Fourth in a series

Coach: Jerry Kill, 9-16 entering third season at Minnesota, 136-89 entering 20th season overall

2012 record: 6-7, 2-6 Big Ten (Tied for fifth, Legends), lost to Texas Tech 34-31 in Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

Offensive starters returning (9): OL Caleb Bak, OL Josh Campion, OL Jon Christensen, OL Zac Epping, WR Isaac Fruechte, TE Drew Goodger, RB Donnell Kirkwood, QB Philip Nelson, OL Ed Olson

Defensive starters returning (7): DE Michael Amaefula, DT Cameron Botticelli, DT Ra’Shede Hageman, LB Aaron Hill, S Cedric Thompson, S Brock Vereen, S Derrick Wells

Specialists returning (1): P Christian Eldred

Returning statistical leaders: Rushing, Donnell Kirkwood 218-926; Passing, Philip Nelson 75-152-8-873-8; Receiving, Isaac Fruechte 19-256; Tackles, Aaron Hill 74; Interceptions, Aaron Hill 2-33

Starring roles

Ra’Shede Hageman: A senior defensive tackle, Hageman earned honorable mention all-Big Ten honors a year ago after counting six sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss among 35 tackles. The 6-foot-6, 311-pound converted tight end is a leader on a defense which trimmed its points allowed by a full touchdown a year ago, going from 31.7 in 2011 to 24.7 in 2012. Brock Vereen, Cedric Thompson and Derrick Wells provide strength on the back end.

Donnell Kirkwood: Minnesota’s offense is shifting toward more of a pro-style look this season and the junior running back will join Rodrick Williams in the heart of the Golden Gophers’ ground game. Kirkwood ran for 926 yards and six touchdowns a year ago and he will be working behind a veteran offensive line.

On the rise

Philip Nelson: Thrust into the starting role midway through what he expected to be a redshirt year as a true freshman in 2012, the 6-2, 215-pound Nelson has shed 10 pounds and is seemingly more comfortable at the controls of the Minnesota offense. Nelson, who completed just 49.3 percent of 152 passes a year ago, finds himself working with a young group of receivers, but impressed coach Jerry Kill with growth in handling the offense during spring practices.

Newbie

Damien Wilson: A junior college transfer, Wilson arrived on campus for spring practices and made a quick impact at middle linebacker with his quickness and instinct as Minnesota searches for a replacement for Mike Rallis. He recorded 122 tackles a year ago at Jones County Community College and is competing with redshirt freshman Jack Lynn for the starting position.

The big number

4.5

Average number of improvement in wins between the second and third seasons at Jerry Kill’s last two coaching stops, Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois

Coach speak

“I think the kids took the momentum we had coming out of the bowl game, took it into the offseason and did an outstanding job of getting bigger, stronger and faster. We feel like we had our best spring ball and feel like things are headed in the right direction. Each team is different and this team’s approach is certainly different than the past two years. We got better a year ago and I look forward to seeing us get better this year.” – Minnesota coach Jerry Kill

2013 schedule

Aug. 29 – UNLV

Sept. 7 – at New Mexico State

Sept. 14 – Western Illinois

Sept. 21 – San Jose State

Sept. 28 – Iowa

Oct. 5 – at Michigan

Oct. 19 – at Northwestern

Oct. 26 – Nebraska

Nov. 2 – at Indiana

Nov. 9 – Penn State

Nov. 23 – Wisconsin

Nov. 30 – at Michigan State

Numerology

Where Minnesota ranked in the Big Ten in 2012:

Scoring offense: 22.1 (Ninth)

Rushing offense: 151.9 (Seventh)

Passing offense: 169.5 (Tied for ninth)

Total offense: 321.4 (Tenth)

Scoring defense: 24.7 (Eighth)

Rushing defense: 172.0 (Eighth)

Passing defense: 186.6 (Fourth)

Total defense: 358.6 (Fifth)

Trends

The Golden Gophers’ record over the last five seasons:

2008: 7-6

2009: 6-7

2010: 3-9

2011: 3-9

2012: 6-7

Eye on Iowa

Record in last five games vs. the Hawkeyes:

2008: Iowa 55, Minnesota 0

2009: Iowa 12, Minnesota 0

2010: Minnesota 27, Iowa 24

2011: Minnesota 22, Iowa 21

2012: Iowa 31, Minnesota 13

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