Nathan McCarter

Is Minnesota The 2014 Big Ten Sleeper?

Created on Mar. 24, 2014 7:00 AM EST

The Golden Gophers of Minnesota enter the 2014 football season coming off one of their best seasons in recent memory.

Jerry Kill's club posted an 8-4 record in the regular season. The school earned a trip to the Texas Bowl against Syracuse, but came up four points short.

The Big Ten shifts to two new divisions in 2014 — East and West — and all the focus is on the loaded East Division. Are the Golden Gophers the sleeper in the conference that could find their way to Indianapolis? I believe so.

Many teams fail immediately because they do not have an identity. They struggle to find what works. That is not the case for Minnesota. David Cobb is their identity on offense. He posted more than 1,200 rushing yards on the season, and he will continue to be the focus of the team.

He is so much the identity of the team that former starting QB Philip Nelson transferred to Rutgers to this offseason. Minnesota is a run-first offense, but they will need some passing production from whomever steps into the starting role this fall.

The out-of-conference schedule is not incredibly difficult. Their lone tough task will be against TCU in Fort Worth. If they can get past the Horned Frogs then the Golden Gophers should be 4-0 heading into conference play.

Minnesota is in the West, and that's where they want to be as a sleeper. The East is one of the toughest divisions in all of college football.

Kill's squad was very competitive in 2013, and in 2014 they will be playing for double-digit wins if they can get off to a hot start. They could sneak around and bite the hopes of more notable schools in their division.

The road to the Big Ten championship will not be easy. They close out the year with a very rough four-game stretch against Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The last two games are both on the road in very tough environments.

They are not the favorites in their conference or division, thus, the Gophers have no pressure on them. They have nothing to lose, and that makes them a dangerous team to play.

They are the 2014 sleeper in the conference. Do not be too surprised if they are in the running for a trip to Indianapolis in the final two weeks of the season.

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