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2015 MAC non-conference previews: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Ohio rounds out its non-conference schedule with the Golden Gophers, one of the better squads the 'Cats have played outside the MAC in recent years. But Kent State gets 'em first.

Da'Vondre Campbell, a linebacker on the preseason Butkus watch list, leads the Golden Gopher's defense coming into 2015.
Da'Vondre Campbell, a linebacker on the preseason Butkus watch list, leads the Golden Gopher's defense coming into 2015.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

After two consecutive homes games against Marshall and Southeastern Louisiana, the Ohio Bobcats will take a trip Northwest to the land of 10,000 lakes and will try not to be reduced to puddles against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

But Ohio is not the lone MAC gang to get a stab at the Gophers this fall. The Golden Flashes of Kent State get their shot as well a week before the 'Cats do. This one looms on the schedule for two teams coming into 2015 looking to make a statement and with overall loftier goals than a year before.

Apart from having one of the most lovable figures in college football as a coach in Jerry Kill, Minnesota fields a gridiron crew that is none too shabby. In fact, KIll has made the Gophers a model of consistency once more in Minneapolis, with the school going 8-5 in each of the last two seasons. It's the first time that the team has accomplished that feat since the days of Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney (02'-03').

Kill by the way, can be seen talking expectations for his team at B1G Ten media day below.

But enough about the coach, the Gophers return a cast of fellas who can get it done:  see their returning seniors on defense for starters.

De'Vondre Campbell is what we might refer to affectionately as "Big Ol," as in, he's a big ol' fella, even for a linebacker at 6'5" 240 lbs. The senior is on the Butkus Award watch list as one of the best LB's in the country.

At defensive back, fellow seniors Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray return after both made All-Big Ten, the former having garnered first-team honors. Both have been hyped in recent weeks by making appearances on the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy watch lists after an impressive 2014 campaign.  Boddy-Calhoun registered five interceptions and 51 tackles while Murray racked up 69 tackles (good for fourth on the team) and seven pass breakups (second to Boddy-Calhoun).

Offensively, the Gophers return two-year starter Mitch Leidner (profiled a bit here in a Fanpost on The Daily Gopher) at quarterback. Kill's offense doesn't demand much of Leidner's arm, but even then he has struggled to keep his completion percentage up (it hovered around 50% last season). He will need someone to help make big plays in the pass game to create balance in 'Sota's historically run-heavy attack. A few skilled freshman receivers joined the Gophers in the offseason so it's not unreasonable to expect someone could have their breakout game against either the Flashes' or Cats' secondary. Receivers like senior KJ Maye and Donovahn Jones (who averaged 23.2 yards per catch on 11 receptions),  will be crucial in opening up an attack that only collected 76 first downs through the air a season ago with only 1804 yards to boot. Tight End Maxx Wiliams was the real go-to in the aerial assault last season, so Kill and crew will be tasked with finding that next great bruising TE with good hands. Good thing Gopher backs helped Leidner to pick up 3,000 on the ground (3,064 to be precise). It was Leidner who galloped for 615 of them himself, making him the leading rusher back with the Gophers in 2015 (David Cobb moved on to a spot with the Titans).

The GG's best be careful not to overlook either of their MAC opponents before heading to Evanston to kick off Big Ten play. Minnesota hasn't taken on a Mid-American Conference program since 2012, when it eeked out a 28-23 victory over Western Michigan. A year later, it only barely pulled off a 29-23 victory over the Miami RedHawks.

One will be Ohio's last non-MAC game of 2015, and Minnesota's homecoming game at that in a matchup that begins at 3:30 pm on September 26th. It'll be the type of matchup that could bring the MAC acclaim if the 'Cats perform well. KSU gets Minnesota a week earlier on the 19th at noon. But remember, these are just two of quite a few big matchups for MAC schools against Power 5 competition this upcoming season.

This post has been edited to correct the fact about WMU having been the last MAC team that Minnesota played.