Preview No. 10: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill, center, talks with field judge John Roggeman sand linesman Robert Davis during an NCAA college football game against Nebraska, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill, center, talks with field judge John Roggeman sand linesman Robert Davis during an NCAA college football game against Nebraska, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

This is the 10th in a series of articles previewing Ohio State’s 12 opponents for the 2014 season.

In back-to-back road games for the only time this season, Ohio State next ventures to Minneapolis to take on Minnesota on Nov. 15. Kickoff at TCF Bank Stadium has yet to be announced, as well as the network that will broadcast the game.

Last Season:

Minnesota was 8-5 overall and finished fourth in the Legends Division of the Big Ten with a 4-4 mark. The eight wins came against UNLV (51-23), New Mexico State (44-21), Western Illinois (29-12), San Jose State (43-24), Northwestern (20-17), Nebraska (34-23), Indiana (42-39) and Penn State (24-10). The five losses were to Iowa (23-7), Michigan (42-13), Wisconsin (20-7), Michigan State (14-3) and Syracuse (21-17) in the Texas Bowl.

History and Coaches:

Minnesota’s football program dates back to 1892. In 1900, the school hired its 16th head coach in its history when Henry L. Williams took over the program. Williams is the Golden Gophers’ winningest coach with an overall mark 136-33-11 in 21 seasons with eight Big Ten Conference championships (1900, 1903, 1904, 1906, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1915) and one national title (1904).

That 1904 national championship team, Minnesota went 13-0 and outscored its opponents by an unthinkable total of 725-12 and shut out 12 of its 13 opponents. The 725 points remains the second-most ever scored by a major college football team (FBS) in a season, just behind Harvard’s total of 765 set in 1886. Minnesota’s 146-0 victory over Grinnell was the most lopsided victory in college football history for 13 years. The only time the Gophers were challenged during the 1904 season was a 16-12 decision over Nebraska on October 29 and an 11-0 shutout of Iowa on the road to end the season. Seven of Minnesota’s 13 victories were by at least 47 points.

After the 1921 season, Minnesota had three different coaches in a 10-year span including evenual Michigan head coach, Fritz Crisler. Following the conclusion of the 1931 campaign, Crisler left Minneapolis to become the head coach at Harvard. To replace Crisler, Minnesota hired Bernie Bierman, a native Minnesotan and alumnus of the school who played for Williams from 1913–1915. Prior to being the Gophers’ coach, Bierman held head coaching jobs at Montana, Mississippi State and Tulane.

Bierman was the head coach at Minnesota from 1932-1941, then again from 1945-1950 after serving in World War II. In 16 seasons leading the Gophers, Bierman was 93-35-6 overall, won six conference championships (1933, 1934, 1935, 1937, 1938, 1940, 1941) and five national titles (1934, 1935, 1936, 1940, 1941). During that time, 21 players were awarded All-American status and 36 were All-Big Ten first team selections.

From 1934-36 Minnesota lost just once, a 6-0 defeat at the hands of No. 3 Northwestern in Evanston, while winning 23 games with three national titles and two Big Ten championships. In 1937 and 1938, the Gophers had identical 6-2 records and won the Big Ten both years. The 1939 squad, though, was just 3-4-1 and finished seventh in the conference.

After Bierman’s worst season to date for Minnesota, the Gophers regrouped to win 16-straight games during the 1940 and 1941 campaigns with two Big Ten titles and two national titles.

Things were never the same for Bierman after WWII, however, as the Gophers were 30-23-1 in six seasons. Bierman’s best efforts came in 1948 and 1949 as Minnesota was 7-2 and finished third in the Big Ten both times. In his final season of 1950, the Gophers were 1-7-1.

Former three-time All-American player from 1928–1930 and head coach from 1947-1950 at Ohio State, Wes Fesler took over the Minnesota football program in 1951 after he was fired in Columbus. Fesler lasted just three seasons in Minneapolis going 10-13-4.

In 1954, Murray Warmath took over for Fesler. Warmath spent two seasons as head coach at Mississippi State University before being fired at the end of the 1953 season.

After coming to Minnesota, Warmath had immediate success, leading the Gophers to a 7–2 record in his first season and a 6–1–2 record in 1956. However, Warmath came under fire after three straight losing seasons in which the Gophers finished a combined 6–20, including the 1958 campaign in which the Gophers won only one game, and the 1959 campaign in which the Gophers finished last in the Big Ten and won two games. Despite fans throwing garbage on his lawn and talk from Gopher boosters that the University should buy out the last two years of his contract, Warmath would survive the storm and the following season the Gophers won the Big Ten title, with an 8–1 record, and were declared national champions.

While at Minnesota, Warmath became one of the most successful coaches in Gophers’ history, leading the team to two Big Ten titles and two Rose Bowls. Warmath is the last Gophers coach to win a national championship, a Big Ten title, or a Rose Bowl and he had the second-longest tenure at the school behind only Williams. In 18 seasons at Minnesota, Warmath’s teams amassed an 87–78–7 record.

Since 1972, Minnesota has had nine different head coaches including one who had the job on an interim basis. The only coach during that time period to have any success was former Ohio State player Glen Mason, who led the Gophers from 1997-2006 and had five winning seasons, while taking his teams to seven bowl games. His best year was 2003 when Minnesota was 10-3 and defeated Oregon in the Sun Bowl.

Since 2011, Jerry Kill has been the head coach for the Gophers. He’s 17-21 in three seasons.

Offense:

Minnesota returns eight starters on offense but will have to replace last year’s quarterback Philip Nelson. Sophomore Mitch Leidner played in 10 games, starting four, and completed 43-of-78 (55.1%) passes for 619 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He also finished second on the team in rushing attempts (102) and yards (407).

Senior running back David Cobb led team in rushing with 1,202 yards on 237 carries as he became the first Gopher to rush for more than 1,000 yards since Amir Pinnix in 2006. Cobb also tied for team lead in rushing touchdowns with seven.

The top returning pass-catcher is also back with sophomore tight end Maxx Williams, who played in 13 games and started seven, leading team in receiving yards (417), tied for the team lead in receptions (25) and receiving touchdowns (5). The top returning wideout is sophomore Drew Wolitarsky after ranking third on the team in receiving yards (259) and receptions (15) last season.

Four of the five starting offensive lineman return with junior RG Foster Bush, junior RT Josh Campion, senior LG Zac Epping and senior C Tommy Olson.

Defense:

Seven starters return on defense including the top two tacklers from a year ago with senior safety Cedric Thompson and senior linebacker Damien Wilson. Thompson played in all 13 games with 11 starts at safety and led team in tackles with 79 and tied for team lead in solo tackles with 52. Wilson played in 13 games, starting 12, and was second on the team with 78 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack.

Others returning include junior S Antonio Johnson, junior DE Theiren Cockran, junior CB Eric Murray, senior DE Michael Amaefula, and senior DT Cameron Botticelli.

Johnson played in 13 games, starting six, and was fourth on the team in tackles (69) and solo tackles (45). Cockran started 13 games at defensive end and recorded 30 tackles, led team in sacks (7.5), and was second in tackles-for-loss (10.0) while breaking up two passes, forced four fumbles and recovered one. Murray started all 13 games and finished seventh on the team with 52 tackles, plus he recorded 10 pass breakups, which ranked tied for 11th all-time in team history.