There aren’t many teams that lose a coach in the middle of the season and compete for a division title.
After taking over for Jerry Kill, Tracy Claeys got the Gophers to a bowl game, but that was only because of the APR-based tiebreaker for five-win teams. It was a step back for Minnesota after a 2014 campaign that nearly saw the Gophers win the B1G West.
Well, Claeys believes 2016 will look a lot more like 2014 than 2015.
“It’s hard to put a number on it,” Claeys said about 2016 to the Pioneer Press. “Eight to 10 wins. Well, you win nine, and for around here they (haven’t) won 9 games in a (heck of a) long time.”
Claeys is right. The last time Minnesota hit nine wins was in 2003, when Glen Mason led the Gophers to a 10-win season and a Sun Bowl victory against Oregon. In fact, that was the only time Minnesota won nine games since it joined the B1G in 1953.
Why is Claeys confident his team will have a historically successful season?
Part of that has to stem from Minnesota’s favorable schedule. The Gophers don’t have a road non-conference game, and their toughest tilt is a home game against Colorado State. Minnesota doesn’t face Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State. Instead, the Gophers drew B1G East crossover matchups with Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers.
Minnesota also returns 14 starters, including nearly all of their skill players, which is second to only Purdue in the B1G West.
So for those reasons — plus the fact that Minnesota just hired former Syracuse athletic director Mark Coyle — Claeys is confident his group will be back in the spot it was in the 2014 regular season finale.
“We’ve got this thing to where each year when you get to November, we should be in the talk of still playing for the championship of the Big Ten West,” Claeys said. “The good thing is, now with Mark’s background, he can hopefully bring in some ways of doing that, I feel very good that is the path we’re on right now.”