Making the case for...Minnesota
As the season approaches, we decided to count down why five teams will win their respective Big Ten divisions. Three reasons apiece will break down why each respective team can punch a ticket to Indianapolis.
Today, we’ll look at Minnesota’s reasons it’ll win the West.
1. Golden Corners
Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray play with a chip on their shoulders that few cornerback duos in the country can match. They led a unit that finished 18th in pass defense. Even better, the Gopher secondary fueled the 15th best turnover margin in the nation. That stat, coupled with a dominant ground game, is why Minnesota was in position to play for a West Division title. The contending West teams don’t exactly have the most efficient passers (Joel Stave, Tommy Armstrong and C.J. Beathard) and Boddy-Calhoun and Murray are fitting candidates to make their lives even more difficult.
2. Leidner Leading
Mitch Leidner didn’t have to do a whole lot as an underclassman quarterback. But the 13th-ranked passing offense in the Big Ten will have to be better in 2015, which Leidner is capable of. He and Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave are in similar spots, both of whom I believe will show significant strides with more confidence from their head coaches. Leidner got a new approach to weightlifting in the offseason, one which he believes will improve his accuracy. He completed only 51.5 percent of his passes last year, but showed off his potential against Mizzou in the Citrus Bowl with a career-high 258 passing yards. I’m not always a believer that bowl performances can carry into the next season. But Leidner has all the tools to become that guy for the Gophers, it’s just a matter of consistently using them.
3. Been There, Done That
Last year was a major learning experience for Kill’s group. It was the first time they’d been a part of a division race. For the first time, Minnesota had something more to play for than six wins. Mistakes were magnified and they got every team’s best shot. They learned how to play in the spotlight with something at stake. For the 11 returning starters, that’s huge. They remember watching Wisconsin pull away and take the division crown that they put themselves in position to earn. Sure, the Gophers come into 2015 with arguably the toughest 12-week schedule of any Big Ten team. But last year prepared them to handle the rigors of another Big Ten West run. And this time, that finale against Wisconsin is in the Twin Cities. Just saying.