The Jerry Kill era came to an end, and so did a trophy case nearly stocked full of rivalry trophies. However, 2015 was far from a lost season, instead it will go down as one of the strangest in Gophers history.
From a mid-season coaching change to a complete uprooting of a coaching staff once the interim tag was removed from Tracy Claeys’ title, there was plenty of drama on and off the field.
Close wins were the norm, as were blowout losses. Simply put, it was a complete roller coaster ride in Minneapolis in the fall of 2015. So, what were the good, bad and ugly of said season?
Before we get talking about 2016, lets look back at where things last left off in Gophers-land.
Winning a bowl game is always a nice treat…and the Gophers got that treat despite a 5-7 regular season. Tracy Claeys’ program took down Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl and ended the season a high note.
Given all the confusion, change and drama surrounding the program all season long, it was a nice reward for the players to go out with. Winning at the end of a hard season could prove to be a very nice catalyst going forward.
Losing 5 of the last 6 regular season games certainly wasn’t a positive mark on a program that had seemingly begun to hit its stride under Jerry Kill. A close loss to nationally ranked TCU in the opener gave false hope as it turned out.
Instead, the Gophers lost to every team that could’ve given them a chance at legitimacy in the final six weeks of the season. Minnesota lost to the likes of Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin to round out the season.
Only a win against a battered Illinois team saved them from a six-game losing streak to end the regular season. Yet, despite that disaster of a finish…the Gophers still went bowling (always look on the bright side of life).
Remember how we talked about that rivalry trophy case? It went from nearly full to completely empty in a matter of a year. With a division full of some heated rivalries involving the Gophers, wining one or two of them usually means the season is going to be a success.
Instead, Floyd of Rosedale is in the hands of Iowa, a $5 bits-of-broken-chair is in the hands of Nebraska and a decade-long streak is now inching closer to two decades without Paul Bunyan’s Axe anywhere outside of Madison.
It is seriously difficult to imagine a more ugly scenario playing out for Gophers football, and if they want to pick things up in 2016 they’ll need at least half of these trophies back in their home at the football facilities in Minneapolis.
What it All Means for 2016
After 4-plus years of the Jerry Kill era things seemed like they were plateauing. Having a mix of the old school and the new school to help reinvigorate this program is exactly what was needed and what happened in the offseason.
The 2015 season itself showed us all that at least Mitch Leidner is still working hard to become a true dual-threat quarterback. Given the new system in place, that is big news and should be interesting to watch in fall camp and beyond.
However, more than anything, this past season showed that Minnesota’s program is deeper and better equipped to handle losses on the roster. This team is far from a blank canvas, and Claeys and Co. are going to have a lot of parts to mold and work with in 2016.