s most unproven; I’d rank this group last. The offensive line is better than Indiana’s, at least. With Gillum still unproven, the backfield is the Big Ten’s worst — the Gophers could really use a player like the Hoosiers’ Stephen Houston.

Three points I’m trying to make: one, Minnesota’s scheme works, but Kill still needs to hit the recruiting trail to find the right players; two, this team’s overall talent on offense ranks among the worst in the Big Ten, perhaps ahead of only Indiana; and three, if Kill does lead Minnesota into a bowl game in 2012 it probably stands as the finest coaching job of his career.

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  1. Dawgs says:

    I hope the Minnesota fans and administration give him the proper amount of time because his track record is poven

  2. Patrick says:

    Paul, you really think Gray and Braxton Miller are better quarterbacks than Andrew Maxwell? I understand Maxwell hasn’t played much at all, but Gray and Miller are far from proven themselves.

  3. Burnt Orange says:

    On the Big 10 qb ratings, I do not understand why Kain Colter is not at least mentioned. Everyone agrees that he can run and his limited passing stats reflect a solid TD to INT ratio for his underclassmen years. Plus, I will say it again, he has a little something when it comes to intangibles. What he did in Lincoln last year was remarkable – particularly for a sophomore.

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