2012 Gopher Football: 50 Shades of Gray

The 2012 Gopher football season is hours from getting underway. The Gophers kick off their season in Las Vegas, NV against the Runnin Rebels of UNLV. And no, this is not Larry Johnson’s and The Shark’s UNLV.

The Runnin’ Rebels will be hoping to channel a bit of LJ’s dominance in their season opening tilt with the Gophers.

Last year’s UNLV squad was 2-10 under 2nd year wunderkid, head coach, Bobby Hauck. They scored significant wins over CSU and the program formerly known as Hawaii. There are some who believe that this year’s squad should make another leap. 4-8 or 5-7 might be a possibility. Though, at +8, book makers agree that their first win is likely not coming against Jerry Kill’s squad.

The 2012 Gophers season is a tough one to prognosticate. Fans seem to be cautiously optimistic. The gear is ready. 2011’s squad was consistently inconsistent. They lost the games they should have won and won a couple that they had no business winning. The Gophers made a nice little run during some conference games against the Hawkeyes and the Wildcats (a game they should have won). The driving force during last season’s mini-run was then junior QB MarQueis Gray. He showed maturity and athleticism during what was an otherwise chaotic season. It is his composure and continued improvement that is vital to this year’s squad.

Gray threw for 1,500 yards and ran for nearly 1,000 more. He averaged 7 yards per attempt and  almost 5 yards a carry. This was with a receiving corps that was depleted by injuries and just not that good. Even though this year’s version is young, there is a lot of promise there. Devin Crawford-Tufts and Brandon Green are steady performers with the potential to be solid contributors, each capable of making a jump. Jamel Harbison and Megatron 2.0, Andre McDonald, headline a very strong group of freshman wideouts.

While he does not strike the most imposing figure, Megatron 2.0 makes up for it with a tenacious willingness to go and get it. The kid is a flat out beast in the air.

Normally, freshman wideouts do not make a significant impact on a season’s outcome. Players like Sammy Watkins, who dominated for Clemson last season and scorched the ACC on a weekly basis, are a once-a-decade type players. While neither Harbison nor McDonald were rated as highly as Watkins coming in to this season, both have ceilings that are IDS Center high. Particularly Megatron 2.0 (check it out here). His athleticism and tenacity, the kid just flat out goes to get the ball, make him fun to watch. That being said, like most other freshman receivers, his success is directly tied to his quarterback.

Gray’s maturation at the end of last year would have been even more apparent if he had a wideout who could catch a ball. In the Northwestern game particularly, Gophers wideouts dropped multiple catchable passes, including a few that would have been big plays. Gray’s new toys, Harbison and Megatron 2.0, should ensure less drops and more big plays.

The other wild card for the Gophers and Gray is the offensive line. With only one returning starter from last season, head hog Ed Olson, the young guys are going to have to step up. Look for Jonah Pirsig and his fellow freshman to play a big role in the Gophers success this year. Keeping MarQueis upright is obviously critical to his, and the team’s, success. Jerry Kill and Matt Limegrover have always been known for strong offensive play. Even though the current cast is young, there is a lot of potential there. Having a veteran like Olson to help in mentoring the kids will only help to expedite their maturation.

There are a lot of unknowns that need to be sorted out this season. Is MarQueis Gray a legitimate Big 10 QB? Can a running QB succeed in Coach Kill’s system? How good will beer service be at The Bank? Last year’s hint of success has this Gophers fan ever so slightly optimistic. How those unknowns     are sorted out will determine whether we as fans are satisfied with our first post-season appearance since 2009 or left wanting more after another chaotic season.

Bill paying time. For those of you interested in catching a Gophers game at The Bank, skate on over to Ticket King. They have great deals on all the Gophers games. Sit anywhere in the stadium (enjoy an adult beverage) and watch evolution of Megatron 2.0.

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