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Get To Know The Gophers

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The Minnesota game is rapidly approaching.  It's probably a good idea to actually check these guys out and find out who they are.  I wouldn't know where to begin so I find it best to just ask those in the know.  Tom from The Daily Gopher was kind enough to answer some questions about Minny and what the Orange can expect the see on September 5th. Have at it.

In a way, Syracuse looks to a team like Minnesota as a model for how quickly things can turn around. After going 1-11 in Brewster's first season, you guys went 7-6 and headed back to a bowl game. What's the story behind the story? i.e. Was 2007 just a case of a team adjusting to a new system or was 2008 a case of a good coach turning nothing into something?

2007 was the perfect storm of new coaching staff, freshman QB and a roster full of kids recruited for a power run game that was now being asked to run the spread. Much like Syracuse last year, the 2007 Gophers were not as bad as their 1-11 record indicated (though they weren't all that much better either). If I had to break it down at a VERY basic level, our freshman QB threw a ton of interceptions and the defense couldn't generate any turnovers (or slow down anybody either for that matter). 2008 saw a few JUCO transfers that upgraded the defense a a few key positions and on offense our QB settled down and really led an offense that made far fewer mistakes. Whether or not it was coaching that turned the team around or just a return to the mean after an aberration in 2007, only time will tell.

From what I can tell, most folks are picking Minnesota as a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten Team this season. Agree? Disagree?

Agreed. It is hard to objectively look at this team and say they are a top 4 team in the Big Ten. The schedule is brutal and assuming normal improvements there just isn't enough talent to believe they can finish better than 5-3 in the league. Minnesota is kind of a wild card team in that IF a few key position groups and players take larger than expected steps forward this team could surprise and maybe notch a big upset win somewhere along the way.

Syracuse's secondary has been Swiss cheese in recent seasons and while there are a lot of veteran players in there, we're not expecting huge improvements. How afraid should we be of what WR Eric Decker can do to them?

Decker is very good, especially against undisciplined secondaries. Brewster will tell you he's the best WR in the country. I'll tell you he is the best possession WR in the country and I don't hesitate for a second to say so. He does not possess great speed, but he is surprisingly athletic. The problem has been that there is nothing defenses need to fear on the other side of the field from Decker. So defenses have been able to key on him and our QB tends to key on him as well. The Gophers struggled in the last five games of the season and much of that was due to Decker being injured and the offense stalling. He is a vital piece of this offense and I feel pretty good about Decker matching up against the Syracuse secondary.

QB Adam Weber was recently named a The Manning Award watch list member. How is the junior shaping up with last season under his belt?

You wouldn't know it from what I've typed above, but I am a big fan of Adam Weber. He has a strong arm, he is accurate and he is the unquestioned leader on this offense (even as a sophomore). He took an absolute beating last year but didn't miss a snap and really improved in a number of areas from his freshman to sophomore season. He has his critics and the biggest complaint people have is that he looks at Decker too early and too often. I believe that was the case last year because Decker was likely his first read on most pass plays and then the pass rush was in his face and he either had to chuck it or tuck it, never getting a chance to check down to other receivers. I believe he is the most underrated QB in the Big Ten.

Besides Decker and Weber, who are some of the names Syracuse fans should take note of before the two teams step on the field?

Troy Stoudermire is turning into a pretty big playmaker. As a true freshman he lead the Big Ten in kick returns and is now settling in as the teams slot receiver. I expect he will be the receiver who gets the second most touches behind Decker and he has the ability to take it to the house on any given play. Hayo Carpenter is a JUCO receiver who has been hyped as the deep play threat to take pressure off Decker but I haven't seen it yet (maybe we'll see it Sep 5!). Defensively our most dynamic player is "Big Play" Traye Simmons. He is a good corner who many expect will be first team All-Big Ten or close to it.

Tim Brewster. He's brought the team back to respectability but the freefall at the end of last season must have been alarming. How are Gopher fans feeling about their coach?

Most are thrilled with the new level of talent he is bringing into the program. He has two 4-star verbal commitments right now and people are freaking out about what a disappointing class this is shaping up to be. Bear in mind the previous staff brought in a total of three, four-star recruits over five year period! So the bar has been raised when it comes to recruiting, now the trick is to prove he can coach. Can he teach these kids to be great football players? Can he get them to buy into his program and play together? Can he prepare for and call a good game so we beat the teams we are supposed to and sometimes the teams we are not? Most of that he hasn't proven yet. This year's team has more athleticism and talent than any we have seen here in a while, but the schedule is tough. He'll be able to prove that he can really coach, not just recruit, this year by winning some games he shouldn't.

Minnesota will beat Syracuse because...

...they are a team in transition. The overall talent is probably better in Minnesota right now, especially experienced talent. Syracuse is starting a QB who hasn't thrown a pass in over 4 years and the entire team is adjusting to a new staff and new systems. The Orange are a BCS caliber team who is better than their 2008 record indicated, but I'll be disappointed if we lose.

Syracuse will beat Minnesota because...

...the Gophers overlooked the Orange or Greg Paulus is better than Syracuse fans could possibly hope. It would be pretty easy to look at that 2008 record and assume this is a win. But Syracuse is a BCS school that has been recruiting BCS level talent so it's not like we are playing a MAC school. Last year teams overlooked Minnesota and the Gophers can't fall into that same trap or we will lose this game.

When we come back your way in 2012, what kind of facility can we look forward to in TCF Bank Stadium?

Isn't it ironic that Minnesota finally gets out of that stupid dome and then we open the 2009 season in a freaking dome? As you can imagine I've been asked this question a hundred times, but this is the first time since I've actually been in the stadium. It is incredible. Don't tell people this because we don't want a population explosion here, but there is nothing better than a fall afternoon in September in Minnesota. To be outdoors watching two BCS level football teams play is a lot of fun. And to do it in the best (not biggest, but the nicest) facility in college football is even better.

Thanks to Tom, keep an eye on The Daily Gopher all this and next week for Minnesota-related news.