2012 Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Preview

 

The Minnesota Golden Gophers will eventually try to focus on football when the 2012 season begins, but to be quite honest, the players and coaches who compete under the U of M's banner have had more important things to tend to over the past several months. It's hard to talk about football improvements when human frailty and death linger far longer than they should at a college campus.

Playing college football should mark the time of a young athlete's life, and the realization of a dream for the men who coach it. Yet, Minnesota has not been given the chance to derive much joy from pursuing dreams on the gridiron. That's because the Golden Gophers have been immersed in a living nightmare since their 2011 season began last September.



Minnesota apparel Minnesota took the field on Labor Day Weekend with high hopes after bringing aboard Jerry Kill to be its new head coach in place of Tim Brewster. Kill had lifted the Northern Illinois program to the top tier of the Mid-American Conference, bringing the Huskies within one touchdown of a victory in the 2010 MAC Championship Game in Detroit against Miami University. Kill's combination of passion and creativity injected fresh confidence into the Gophers, boosting the belief that Minneapolis could be the scene of a genuine Big Ten revival. However, one week after the 2011 opener – in which the Gophers impressively pushed USC to the brink before losing by only two points (19-17) – a thick cloud of sadness began to descend upon the program.

In a week two game at home against New Mexico State, Kill had an epileptic seizure on the sidelines during the second half. The contest was halted, and for quite some time, Minnesota's players had to wonder if their coach was going to survive the incident – the thought was unavoidable, the possibility hard to ignore. Kill was resting comfortably within the next 24 hours, but the event still transformed the tenor of the entire season. Kill's health problems had been known when he coached Northern Illinois, so it's not as though Minnesota was ignorant of these issues. Moreover, the school's medical staff acted exactly the way it should have when Kill collapsed on the sideline; people in the program's administrative positions were prepared to care for the head football coach. Yet, for all of the diligence on the part of school administrators, the simple reality of seeing a head coach in dire need of medical care on the sideline during a game still leaves an indelible mark. Kill returned to coaching without incident for the rest of the season, but Minnesota wobbled to a 3-9 finish. The Gophers did surprise both Iowa and Illinois to prove that they could attain moments of inspiration, but there was still little question that their focus did not exist at the same high level for all 12 regular season games… and understandably so.

The program thought it had made it through the worst of times, but then, on April 6, it learned that former linebacker Gary Tinsley, who was going to graduate later this spring, had died in his dorm room for reasons that have not yet been disclosed. Tinsley wasn't going to play for Minnesota this fall – the senior concluded his collegiate career last year – but his death has cast a pall over the team's spring practices. The Gophers will begin the 2012 season with Tinsley on their minds. This will provide a certain measure of inspiration to the team, yes, but it will also add to the mixture of sorrow and fear that has hovered over this program in recent months. It's all well and good to talk about how returning quarterback MarQueis Gray will fare, or how receiver John Rabe will catch Gray's passes in an attempt to shore up the Gophers' aerial attack, but the first (and second, and third) priority for the Minnesota football program this season is to experience healing in every possible sense of the word.

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By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior College Football Correspondent

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